Sharing Responsibilities to Create Shared Value
By Sumantra Sen
The article is a look at the importance of creating effective and inclusive solutions to mitigate the challenges we face today.
“For every large societal or environmental concern, be it education, climate change or inequality, the collective endeavor should be to create effective and inclusive solutions.”
“The need of the hour is defining a tripartite way of working amongst like-minded organizations, civil society and Government bodies.”
Corporate Social Responsibility is evolving in India- from merely good intentions to a discipline that can potentially address critical issues that involve complex strategies and activities. Environment, communities and business intersect in many complex ways that need to be understood by all the stakeholders not just superficially but through strategic linkages. The advantage being that company can assist in tackling these challenges and co-create a sphere of reciprocal support with each other and other stakeholders that will lead to progress.
For every large societal or environmental concern, be it education, climate change or inequality, the collective endeavor should be to create efficient and inclusive solutions. Whether that means clean drinking water, health services, education and an enabling system that works, individual contributions, however, noteworthy may not be sufficient considering the impact and outreach that one wants as an end objective. As guidance, the Government of India is already encouraging collaboration by way of allowing companies to engage with CSR programs of the others and implementing CSR bill to augment further the thought. This creates an immense opportunity to overcome hurdles and collectively enhance efficiencies in CSR projects.
These collaborations may be initiated with many diverse objectives. One of them may be to develop the much-needed industry standards and to promote common best practices. Several Foundations and CSR divisions of leading companies have recently joined the Confederation of Indian Industry’s working group for NGO Evaluation System. The outcome of the joint efforts of the group members will be a credible & self-sustaining evaluation system to enable healthy partnerships for social good. Similar consolidated efforts can also help influence policy makers and broader supply chains.
CSR funds can also act as a seed, almost like a social fund for investment in nurturing social enterprises – self-sustaining businesses that creatively and efficiently address social needs. Addressing the myriad social challenges associated with rapidly-growing emerging countries including India, social enterprises can create commercially sustainable solutions that provide jobs, goods and services to the disadvantaged and marginalized. While the initial infrastructure and setting up costs may be financed through an allocation from CSR funds, the operating and maintenance cost can easily be sustained through the pay-to-use model. Extending that further, by way of collectively backing specific social enterprises, a group of corporates can help advance their common CSR goals and the social enterprises benefit from mentorship and visibility that diverse corporate partners bring.
Government backed programs targeted at social development can at times provide a powerful platform for companies to collaborate. In its mission to improve child nutrition, JSW Foundation is working with Department of Women and Child Development, under Government of Maharashtra to improve the status of nutrition among mothers (both pregnant and lactating) and children in Palghar district of Maharashtra. The goal of this project is to track (through mobile phone based application and centrally managed data) every pregnant or lactating mother and child below the age of six years and ensure both the availability and accessibility of the essential services to them such as immunization; supplementary nutrition; other basic health services. The development of the project, community participation and initial success has brought the Foundation in contact with CSR teams of several leading organizations who are interested in aligning their initiatives with the program. The recently launched ‘Jalayukta Shivar Abhiyan’, a Government of Maharashtra initiative to drive water conservation efforts, is another such opportunity. Although at this stage the participating corporates are voluntarily adopting identified villages across various water deficit divisions, at an advanced stage it can lead to expertise sharing or even sharing of resources.
The need of the hour is defining a tripartite way of working amongst like-minded organizations, civil society and Government bodies. At JSW Foundation, one of the key steps we have taken is bringing in transparency while sharing information, whether through online communication channels or in-person for and obtaining valuable feedback but will avoid reinventing the wheel and will help build focus on select CSR projects. This has resulted in trust not only within the organization but has evoked it in the outside environment as well. The evolving space of CSR in the new regime at least in the medium term will also struggle for appropriately skilled workforce. The next level of collaboration may be in the form of nominating specialists to volunteer or cross-train professionals on diverse projects.
The beginnings of such partnerships can already be seen but they have to progress to the next level as combined dedication in addressing key social issues is the best way forward to make a significant positive impact on the communities. Upcoming platforms such as ‘Shared Value Summit’ will provide such avenues for the corporates and other stakeholders to share ideas and explore areas of mutual interest. To quote Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.