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Retrospecting CSR in 2015

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As the eventful year 2015 passes by and 2016 kick starts, it is a good idea to look back in the year and find its facets and trivia. We bring to you some of the important events, some successful and some unfulfilled expectations highlighted with some hopes from the coming year.

The first financial year of the wp mandate completed in March 2015. The beginning of 2015 saw rush amongst the corporate houses to achieve their goal of spending their 2% profits. With little formal Corporate Social Responsibility (wp) experience, corporate firms struggled to understand the nitty-gritty of the New Companies Act, 2013 that lays down rules for wp.

2015 served as a year of learning and understanding the wp framework and also making changes in it based on various small and big discussions. Industry representatives and government spoke a lot on their respective stands. Committees were set to inspect various features of the mandate. Reports of wp spending propped up showing poor spending but higher hopes.

Apart from the several circulars and notifications that were issued back and forth leading to confusion at times, there were certain events in 2015 which played an important role in the wp domain.

“The biggest event of 2015 according to me was Conference of Parties (COP) 21. Sustainability emerged as a major issue this year with the Paris deal getting agreed by so many countries. Though there are loopholes and the agreement is not legally binding, it is a big achievement to have it agreed upon,” says Dr Vikas Goswami, Head of Good and Green function of Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies. Goswami herself was a part of the Paris summit.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the agreement to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2° C was agreed at the climate change summit in Paris on December 12, 2015. Efforts would be pursued to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Corporate firms will have to work a lot on their environment sustainability levels to achieve the goals of COP 21.

Another major event was the disastrous floods of Tamil Nadu where huge losses were incurred in terms of property and population. Everyone including common man to corporate giants came up to help the victims of the environmental disaster. To name a few, following companies played a role in relief and rehabilitation to flood victims playing their wp roles.

  • TVS Motor Company distributed over 1 lakh food packets and 50 tonnes of food to people affected in low-lying areas. Venu Srinivasan, chairman, TVS Motors contributed Rs 5 crore.
  • State-run bank SBI also distributed food, water, blankets, medicines and utensils to flood-hit districts apart from Rs 1 crore to the government.
  • Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) decided to donate Rs 1,100 crore to rehabilitate its Chennai staff affected in the floods.
  • Muthoot M Goerge Foundation, the social arm of Muthoot Finance distributed three truckloads of food parcels, thousands of litres of fresh drinking water, blankets, sleeping mats and other emergency supplies to flood affected victims in Chennai.

Not only corporate fraternity but local citizens and other organizations emerged as helping hands and supporters of the victims. Vibha, a US based NGO with mainly NRI members contributed noticeably to help flood victims. “We provided health care services, food, water, clothing, sanitation services to various villages of Tamil Nadu which weren’t mainly touched upon. Victims had suffered huge losses. To bring their lives to normalcy, we also helped them with infrastructure repair works, school books and nutrition needs,” Keyur Shah, Director, Programs, Vibha.

Many companies garnered support to the popular Swachcha Bharat initiative with their wp funds by conducting cleanliness campaigns, activities and building toilets. “We saw a lot more companies moving closer to compliance with the wp law and considering their contributions far more seriously than years before. We also saw government initiatives like Swachh Bharat, Skill India, etc helping many organisations stay more focused in their wp prioritization,” says Atul Satija, CEO, The Nudge Foundation. The not-for-profit organization works for poverty alleviation.

The new law implemented since April 2014 mandated companies with a certain threshold to spend 2% of net average profit on social activities mentioned in the Schedule VII of the New Companies Act, 2013. With many predictions based on certain calculations came figures as high as Rs 22,000 crores to be the wp spend amount of the year. The amount soon became a topic of discussion everywhere and raised hopes and expectations of many in the country.

“The Government of India had announced Accessible India Campaign, a campaign for persons with disabilities. I was hoping more support from government and corporate sector towards it. But I don’t think we have got enough support for the same. I think it is a great idea and a good start but a lot more needs to be done to encourage corporate firms towards Accessible India Campaign,” says Nipun Malhotra, CEO, Nipman Foundation and Executive Director, Nipman Fastener Industries. Malhotra was born with arthrogryposis (a congenital disorder due to which his muscles haven’t developed in arms and legs). He runs the foundation to make India more sensitive and accessible for the disabled.

“I was hoping for more openness to support testing of new models. Majority companies fall in the bucket of allocating funds for standard projects that seem to be working for a long-time with little innovation or scale aspiration. Given the magnitude of the social problems we are facing in India, we need to collectively make it far easier for social entrepreneurs to jump and stay in,” adds Satija.

While there were some discontented expectations, there were some content ones too. “wp is in a nascent stage and I expected Corporate India to focus on understanding the sector and developing their policies and strategies. The most heartening trend has been the increasing interaction between government, corporate houses and non-profits, especially the interaction between various corporate firms in terms of knowledge and experience sharing. This openness to learn and use business acumen to devise innovative solutions has the potential to revolutionise India’s development sector,” says Prerana Langa, CEO, Yes Foundation, the wp arm of Yes Bank.

Many reports that compiled the spending of corporate companies showed that the total amount spent in the first year of wp implementation was not close to even half the predicted amount. Though the numbers were disappointing; hopes are held high.

“There is huge under-spend by several companies for FY 2014-15. However, FY 2015-16 may see progress and more activities. There needs to be greater accountability and transparency from companies. Spending on wp activities is one thing but effective utilization of these funds considering factors like how they were spent and why is important. Companies, together with finance audit may like to voluntarily consider ‘social audit’ to assess every aspect of their wp activity from policy to evaluation,” says Noshir Dadrawala, CEO, Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy (CAP) that provides guidance and advisory services to companies for wp compliance.

“wp should look for techno social development of the country. wp should be used to consider the investment in the capacity building of the NGOs,” says Shraddha Shringarpure, Programme Manager, AROEHAN an NGO working for rural development.

Shah from Vibha hopes for a strengthened wp eco system in 2016. This he believes is possible with, “(i) An emerging phase of wp version 2.O to be driven by strategy and not just charity. (ii) Behavioral shift in wp managers to look beyond compliance and commit for driving sustainable change. (iii) wp to encourage and enable an environment for scaling sustainable solutions.

From an environment more conducive for relations between corporate and NGOs to employability and poverty alleviation, a lot is being projected from the new year 2016. Time will decide the future course but let us keep our hopes high and work towards our best.