Corporate Social Responsibility has never been more critical than the present times. With the pandemic washing over us in wave after wave, it has impacted lives and livelihoods in inestimable ways. It is now, more than ever, that the world of business has to look at people and the world with compassion. Most are standing up to the task, and changing the ways they have viewed CSR. With many now steering their social responsibility involvement with more heart. If any good has come out of the pandemic, this is that one silver lining.
The new normal.
Here are few of the new realities in CSR that are taking shape.
With the pandemic, there were small citizen clusters which were forming that had the intention and enthusiasm to help the affected, but lacked the means. There were hospitals and public health centres with outdated infrastructure. Corporates saw the gap and stepped in. Collaborating with citizen clusters by funding their noble intentions. Upgrading existing hospitals with oxygen cylinders, and oxygenator plants. A realisation slowly dawned that there are enough people doing great work out there & all that those people lacked were the funds. Some of those pandemic-time associations have been formalized into full-time collaborations going forward. Companies now continue to uplift and upgrade them.
Companies were faced with a quandary – people they helped with the first wave were left helpless again with the second wave, unable to support themselves independently without intervention, and it was leaving an impact on their own sense of self-worth. There was a need to create sustainability, instead of stop-gap support. Companies began supporting skilling and employability-focussed projects. Directing majority of their funds towards imparting employability skills to school or college dropouts, women, and people with disabilities. Short-term support with a long-term impact.
During the pandemic, we saw a lot of videos shot by the common man as brands distributed food, or organised a bus for migrants to get back home, or distributed Diwali sweets, or organised one more oxygen cylinder. Customers (and employees) of those brands were proudly sharing the videos, taking personal pride in the work done by ‘their company’. There was a new respect for these brands that helped with genuine intent. Now that brands have enjoyed this goodwill, many are looking for ways to sustain this for the long term. Keeping the genuineness the same of course.
Charity Begins at Home
With the pandemic, lots of companies were approached by local communities for help. And help was always forthcoming. Working in the local community around their office/factory a lot of companies are now cementing those initial forays, with formal commitments to uplift and upgrade schools, clinics, parks, water sanitation, skill building and employability in their immediate vicinity.
The fortunate thing about CSR work during the pandemic is that companies stepped forward not by compulsion or government mandate. They came forward to fulfil their responsibility as an intrinsic desire. There were accounts of people from across the organisation, irrespective of designation, out on the roads distributing rations. There were some companies who even spent beyond the stipulated 2%. This personal accountability, and direct interaction with the underprivileged is exactly what was required to spur interest in CSR. Hope this particular effect stays forever. India will be the better for it.
It is truly heartening to witness the new normal. There is a new understanding that an interdependent world can thrive and survive only if each and every one of us behaves responsibly and are accountable to society. In the coming years, we hope to see more companies making diversity, equity, and inclusion a precedence within the communities they serve. With new CSR strategies that are integrated into the everyday business model, and inclusive of people across the internal and external environment. With sustainability as the key benchmark.
There’s a transformation that is underway in CSR, and only good can come out of it.
Ritu Prakash Chhabria is the Founder member and Managing Trustee of the Mukul Madhav Foundation (MMF). Working ceaselessly with MMF over the past 23 years to transform the way charity is done in India, she has constantly worked to support the under-served with dignity and not dole-outs. Personally involved in impacting numerous lives and livelihoods through initiatives in education, healthcare, self-employment, women empowerment, sanitation, water conservation and every other genuine need that remains unfulfilled, and comes to her attention. With a Masters in International Relations, she majored in Economics from Richmond College, London, with a minor in Marketing. This has held her in good stead when liaising with local government bodies, benevolent corporates and international collaborators.