CSR through Holistic Approach for Sustainability
Corporate Social Responsibility has become an integral part of doing business. For every public limited and private limited firm, CSR is a way to give back to the society where the business is operated and it is now mandatory to implement CSR in India for bringing about socio-economic development into the society.
The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which dates back to the year 1953 first came up as an academic topic, there has been continuous debate on the concept and its implementation and although the idea has been around for more than half a century, there is still no clear consensus over its definition. While there is no universally accepted definition of CSR, each definition that exists describes the impact of the business on the society at large. However, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s definition which states that, “CSR is the continuing commitment by business to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.” is the widely accepted.
CSR is not a new concept in India. Ever since its inception, many leading corporates like Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, etc., have been involved in serving the community. While many other companies/organizations were doing their part in other ways like donations, charity, etc without any fixed policies until the enforcement of the Companies Act 2013 which mandated CSR for all private limited and public limited firms.
CSR Guidelines as per the Companies Act 2013:
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has notified Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act 2013 as well as the provisions of the Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules, 2014 which came into effect from April 1, 2014 under which every company, private limited or public limited, which either has a net worth of Rs 500 crore or a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore, needs to spend at least 2% of its average net profit for the immediately preceding three financial years on corporate social responsibility activities.
With CSR guidelines notified under the Companies Act 2013 the activities that can be undertaken by a company to fulfill its CSR obligations include:
- Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition,
- Promoting preventive healthcare,
- Promoting education and promoting gender equality,
- Setting up homes for women, orphans and the senior citizens,
- Measures for reducing inequalities faced by socially and economically backward groups,
- Ensuring environmental sustainability and ecological balance,
- Animal welfare,
- Protection of national heritage and art and culture,
- Measures for the benefit of armed forces veterans, war widows and their dependents,
- Training to promote rural, nationally recognized, Paralympic or Olympic sports,
- Contribution to the prime minister’s national relief fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government for socio economic development and relief and welfare of SC, ST, OBCs, minorities and women,
- Contribution or funds provided to technology incubators located within academic institutions approved by the Central Government and rural development projects.
CSR Initiatives in India:
The government of India formed public sector undertakings (PSUs) with the purpose of building industrial capacity, creating employment opportunities and improving the socio-economic condition. Both, central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) and state level PSUs have played a vital role in supporting the socio-economic development of the country. They are actively involved in various areas of CSR such as education, healthcare, improving infrastructure, social empowerment, vocational training and environmental protection among others. With a high degree of support from the government, CSPEs acts as a catalyst of social enterprise by providing such diverse services for grass root development. Over the past two decades, India has emerged as one of the world’s strongest emerging markets and PSUs have played a vital role in achieving this growth and development. In order to sustain this growth, CSR initiatives have become important as they form a crucial part of the companies’ strategic decision-making process. In order to integrate this into their business models and achieve the nation’s aim of inclusive growth, CPSEs are expected to take up at least one major project mandatorily for development of a backward district and to act in a socially responsible manner at all times. Even in their normal business activities, CPSEs should try to conduct business in a manner that is beneficial to both, business and society.
Along with PSUs Corporate houses has also been involved in CSR activities for many years. Most of the corporate houses has taken up CSR initiatives such as Skill Development, Education, Health Care, etc. some companies like Maruti, L&T, ITC have initiated programs in their areas of expertise. Maruti is involved in Skill Development Training for youths. L&T in into Construction Vocational Training while ITC are into activities like providing sustainable livelihood for farmers, rural women empowerment, environment preservation like rainwater harvesting etc. Prominent business houses like Tata Group, Infosys are into multiple CSR activities in sectors of education, health, environment, women empowerment etc.
CSR in NER
North East Region of India comprising of eight states have been bestowed with abundant natural resources primarily tea, bamboo and crude oil in Assam. Also wild forest reserves and abundant flora and fauna are available in plenty across the region which is known for its greenery. NER is rich in its cultural heritage and has a lot to offer from its traditional crafts in the handloom and handicraft sector. Inspite of the rich natural resources, the region has failed to tap the full potential of its natural richness to contribute towards economic growth and prosperity. NER continues to be a region of slower economic growth in comparison to the rest of the country. The geographical remoteness of the region has been a hindrance and for many years the development policies of the government did not get the due thrust. NER have lagged behind due to many internal issues of unemployment and insurgency issues leading to a stagnant economy.
In this context, CSR is one of the most effective approaches that can contribute towards the upliftment of the society at large. Recent years have seen sporadic CSR initiatives but there have been no clear cut guidelines towards a long term and sustainable CSR approach in this region.
Some efforts by the PSUs existing in NER include the CSR activities by ONGC, IOCL, NHPC, NEEPCO etc. ONGC in northeast is doing CSR through livelihood projects, cluster development and wildlife protection. IOCL has mainly focused on health, women empowerment and skill development. Similarly, NHPC has made efforts through CSR in education and vocational training, health care, livelihood projects, etc. NEEPCO is involved in sectors like education, health, infrastructure assistance, entrepreneurship development programme and old age homes. Inspite of all these initiatives, a long term outcome oriented concerted effort is yet to be seen in NER.
One focussed initiative is the CSR scenario of the region is under Project Swabalamban of Oil India Limited, Duliajan. Through this skill and capacity building initiative, OIL aims to provide skill based employment oriented training to youths from the catchment areas where OIL operates.
Experience of Implementing CSR activities of Different PSUs in NER:
In NER, Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) has been playing a key role in implementing CSR activities. The various activities initiated with CSR funding include the following:
- Skill Development
- Entrepreneurship Education
A different approach has been adopted to implement CSR in NER through unique activities which otherwise are not primarily focussed under the various CSR sectors existing across the country. Under the CSR umbrella it has focussed on livelihood promotion and economic empowerment through rural skill up-gradation, cluster mode, entrepreneurship education etc.
The vision is to make an impact in terms of upliftment of the backward strata of the society and objectively look into the needs and desires of the people. This as the core objective, the focus has been on the following:
- Concentrating on different pockets in different NER states to groom artisans involved in traditional crafts and develops an organised livelihood sectors. Traditionally the artisans are unwilling to migrate from their homes and so this mode of cluster approach for livelihood is the best suited.
- Youths who are willing to do something and travel to far off places to fulfil dreams. Here the placement oriented skill development programmes for unemployed youths plays a vital role.
- Create awareness at school/college level and motivate teachers to promote entrepreneurship thereby by creating an enterprising society.
The first foray into implementing CSR projects dates back to the year 2010 when the first attempt in rural skilling was planned and implemented for tribal rural handloom weavers in identified pockets in Upper Assam near the operational areas of ONGC. The project was undertaken in collaboration with National Scheduled Tribe Finance Development and Corporation (NSTFDC) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). The focus of the programme was ensuring sustainability through skill and design development and market linkage. A holistic approach was taken to provide the following:
- Credit linkage by tying up with Gramin Vikash Bank
- Product diversification through design intervention
- Capacity building
- Skill up-gradation
- Market linkage by facilitating participation in exhibitions and buyer seller meet
- Convergence with various government departments like TRIFED for market support
A total of 120 weavers were covered through the 4 pockets (Majuli, Golaghat, Titabor and Sivsagar). Each pocket had 25 weavers and 2 SHG’s each were formed in each of the pockets. Designers worked on developing value added products which resulted in increase in productivity and income. A local credible NGO was identified to handhold the weavers in each pocket. The four NGO’s have been playing a key role in ensuring sustainability of the weavers.
Through various interventions carried out, today handloom activity has become one of the major source of income of all the 150 artisans from the 4 pockets of upper Assam. Previously, agriculture was the main source of income and the women weavers used to help the husbands/ fathers in agricultural activities. However, post training and market linkages, the artisans mainly depend on weaving as their source of income. They have understood the benefits of value addition and scope of commercialisation. A good supply chain system has evolved and artisans are earning an income in the range of Rs. 6000/- to Rs. 10000/- a month. Visible changes are seen in the standard of living of the artisans. After the success of this programme and more such programmes were initiated under CSR initiative of India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL) and National Scheduled Tribe Finance Development and Corporation (NSTFDC).
The project has been undertaken in collaboration with IIFCL and NSTFDC. The focus of the programme is skill upgradation for a sustainable livelihood for tribal women of the 8 states of North East. A holistic approach is being planned to provide the following:
- Credit linkage with different banks
- Product diversification through design intervention
- Capacity building and Skill upgradation
- Market linkage by facilitating participation in exhibitions and buyer seller meet
- Start up fund of Rs. 15,000/- per artisan at the end of the programme.
- Stipend of Rs. 3000/- to each artisan during the training
This project covered 25 women artisans from each of the eight states of the North East region with a view to develop groups from the states into handloom clusters in the future with credit support from NSTFDC. This innovative approach in addressing and unravelling the common challenges faced by the women artisans by giving stress on aspects like design intervention, product diversification, creating market driven products, providing credit linkage and market linkage, convergence and Start-up fund and the immense effort undertaken can be given credit for the successful completion of this project where the beneficiaries are able to sustain through this means of earning livelihood.At present, 200 artisans who received training through this project are on a path of earning a sustainable livelihood by producing a new variety of handloom products while keeping their traditional designs and motifs intact. The project was successful in making weaving a full time income generating activity for the artisans from a part-time activity. After the completion of the training, the participants were given a platform to show-case their products in the exhibition cum buyer-seller meet which helped them to understand the market demand and get market linkages.
Skill Development Programmes:
Experiences of organizing placement linked skill development programmes have shown thatl participants who underwent the skill development program for Housekeeping and Hospitality Services and Hospitality Management, 90% have been placed. Today these youths who have come from an underprivileged section of the society with no hopes for the future are working in five star luxury hotels across the country such as the Taj Group of Hotels, JW Marriot, Hyatt Regency etc. to name a few. These young boys and girls from Upper Assam are now leading a secured life and earning a sustainable average monthly income of Rs. 20,000/- and are working n cities like Mumbai, Goa, Kerela, Pune, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Chennai, etc. It is noteworthy that the educational qualifications of the majority of these youths are higher secondary. These youths have now become a source of motivation to the other unemployed youths of their hometown.
Similarly the trainees of Patient Care Assistant have found themselves to be selected in hospitals across Assam. After the skill development training of five months, the young boys and girls are equipped with the needed skills for assisting patients and are earning decently an average of Rs. 6000/- plus incentives per month.
These CSR initiatives have been a unique experience with each of the skill development programmes and the entrepreneurship education programmes. It has been able to make a small difference to the lives of the people coming from the weaker sections of the society. A lot of potential is seen for the underprivileged sections of the society through the skill development programmes and also the entrepreneurship education programmes as part of CSR activities. These may well become the change agent towards social and economic empowerment of the society at large. There is no dearth of talent amongst the unemployed youths of Assam or NER for that matter. Only the right guidance, awareness and training are required along with the right linkages towards earning a livelihood for which a continuous effort is being made by providing placement links and handholding.
A parallel can be drawn between the outcome of these initiatives and the success indicators of the initiatives.
For the livelihood clusters, SHG formation, bank linkages, development of diversified product, market linkages, use of technology & tools, increase in income, increase in production were the highlighted success indicators and already the impact of these is seen in the clusters.
For the skill development programmes, considering the socio – economic environment of NER, Assam in particular and based on our field level experiences over the years, it was expected to achieve 80% success rate both in self and wage employment and the outcome has been overwhelming with more than 80% placement records.
For the entrepreneurship awareness programme, the level of awareness created on various aspects of entrepreneurship, motivation level and self confidence level and setting up of Entrepreneurship and Career Counseling Centre (ECCC) in the educational institutions were considered to be the success indicators. Accordingly, the overwhelming response from the awareness camps and willingness shown by the teachers to take up the initiative of starting a Career Counselling Centre shows the depth of the impact these awareness programmes have had.
The experience of livelihood entrepreneurship in handloom sector in Assam is proposed to be replicated in other states in various other resource and skill based sectors like food processing and handicraft sector. The skill development programme in future would also focus on rural skills in the livelihood clusters. This will not only prevent migration but also ensure continuity of traditional art and craftsmanship.