Corporate Social Responsibility is often viewed as a closed group exercise and most organizations prefer sticking to their agendas while championing initiatives to improve the communities around them. Little is done to partner effectively and combine forces to make a larger impact.
A recent study (probably the only such report at this point) by the Indian Institute of Management, Udaipur, The Economic Times and Futurescape called ‘Is Corporate India Ready For CSR?’ reviewed the state of the 2% CSR funds available with corporates, the current level of engagement and the opportunities ahead to amplify the impact. What comes out strongly are three aspects that corporates can take note of.
- Collective commitment is the best way forward to make a larger impact. Instead of corporates spreading themselves thin, combining forces can lead to a more unified experience for the communities they serve. The aim is to arrive at common areas that matter most.
- Organizations struggle for CSR talent and there are opportunities for corporate CSR leaders to share ideas, resources and people to cross-train, learn, gain from experiences and get better at what they do
- Companies have limited understanding of what to do with their funds and resources at hand and often whittle away opportunities by waiting and watching. There is a need to be more targeted with the funds available. Among the top three areas from among the top 10 themes that the Companies Act recommends health, education and community development received the most attention.
Opportunities exist for corporates to lead ‘grassroot’ initiatives which can unlock the value and impact of the resources and funds available. According to me, the challenges in collaborating are the lack of consistent communication among stakeholders, reluctance to share plans and learning and the inertia to transcend organizational boundaries for the common good. While the 2013 Companies Act specifies a list of activities that corporations can focus on, investing in areas such as sanitation, digital education, access to safe drinking water, health and safety and the environment can immensely benefit the communities.
Last week, Tesco HSC led an initiative called CSR Impact in partnership with Whitefield Export Promotion Parks Industrial Association (WEPPIA) that gathered corporates, NGOs and local administrative authorities to arrive at concrete plans for the betterment of the communities in Whitefield, Bangalore. Home to a large cluster of big and small global and Indian corporations from a diverse set of industries the forum provided a platform for all hands to come on deck as various needs were defined, discussed and debated.
The group identified key focus areas which needed effective partnership between the government authorities and the NGOs. Interesting ideas and initiatives were showcased – one related to effective waste management and yet another tapping technology to improve education. It is clear that trust, transparency and willingness to share ideas is key to CSR becoming central to achieving shared success.
What struck me as most is how much more can be done if various stakeholders can break the silos and collaborate more effectively. Also, there is limited awareness of the existing state of government resources and infrastructure available already which can be leveraged. For example, one government body has a wide network of schools with robust equipment (classes, teachers, biometrics, internet, solar heating panels, online tracking mechanisms etc) but didn’t have many takers to educate the children.
If you are in a neighborhood with organizations with talent, resources and funds and want to get started with your local ‘grassroot’ initiative you may find these tips useful:
- Transparently share your plans – either online or in face to face forums. Seek feedback and invite other organizations to come on board. Avoid reinventing the wheel with projects. Join hands with other organizations. Send your volunteers to pitch in with others.
- Gather like-minded organizations, NGOs and government bodies to discuss the most pressing issues in your area. Pick the top three areas and focus your effort entirely on those for a year or two. Very often by taking our eyes of the ball and putting funds and effort into many different activities we end up diluting our impact.
- Pool your resources – very often it is more about the volunteers and less about the funding which can make the most impact. You will be surprised by how much you have and what more can be done if you see it in entirety.
- Communicate your impact often and effectively – you don’t need to create a completely new infrastructure but tap the power of your community champions to spread the word. Social media is an effective medium to get the word out easily.
- Recognize good work and outcomes – very often we move from one initiative to another without recognizing the value and impact we are making along the way. Take the time to thank stakeholders and volunteers alike on their hard work and commitment in making your initiatives a success.
The 2% CSR provision under the 2013 Companies Act opens up immense opportunities to create a large community impact. CSR leaders and communicators need to break silos and overcome barriers to collectively raise the bar for the communities around us.