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Walking the Talk: the Gap Between Intention and Action

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The central premise of Section 135 of the Companies Act has been to link profits to welfare, leading to betterment of society as a whole. With the advent of this section, the creators of wealth and generators of profit were forced to acknowledge philanthropy beyond personal charitable giving. Philanthropy and the development sector suddenly became the talk of the town and a critical agenda point in Board meetings of large and small corporates. Initial reactions ranged from the truly brilliant to the almost comical questions around marginalised groups, below poverty line population and funding gaps to ensure welfare.

Once corporates began to decode this puzzle of philanthropic giving, soon after came the next challenge. How do we align corporate approach, strategy, processes and understanding to suit the development sector?  To many who ventured for the first time in this space, the first few experiences with “Not for profits”, their programs, and interviews with beneficiaries were overwhelming and confusing.

Corporates began with supporting programs they understood easily with NGOs who could bridge the communication gap and demonstrate that critical work will be executed through support u/s 135.  NGOs who could explain it better and who could align quickly with corporate way of functioning got the funds. Furthermore, first preference was given to projects closer to areas of business which were easily executable and explainable to Boards and shareholders. Since the “not for profit philanthropy” had to benefit the “for profit business’ to look “strategic” at board meetings. Projects in remote areas with difficult access or those addressing more complex issues such as advocacy, trafficking, environment sustainability were not so attractive to support.

In the last three years, this situation has evolved. Innovation and smart ideas are more acceptable.  As corporates, our understanding of the need, gaps, and expected outcomes of geographies we operate in is clearer now.  Our articulation has also grown sharper.  Project proposals and descriptions are clearly articulating intended outcomes through the funding allocated. The NGOs in turn too have learnt to explain it better to corporates. Boards too have started seeing initial results and the direction of intent.

But, are we really walking the talk?  Is there alignment between intention and desired outcomes?  Projects have been announced intending to transform the ecosystem and change lives of hundreds and thousands of people through path breaking interventions. These plans look good on paper and have the right intent, but to translate the plan into reality, they need to be backed with relentless, structured effort and critical reviews. The impact has to reach the thousands and in proportion to the might of intent else we end up with no real change in lives of thousands but will remain only activities that have barely impacted a few.

There are those who are leading by example and showing us how it’s done. These corporate houses or family foundations are ready to take risks, support difficult but critical work and evaluate themselves for future improvement.

But more often than not, the claims are high. In various forums, we find funders who are claiming extraordinary results through projects supported by them. There is a limited effort in identifying success or failure, and even lesser effort in identifying reasons for the same.  We need to act more carefully on our claims and ensure our walk justifies the talk.  We keep talking about monitoring & evaluation without too much thought to what are we monitoring & evaluating or even budgeting enough for it.

Corporate social responsibility can truly empower the social sector. As we move ahead, if we are able to translate our intended plans to executable routines backed by structured reviews, giving a thought to what we are monitoring, identifying reasons for success and failure and regularly checking if the outcome is making a real social change in proportion and line with our intent… we have the power to enable real change for the truly marginalised.

Naghma-Mulla_mini-150x150
Naghma Mulla is the COO, EdelGive Foundation the philanthropic arm of Edelweiss Group. She spearheads its three verticals- Investments & Programmes, Fundraising & Partnerships and Employee Engagement. She is intensely involved with the Capacity Building Model wherein she works towards sourcing high quality solutions.

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

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The CSR Journal Team