Rewind. Redefine. Reset.

The pandemic may be abetting but it is like that invisible shadow that seems to be lurking around. On speaking to a number of colleagues, friends and professionals, it is evident that the aftereffects still linger on. I am not speaking of the physical effect but the erosion of psychological safety, mental wellbeing, self-worth and compassion…we seem to have regressed in these areas…

Corporates with a strong sense of societal engagement and value system that encourages giving back are cognizant of these long-term impacts. The pandemic has kind of ravaged the heart and soul of humanity. The time has come to have a hard look at the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda.

Expanding the existing view

As we enter the first quarter of this financial year, many organisations will be resetting their CSR strategy and agenda.

The easiest thing to do is to continue with what is already in place. The same amount of funds can be allocated to the same projects. No surprises at the end of the year either. For, nothing changes because nothing was ever changed.

A difficult path to tread on is when one takes a deep dive into the existing programmes and is honest in accepting the shortcomings. At the same time, one does not hesitate to play the role of the critique. What has worked? What needs to be shut down? What can be innovated or reinvented?

Deep dives

‘The meaning of life can be found by diving deep, deep within’ – Vishnudevananda Saraswati.

So is the truth of a program/project understood only by diving deep within it and being receptive towards inaccuracies, failures and inconsistencies.

During the pandemic we initiated a innovative mental wellbeing program within a few of our existing projects. The team was energised. We were entering into a new domain. We were well aware of our shortcoming in terms of having no prior experience in handling this dimension before. We began by taking risks, thinking collaboratively and exploring partnerships not just externally but internally as well.

For months we slogged to develop a framework, by resetting the goal post multiple times and holding on to the project. Until came a day when realisation struck that this was not working. We went back to the drawing board, tried a different approach too. The end result did not change though.

That is when we took a deep dive with our colleagues and our partner to understand where things stood and how we could perhaps relook at the whole project differently. When we realised that there was not much option left, it hit us hard. We had strived to make this project work but somehow it just fell through like a pack of cards. In the end, we had to shelve it.

We had to redefine the focus of the overall project and move on.

Resetting the agenda

Most community engagement programs are long term driven and have an inbuilt impact/outcome process attached to it.

When the agenda is reset if a program fails, it becomes important to reassess the end goal/impact/outcome as well. Gone are the days when these things were cast in stone. Today, agility and flexibility to mold programs according to community needs is de jure.

The key here is to fulfill needs of the community; needs that have been identified by them. The goalpost here is set by the community and in the end, the program is given a shape that involves the community needs. This process breaks down last mile resistance to the program for the community is now equally engaged and involved.

Yet, letting go of the original goalpost is not easy. Professionals need to be just that – professional and avoid an emotional bonding with the project or CSR agenda. Easier said then done! What works really is clarity on the impact/outcome and the ‘long lasting’ proposition associated with it.

The rewind, redefine and reset model helps us capture the inconsistences from a project right in the beginning. It does get a bit boring but once you have aced this model and shared with the group, you will find your association with the journey more rewarding and fulfilling.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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