A robust and thriving development sector is central to India’s quest for equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth. Over the years India’s development sector has evolved substantially and now the CSR regulation is posing new challenges for the sector. It is calling NGOs to scale up, become more transparent and professional, learn to run projects like corporations would and more importantly, move from activity orientation to impact orientation. All this because industry has responded positively to the legislation. According to the India CSR Outlook Report 2017, 300 companies spent Rs 6,871 crore on CSR in 2016- 17. That is a lot of money. The challenge is to use this money to create real impact at scale, which is the intent of the Act.
But that is easier said than done. Here are some practices that can help.
Projects that are driven by the community show greater impact compared to projects that are done for communities. These projects show higher ownership by beneficiaries and don’t run the risk of being irrelevant or becoming redundant. The people engaged in the project ensure that the work is of a high quality and is done in an inclusive manner.
Since community development is a multi-faceted issue, projects which create impact in multiple areas in the community make a greater difference. For example an integrated watershed development program typically improves water availability, increases cropping area, cropping intensity and crop productivity, leads to afforestation and generates livelihoods for the women of the community. The projects often take five or more years to be completed. If the project implementation agency includes sanitation, bio-gas, health camps, etc. into the program then it is not unusual to see household income double during the project period.
Project management methods when used in development sector work ensures efficient use of resources, faster completion of work and greater impact. It used to be difficult to ensure disciplined project management of projects in remote locations. But today we can use technology to enable effective project planning and monitoring. We can also use technology to provide robust solutions, such as tab-enabled monitoring of cropping practices etc. Leveraging technology for greater impact is one way to do CSR better.
Grants provided for CSR are usually used for one-time impact. However if a Village Development Community puts a price on the services that it provides the community, services it was not getting earlier and rotates the funds it had originally received for more development work, then the initial grant is leveraged multiple times and the developmental impact is much higher on the community. This is one way of ensuring greater bang for the proverbial buck.
There are innumerable examples of development work that loses its way once the project implementing agency leaves the community. Biogas units that have gone kaput, solar power systems that are just waste metal with their batteries stolen, toilets that are not used anymore, smokeless chulhas that have been junked are all sights that development professionals have seen in the course of their work. The art of implementing a project such that the good work is continued by the community is not something that can be seen very often. Yet, this is crucial for a CSR intervention to have lasting impact. While community ownership helps, setting up local institutions and empowering them to administer leads to greater longevity of development works.
When it comes to CSR, there are no easy answers on what to do, how to do it and how to measure impact. However, it is clear that approaching CSR as a feel-good or quick-fix exercise runs the risk of missing huge opportunities for real development. Taking a step-by-step approach and doing some of the things shared above can help get better return for CSR investments.
Anirban Ghosh is the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Mahindra Group. He has been working with Group in Sales, Marketing, and Strategy since 1999 and has been recognized as a distinguished CSO in his current role. A gold medal-winning engineer from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, Ghosh has pursued doctoral studies in Marketing Management at IIM Ahmedabad. He enjoys music, reading, traveling, driving, cricket and tennis. He is an active public speaker and has represented the nation at the Festival of India across multiple nations.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team