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Prevention is a Proactive Mindset – Role and Responsibility of Corporate India

‘Prevention is better than cure’. This is a timeless expression used by governments, companies, parents and countless others to emphasize the importance of putting adequate measures in place that can stop an unfortunate event from occurring rather than having to deal with the consequences of the event. However, a quick glance at the programmatic priorities of most CSR initiatives in India seems to bypass the merit of the age-old proverb when it comes to choosing which interventions to support.
In other words, Corporate India, commonly referred to as ‘India Inc.’ in the media, usually opts for a reactive approach that focuses on the cure after an issue or its consequences have come to light, rather than supporting proactive programmes that place an emphasis on the prevention of a host of social ills.
Corporate Social Responsibility provides a platform for companies to integrate social and environmental concerns within their day-to-day business operations as well as their interactions with the stakeholders. Furthermore, it acts as a pathway for companies to achieve a balance between their core business and their economic, environmental and social responsibilities.
India became the first country in the world to make CSR mandatory, following an amendment to the Companies Act, 2013 in April 2014. Additional amendments to Companies Act, 2014 taking effect in April this year, have further underlined the message that CSR is a statutory obligation, however, it fails to address the mind-set of businesses that merely pay their obligatory 2% share, and do not engage with a systematic integration of social and environmental concerns with their core business.
The recent amendments to the Companies Act, 2014 address some of the most pressing issues with CSR by mandating impact assessment of a company’s CSR activities through an independent agency. Additionally, the need for a stronger emphasis on long-term sustainability has also been recognised by regulatory bodies which have issued a new format for Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) aimed at bringing greater transparency through disclosures on Environmental, Social and Governance-related information. Though what is also required is to ensure that the CSR activities cannot be predicated on stakeholder interests which are confined to optimising returns on capital invested.
Today India’s booming working population is experiencing an influx of millennials who increasingly expect their jobs to provide them a sense of purpose and are becoming mindful of their potential employers’ stance on a host of major social issues. More importantly, the shifting mind-sets among the socially conscious millennial workforce, who comprise the majority of the job market in India, places the onus firmly on companies to ensure their CSR activities address a range of societal issues.
A quick glance at the key and emerging trends for CSR programming indicates a focus on poverty and hunger, education, health and well-being and climate change. The supported activities are tangible, quantifiable, measurable and important. The programmes that focus on prevention and work on the root causes to eradicate the deeply embedded social ills, especially in the realm of sexual violence, and child sexual abuse become the casualty of this premium placed on instant tangible outputs.
Due to the general acceptance of the culture of domination, power and authority, abusive behaviour towards children has become normalized, resulting in a dissolution of personal boundaries, and an absence of personal autonomy to speak up and say NO, amongst many other fallouts. These two factors seed a misinformed understanding of ‘consent’ at an early age. Preventive programmes to address issues such as child sexual abuse can give people valuable education on breaking the cycle of sexual violence. This takes time and extensive long-term efforts to create a social tipping point.
Yet, for countless organisations working on programmes to prevent sexual violence, it becomes challenging to receive adequate funding through CSR programmes because of two factors, first being the stigma associated with programmes dealing with sexual violence, and the second being the absence of direct attributable outputs, especially if the programme focus is prevention and not redress.
When provided with the right resources, prevention programmes can play a crucial role in ensuring India achieves its sustainable development goals such as eliminating discrimination against women and children by 2030, but more pressure and stronger voices for change are needed if we are to ensure prevention programmes receive adequate funding through CSR. Afterall, prevention is nothing but a proactive mindset.
Smita Bharti, Executive Director, Sakshi-a rights based NGO
Smita Bharti, Executive Director, Sakshi-a rights based NGO
Smita Bharti is the Executive Director/President of Sakshi, a rights-based NGO and the Programme Director of The Rakshin Project by Sakshi, a Youth-led movement across 40,000 Colleges Pan-India to prevent, prohibit and resolve Child Sexual Abuse. She is a recognized trainer for Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment, and Judicial Education for Gender Equality within the Region. She is a recipient of the Karmaveer Gold Chakra and Karmaveer Puraskaar for Social Change and Justice, amongst other awards.