Sunday, 24 January 2016

CSR - Jest or Just?

CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. The Indian laws make it mandatory for companies with a net profit of 5 crores or more to spend at least 2% of its profits on CSR. This came into effect in April 2014, and ever since, companies have been scrambling to meet this guideline in any way they can. This directive has proved to be a bonanza for NGOs as they can now access corporate funds without lobbying too much.

I have been in the working committees of the CSR groups in both of the firms that I have worked with, but I have been disappointed by the kind of impact we have had until now. So far, the trend among corporates has been to on board a bunch of NGOs, do the due diligence checks and get them approved by the legal department, and start doing whatever the NGOs recommend.

Three years ago, I participated in a railway station cleaning campaign in association with one of our empanelled NGOs. I thought we were going to do a spectacular job and inspire all the commuters and vendors to keep the Andheri Station clean. But alas, I was wrong. We spent most of our energy organizing the AC bus that would take us to the spot, fretting over how filthy the situation actually was, and complaining that the food ordered from McDonalds was not enough. Many colleagues just wanted to get their pictures clicked in aprons and gloves.Very few actually held a broom or did any real cleaning. The rest just turned up their noses and thought they were wasting a Saturday.

Do companies really wish to make a difference?

Even when the situation does not require us to get down on our knees an scrub, we (the corporate lot) are lazy. I now arrange volunteering activities with schools so our colleagues can go over and teach the kids a thing or two. Here also, most people worry about how many CSR-hours they can book. If they can count the commuting hours too. They want to have the entire class plan and material pre-designed for them. They also worry about the questions they may get asked by the students and insist that a teacher be present. And when we provide them all of this, they simply forget to show up! All because they woke up late or had a splitting headache or their cat vomited on their shoe.

If this is the sort of impact CSR is having on society, then it is farcical! We might as well just donate money and do nothing else. We need to stop measuring CSR performance of companies based on the money they give out or the number of people they impact. Impact should be measured on quality. If a company volunteers to teach students. Do not rate them based on the number of students or classrooms reached, but the test scores of the very students they interacted with.

Our approach to CSR must be just. 

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

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