Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) seems to be gaining momentum based on what I heard and witnessed at the 2016 NASSCOM Foundation CSR Leadership Conference at Bengaluru on Nov 24.
Why did I think so?
· To have the chief guest of honour, Smt. Priyanka Varghese – Indian Forest Service Officer and the Officer of Special Duty to the CM (@TelanganaCMO) of Telengana (newly formed state in South India) invite organizations and individuals to collaborate and partner for a better world – you know times are changing.
· When a panelist asked participants to indicate how many were managing CSR as a full-time role there were a sizable number of people who raised their hands. I haven’t seen that in many years and it is a positive sign.
· Likewise, if were to go by the number of companies, NGOs and social entrepreneurial entities present at the forum you can safely assume that CSR has now attained critical mass.
· Many ambitious initiatives are taking shape – revisiting how we manage resources, relooking at our approaches to community development or reevaluating how we invest in technology to transform the lives of millions.
Speakers at the conference touched upon a range of topics including social change, inclusion, microfinance, private-public partnerships, innovation, scale, development and skilling. While there were impressive projects showcased by the organizations and NGOs alike what struck me most was the level of creativity and purpose that each presented. Not just were the projects singularly focused, they were inclusive, aligned to larger goals and based on reaching a critical mass. Two reports on CSR were released at the event – again indicative of how research, analytics and insights were transforming the approach to serving society. The event also had opportunities to network, for NGOs to share their work and promote specific themes of interest.
However, issues such as trust and transparency, limited commitment to follow-through and conflicting interests and perspectives of stakeholders were seen as limiting progress.
Based on the sessions I attended here are the top 5 insights that can help CSR and communication professionals re-imagine social change.
1. Rationalization of resources: There is growing interest to productize and offer solutions that are collectively relevant and important for stakeholders. Environment and societal factors seem to be driving decisions by companies and NGOs. CSR partners are balancing the need for corporate houses to justify investments and provide ROI on initiatives – demarcating between capital and operating ownership. This also accelerates the need for more skilled practitioners in this space.
2. Need for confidence building measures: Despite the progress made across the board on CSR there continues to mistrust and lack of transparency in how initiatives are run and how finances are managed. There are calls to build open and transparent systems which have a process oriented approach to defining and delivering outcomes. Consultation and dialogue doesn’t seem enough. Expectations for trusted partnerships to drive initiatives are increasing.
3. Measurement and scaling need of the hour: More and more questions are asked about how initiatives can be audited, measured and scaled to deliver better outcomes.How organizations invest in future programmes will depend on the impact value of earlier initiatives. From conversations it is evident that replicating models that scale will see more focus. As one speaker shared ‘if India fails at scaling, the world fails’.
4. Solving big problems: From reshaping cities to geotagging tracts of land, from providing apps for fishermen to sharing real-time analytics for community impact – practitioners are going after problems like how business tackle issues for clients. Technology is shaping most of these changes. However, it isn’t a silver bullet for all programmes. The need for ‘human touch’ is gaining ground. Interestingly, there is increasing consciousness to align each initiative to a larger purpose – be it a country specific drive like the National Digital Literacy Mission or a global movement like the UN Millennial Development Goals (@GlobalGoalsUN).
5. Communication crucial for CSR success: Doing great work for the community isn’t enough. Sharing outcomes, consistently reporting progress and taking stakeholders along the journey are some areas that need attention. Use of influence in communication is also seeing an uptick – either by reframing the problem statement, motivating people to change habits or inviting stakeholders to revisit behaviors that impede development. Storytelling is coming of age in CSR although most organizations struggle to craft and communicate their messages well. Not surprisingly, there is a spike in agencies and entities who offer solutions that can help differentiate NGOs and organizations in an already crowded sector.
Kudos to the NASSCOM Foundation and other members of the NASSCOM team for engaging the community in these timely discussions.