Corporate Social Responsibility

It’s two years down the line since the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law came into effect and we see that the landscape of CSR in India has evolved. Companies have initiated a number of CSR projects.

Let’s take a look at how some leading corporates like Yes Bank, PwC, Apollo Tyres and PVR have taken to the concept. We caught up with some leaders to discuss how their journey has been so far.

CSR: charity or philanthropy?

CSR in India has moved many steps ahead – from pure philanthropy during pre-colonial times to social development post independence.

“Our belief is that CSR shouldn’t be viewed as charity or philanthropy— it makes perfect business sense,” discloses Jaivir Singh, Vice Chairman, PwC India Foundation. For businesses to be viable, “it is important for them to be an integral part of social development as there is a deep linkage between the country’s economic growth and social well-being.”

At Apollo Tyres, the belief is that work in the community “is an investment and an opportunity, to create a difference in the lives of our stakeholders and customers, which requires sustained efforts for a longer period of time”. And whether it is charity or philanthropy, Sunam Sarkar, President & Chief Business Officer, Apollo Tyres Ltd is of the opinion that “These, in no way, can be clubbed with one-off charity or philanthropy initiatives undertaken by companies or individuals”.

“We believe that we have been able to make a difference in the lives of our stakeholders, especially the trucking community with our HIV-AIDS awareness and prevention programme, and for the community around our manufacturing plants, with our livelihood generation initiatives,” says Sunam Sarkar.

The CSR journey: how did CSR strategies develop?

The CSR sector is in its nascent stage, points out Prerana Langa and “there is tremendous potential to innovate and action solutions. Every day brings an opportunity to learn something new and contribute meaningfully to nation-building”. With the YES BANK ethos of innovation and focus on sunrise sectors, they clearly did not want to follow a ‘me too’ model when setting up the YES FOUNDATION and defining its focus.

In 2013, YES FOUNDATION launched its flagship program, ‘YES! I am the CHANGE’ (YIAC) which serves as a platform to facilitate a connection between youth and social causes, trigger inner transformation of youth and connect their untapped energy to voices less heard through the impactful medium of films. While developing this program, we followed the mantra of our Chief Mentor, Mr. Rana Kapoor – ‘Visualise, Strategise and Actualise’, says Prerana Langa. The project features a series of basic film workshops followed by a filmmaking challenge and film festivals across the country. It is a matter of great pride that in less than three years, YIAC has emerged as the world’s largest social film movement,” she points out.

To further social impact and harness the energy of youth in nation-building, they recently launched two new programs – YES FOUNDATION Media for Social Change Fellowship and YES Social Film Grant in association with UNDP.

For PwC, their journey began in 2008, when CSR guidelines were not yet in place. They have come a long way and today; with 15 programmes running across nine states of India, they continue to explore avenues to reach out to underserved communities.

Apollo Tyres, being conscious of the “triple bottom line concept – People, Planet and Profit”, has developed a CSR framework identifying and prioritising its key stakeholders. The clear objective of all CSR activities is to have a positive impact on the everyday lives of the key stakeholders and on the business.

PVR Ltd. the nation’s largest cinema exhibition chain has been an early adopter of CSR. PVR Nest, a decade old social program of PVR Ltd. started its foundation in 2006 as a not-for-profit nodal body aimed at providing a dedicated approach to community development and also to fulfil company’s CSR commitments. “The challenge has always been building the multi-stakeholder partnerships,” informs Deepa Menon, VP, CSR and Corporate Communication, PVR Ltd.

Focus areas in CSR

Harnessing media for mindset transformation of the youth and triggering their emergence as responsible citizens, thus catalysing India’s inclusive development – is the focus area of YES FOUNDATION. “We strongly believe that responsible youth citizenship should not be a singular journey but a vector with both direction and speed. With youth, the association with social causes has to be experiential and hence we connect with them in the language they understand – media,” says Prerana Langa.

The CSR activities of the company, under Apollo Tyres Foundation, are categorised into two verticals – Environment and Social. HabitAt Apollo is the umbrella environment initiative, which showcases Apollo’s commitment towards ensuring environmental sustainability by inculcating eco-friendly behaviour, resource conservation and green thinking in the people. Within HabitAt Apollo, they undertake several projects under Biodiversity Conservation, Watershed Management, Waste Management and Climate Change Mitigation.

Through the PwC India Foundation, we address some of India’s fundamental problems, says Jaivir Singh. Their main focus has been Education and Environment Sustainability and recently expanded to other areas – Sanitation, Social Entrepreneurship Issues of Urban Children and Disaster response.

The areas of focus for PVR are: Education, Nutrition & Health, Employability and Well Being & Rehabilitation. PVR Nest works extensively with children and youth. Their program Childscapes helps by improving the quality of life of children living in difficult circumstances in and around PVR Cinema complexes. The output of the program is – mainstreaming children into formal schooling, employability and rehabilitation treatment for children under substance abuse. They have conceptualised CineArt: Cinema & Art for social convergence, which engages with young adults through experiential methodology. Some examples of their successful CineArt program editions are – CineArt: Steer to Safety program, CineArt – Healthy Children, Happy Children and the Campus Ambassador Program which aims to empower the youth of the city to come together and work towards building a safer city using the power of media.

Transforming the lives of communities

The belief behind YES FOUNDATION’s YIAC launch was that stories can change the world. “The most amazing experiences have been interacting with YIAC participants enthused about contributing to social transformation, post the filmmaking challenge. Seeing their zeal and passion for contributing to the country’s inclusive development is so moving”, recalls Prerana Langa.

The impact is wide. Touching over 20 crore lives (in 2015) through YIAC, it is not merely about the numbers but “the ripples of change this mindset transformation program creates”.

Take the case of Kuljeet Chaudhary, an IT professional from Delhi, who has today been transformed into a youth leader in the space of animal welfare, after starting an initiative – ‘Samarpan’. Leena Kejriwal, a Kolkata-based artist working on the issue of sex trafficking of women , was inspired to use public art and raise awareness on this important social cause. Her public art initiative, MISSING is now an international movement, sensitising people on this pertinent social issue.

In FY16, PwC touched 18,000 lives directly through various projects and 20,000 lives through their pro bono advisory services. Recently, they concluded the first phase of the sanitation project across six Government  girls’  schools with NGO partner FINISH Society  that  has  benefited 4500+ girls. The project is cohesive  as  it  looks  at  all aspects of sanitation –  from supporting infrastructure development, providing operations and maintenance support for a year to conducting 90-day health and hygiene session.

Apollo Tyres has reached out to more than 3 million people under their HIV-AIDS awareness and prevention programme, and nearly 80,000 have been tested for HIV. Under Community Development projects, they have provided skill-building training to approximately 1500 women and youth, while collecting nearly 70,000 kgs of waste under their Waste Management initiative, and planted 100,000 teak trees for carbon sequestration.

Creating opportunities for employee participation

“Our employees are our assets. Their passion and enthusiasm to contribute keeps us going,” admits Jaivir Singh. Last year, PwC clocked 2800 employee volunteering hours. They organise a host of initiatives ranging from simple donation drives and blood donation camps to using their skills to provide career counseling, mentoring and tutoring children. Some of their flagship projects allow employees to get out of their comfort zones and conduct sessions in areas and with people who would not usually be a part of their working lives.

Along with  this, some of their client servicing teams provide probono advisory support to NGOs and Foundations – aiding them to improve their systems, programmes, and processes. Last year, 1000 hours were spent on such projects and they aspire to do far more.

Across the company’s operations, “we regularly create opportunities for employees to voluntarily participate in CSR activities,” says Sunam Sarkar about the efforts put in by Apollo Tyres. At the manufacturing locations, the employees work with the CSR team on the community development initiatives or for tree plantation activities, and they regularly contribute by donating books and clothes to the underprivileged.

Some initiatives carried out internally with employees at PVR are – donation drives, toy bank initiatives and mentorship programmes. PVR employees volunteer at Childscapes centers to mentor the children and build their skills/competencies.

Measuring and tracking progress and shortcomings

To analyse the impact of any activity, some measurement system must be in place. The same holds good for the CSR window too. We have a strict due diligence process to select only appropriate NGOs in the sector, says Jaivir Singh. Before any project kicks off, a rigorous streamlined process of outlining the indicators to measure outcome and impact is in place and their partner NGOs are obliged to share regular progress reports. Plus, their business teams extend their support to monitor and evaluate the progress of their community projects too. Also, monitoring and evaluation of projects by third parties helps us understand the pitfalls and provide course correction, he added.

It’s KPMG that takes stock of all progress at YES FOUNDATION. But, Prerana Langa reveals that, measuring mindset transformation is a challenge! It also happens that participants, after YIAC Challenge continue their association with social causes in terms of volunteering, fundraising etc. Apart from the case studies on the impact of YIAC participation on the youth, and the Changemaker Awards, they are also in the process of commissioning a large impact assessment and SROI study to measure the impact of the program.

For Apollo Tyres too there is a tracking system well in place. “We have developed a well-defined monitoring and evaluation system for all our initiatives,” assures Sunam Sarkar. Monthly reporting of all projects is carried out, along with regular reviews that help in bridging the gaps, if any. Further, projects completing three years undergo mid-line assessment, whereas, an impact assessment study is carried out after five years of the programmes. The company has also undertaken Social Return of Investment (SROI) study for the HIV-AIDS prevention and awareness programme, which in addition to highlighting the minor gaps, provided recommendations to improve.

Each program of PVR Nest has a separate assessment index, which measures the progress and shortcomings. The Childscapes program has ‘Individual Development Plan’, which focuses on age appropriate growth outcomes for them; CineArt program has clubs and experiential knowledge session where they carry out the behavioral assessment.

The road ahead

For the corporate world, the firm resolution is to continue with their CSR efforts in all seriousness. Prerana Langa reveals that they will soon be launching ‘YES! i am the CHANGE 2016’ and “this year we plan to make it ‘bigger’ and more impactful with new value additions and features, to further deepening the impact and create inclusive ecosystems. We intend to reach out to the Indian diaspora across the world – especially US, UK, Singapore and GCC and engage them positively in India’s inclusive development.”

And, that is not the end of their story. They will also be launching YES FOUNDATION Responsible Youth Citizenship program and YES ENABLER – a high impact program promoting DICE (Design and Innovation-led Creative Entrepreneurship) to maximise social impact of Non-Profits and government.

The future for PVR envisages projects for building partnerships with government bodies like NCPCR, where they are trying to build child friendly spaces for their observation homes and special homes. They are also working on a youth led ‘Campus Ambassador Campaign’ on gender equity, enabling youth participation in city’s planning, safety and design.

With strong commitment in place, Apollo Tyres continues to serve its expanding stakeholder base through CSR initiatives across its operations, reports Sunam Sarkar. “In the coming times, we see further strengthening and introduction of newer programmes that shall address the needs of our stakeholders and make a happy difference in their lives,” he adds.

The road ahead is perfectly clear for PwC India Foundation. “Our vision is straight forward – we wish to contribute in areas and in communities that are under served and hard to reach. Going forward, we wish to create more cohesive projects that cover these aspects and provide a scalable solution for others to replicate and solve some of the critical challenges that India faces,”observes Jaivir Singh with clarity.

The need for CSR has never been greater

To conclude, it appears, across the business landscape, the need for CSR has never been greater. The scene is getting greener. And, it has been proved that adapting sustainable policies will have a huge impact on the bottom line.

So, let’s hope that this movement gets greener…as green as it could get.

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