We can become the best at alleviating poverty, in mitigating inequality,
in removing social injustice, and in bringing our great spiritual values
to spread happiness among our deprived fellow citizens
The year 2016-17 marked the silver jubilee of liberalisation of the Indian economy and initiation of market-based reforms. During this period, our reserves have grown over 65 times from $6 billion in March 1991 to over $400 billion by 2017, and the gdp has grown over nine times from $266.5 billion to over $2.4 trillion. In 2018, India is poised to become the fifth largest economy in the world. The niti Aayog estimates that the Indian economy will be a $10 trillion economy and the third largest in the world, just behind USA and China by 2035. The domestic demographics are equally inspiring. India is getting ready to become the most populous country by 2022 with nearly 60 per cent of its population above the age of 25. By 2035,
nearly 100 crore Indians will belong to the middle class and emerging middle class income categories, with the per capita income estimated to increase three to five times from the current $1,500 per year. The economic indicators are as positive as they can be, and would be a dream come true for India Inc as the population will have an amazing combination of ambition, size and capacity to purchase.
What can mar this dream run are the social indicators. This issue has captured some of these key problems across social sectors that are crying for attention. While the government makes several attempts to fulfil them, corporate India can play a vital and catalytic role in bridging the gaps through impactful csr projects. In the years ahead funds available for csr are not going to be an issue. With csr pegged to pat, and the anticipated positive growth indicators, the current collective annual csr outlay of R15,000 crore may rise two to three times by 2030. To optimise these, it is vital for India Inc and industry captains to address key challenges in converting ideas to impact. We came across several challenges and areas of concern as we analysed the projects featured in this issue.
Disproportionate allocation of funding is a key concern. In our primary data collection, we encouraged companies to elaborate on activities that they considered their major contribution through csr. Of the 100-plus activities featured in this issue, nearly 80 per cent are in the areas of education, healthcare and environment protection, with over 60 per cent belonging to the first two. The other areas hardly receive any csr funding, thereby severely affecting their development. Corporations need to sensitise themselves towards a broader set of social development issues and avoid overlaps resulting out of concentration on a narrow set of popular activities. They could do very well by capitalising on their core competence in delivering social value, rather than just following the flock.
Steve Jobs, the legendary leader of Apple Inc, had once observed: “Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” Corporations would do well to create cross-functional teams within their organisations such that best minds can collectively ideate to solve social problems. As of now, most csr projects are ideated and delivered by a csr division or a sub-division within the hr function. Just like the total quality revolution involved the participation of workers through quality circles in ideating product and process improvements, the csr legislation provides an opportunity to mainstream the field of social value creation within companies by capitalising on the valuable knowledge resources and people power available in abundance inside India’s leading companies. Social volunteering need not be limited to dedicating a set of hours every month or every year to a cause. It could even be used for contributing ideas and assisting in process designs to effectively execute large scale csr projects.
While beneficiary communities across geographies and sectors eagerly accept funding to improve their lot, there is great resistance to taking ownership and responsibility for the projects. As a result, scalability and sustainability of the projects are in jeopardy with many projects abruptly ending as soon as funding ceases. In the last several decades, India has largely transitioned from the philanthropy-based approach to csr, to an engagement-based approach. There is now a need to progress towards an empowerment-based approach where csr projects aim to empower beneficiary communities to take charge of themselves in a time-bound manner. To this end, counselling, training and capacity building would play a major role.
Ken Blanchard, the renowned American author famously said: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” A key attribute among most corporations is to undertake csr projects independently or in partnership with ngos that possess expertise. We hardly came across projects where several companies within an industry or within a geography came together to ideate and implement csr projects of a massive scale. Collaborative projects that involved joint participation of corporations, civil society and local government were equally rare. Given the magnitude of problems staring at us, and the levels of expertise possessed by each of them, viz business, government and civil society, collaborative projects can play a significant role in solving systemic problems. Getting diverse stakeholders together to share a common vision, agree on metrics and act collectively is a complex exercise, yet worthy of experimentation. A few socio-spiritual organisations have ventured into such collaborations in areas of school mid-day meals and drinking water supply, and achieved remarkable success and scale. It would be worthwhile to study and replicate such endeavours across
different social sectors.
A major flaw in outlook with respect to csr activities has been in measurement. csr is largely viewed from the perspective of quantum of investments made by companies into diverse social projects, and in many cases, the number of beneficiaries. While the former is mandated by the csr legislation, it can, at best, be considered the first step. Emulating the corporate approach to measure success based on return on investments, there is a need to graduate to evaluating social return on investments through csr projects. Given that the annual csr allocation in several large companies crosses R500 crore, these firms would have individually spent over R5,000 crore of csr funds by 2025. If the impact of these investments is not analysed with as much commitment as visible in commercial projects, the effectiveness and efficiency of funds deployed could emerge as a matter of concern. The use of information technology and data analytics can play a catalytic role in evaluating impact. Just as in any business – whether product or service – customer-centricity needs to be promoted as the core objective. The final beneficiary of csr projects is our customer, and she deserves the very best. Capacity building of partner ngos and grassroots organisations to this end would lead to a significant change in approach.
Given a chance, anywhere in the world and in any field, no matter how competitive the situation, Indians have shone when allowed to participate, from creating models for artificial intelligence and life sciences, to running global and complex organisations. This special issue gives us a glimpse into what India Inc has done through csr initiatives in a span of less than five years. They have given us hope. Having seen their potential, our sincere belief is that Indian corporations can take the lead even in the social field. Not too long ago in history, we were the richest nation in the world. The question before us now is: Can we become the best at alleviating poverty, in mitigating inequality, in removing social injustice, and in bringing our great spiritual values to spread happiness among our deprived fellow
citizens? We honestly believe we can.
— Dr Shashank S