Development without equality and justice can only take a country so far. In a developing country like India, it is important to ensure equitable access to resources and opportunities for all. Working towards this goal is ActionAid Association, established with a vision to create a world without poverty, patriarchy and injustice in which every person enjoys the right to life with dignity.
In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Mr Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association, sheds light on the organisation’s work in India to ensure equality, fraternity and liberty for all.
1. What are the main areas of focus of the ActionAid Association?
ActionAid Association is a 50-year-old organisation with a presence in 200 districts across 24 states in India. We at ActionAid Association believe in a world without poverty, injustice and patriarchy. The association works with marginalised communities to help them overcome hunger, poverty, social injustices and patriarchy.
India is a continent country with a lot of diversities in culture, needs, circumstances, etc. Our first main arena of work, in line with our mission, is to help marginalised communities access resources to enable them to have better life. A majority of the people in the country are landless and are unable to gain control over the resources that they require in order to improve their standard of living. We work across the country to ensure that these informal workers are able to get better social security, safe workspace without facing any harassment, and overall, have better prospects.
Other significant areas of focus for the ActionAid Association are to ensure a better future for the children of India, to empower women, and promote gender equality. An emerging area of our work is focused on climate impact and the need for climate justice. We work for the democratisation of society, economy, and polity at all levels.
2. What is the one thing that India Inc. must incorporate in its climate response plan in 2023?
While companies are increasingly becoming aware of their need to act on climate and facing calls from their stakeholders and consumers to act, the key issue is to promote impactful climate response actions against unsubstantiated greenwashing. Beyond the various guidelines and broad commitments – what companies need to do is to specifically commit, monitor, measure and publicly report against such commitments. Such demonstrations would constitute climate leadership and set ecosystem ambitions.
Calls for a “wealth tax” and “climate tax” to create resources for redistribution for rapidly rising inequalities, climate loss and damage etc will gain tailwinds with support from India Inc. It would be a big and a progressive step in 2023, should India Inc join and support and help realize these needed advances.
3. What are some areas which can use more intervention by CSRs?
ActionAid Association has in the past and continues to receive immense support from corporates. Their funding has majorly focused around humanitarian issues. ActionAid has responded to every major disaster and while we have used internal income to start and some solidarity support, the large part of our response is from CSR. Even for COVID-19 a lot of support, about 77 lakhs were given and we responded in 24 states. In 2021 we continued with relief work along with medical services. We opened and supported 23 COVID care centers including Children Covid Centres, distributed more than 6500 + oxygen concentrators to 400 + public health facilities and set up three oxygen generation plants. Corporate supporters appreciated the various responses.
Several of our other initiatives are also supported by corporates – such as the rebuilding and rejuvenating of water bodies, building women farmer producers organisations and supporting livelihoods of vulnerable women, bringing back out of school children to school and child support for vulnerable communities. Companies also support us in imparting education on STEM and watershed management.
Given that 60% of the CSR funds spent by companies in last seven years was in the areas of education, healthcare and rural-development, there is a need for to diversify the areas where CSR fund is being spent. These include ensuring CSR support to geographies and issues where not much resources flow and corporates do not have business interests. Other areas where corporates could efficiently support is in the formation of women’s cooperatives, collectives and enterprises. Additional support can be given by enhancing the resource mobilization capacities of these collectives. The future of refugees and their livelihoods is also an arena corporates can provide meaningful support in. They can foster the building of community leadership. In their own working and supply chains, they can enforce high labour standards with a special focus on decent wages and social protections. Companies would do well to respect environmental standards and disinvest from activities which lead to environmental degradation, displacement of indigenous communities and super exploitation of natural resources.
In the last seven years, 1/3rd of the CSR funds by companies was only spent in 5 states, thus, it is also critical to expand the geographical outreach of the CSR activities. It is crucial for companies to identify areas with the support of NGOs where least investments have been made through CSR funding and provide resources in under-developed and remote regions to maximize the impact of the CSR funds.
Instead of setting up parallel structures such as foundations, corporates should collaborate with existing NGOs and small community led organizations. The collaboration should not only focus on funding arrangements, but the existing NGOs should be mobilised to create the stewardship for the interventions. They should fund the protection of urban commons and the creation of climate resilient urban housing.
4. Economists across the world are anticipating a global recession in 2023. How can organizations brace themselves to minimize the impact of it on its beneficiaries?
With the possibility of a global recession, it is important for corporate giving to increase or at least ring fence CSR giving at existing levels. Under the CSR law, there is a current provision to put 2% of profits towards CSR. With a recession the profits and subsequently the amount under 2% will be impacted. It is important for the corporations do not decrease CSR funding that goes towards development initiatives. This will ensure a consistent and significant contribution to the activities currently being supported under CSR.
Additionally, the role of corporations should go beyond funding. They need to join hands with civil society and govt efforts to expand social and economic entitlements and facilitate better access to existing government entitlements. During economic retardations vulnerable people will further be pushed into poverty. Many marginalized communities are still reeling from the economic impacts of the previous financial crises, high inflation and job losses during COVID-19. Therefore, India Inc. should push for increased social security and welfare in their own value chains, ensure labour rights are protected and their own conspicuous consumption. Their expenditures own overhead and salary expenses can be curtailed, and extravagances reduced in order to direct resources towards the poorest and most vulnerable.