India is going through a transformational phase when it comes to corporate social responsibility. It has evolved from being just a voluntary activity to becoming a matter of compliance. The Companies Act, 2013 has made CSR, a more strategic mechanism for the businesses to address the wide range of social challenges. It has been observed that companies that demonstrate their dedication towards solving social problems are more likely to place themselves in a better way. Communication of CSR initiatives to the public, helps in creating awareness about the brand and also enhances customer loyalty.
In the Indian context, pretext to the mindset and cultural diaspora, the implementation of corporate social initiatives in marginalised sections can be a herculean task, yet few companies with the good implementation partners have been able to create positive impact. Highlighting the importance of having the credible implementation partners, the CEO of Unilever Mr. Paul Polman once said, “The issues we face are so big and the targets are so challenging that we cannot do it alone.” Therefore, it is strongly believed that partnerships between different organisations can produce solutions which were previously unimaginable.
CSR has made us believe that partnerships is one of the keys for unlocking sustainability. Today, leaders from different industries have acknowledged the fact that solving societal issues and sustainability agendas would require unparallel cooperation among corporations, civil society and communities. For example, solving the water scarcity or food security issues would mean that no individual institution, government or company can provide the solution alone. There needs to be cooperation from different stakeholders in order to achieve the desired goals.
The role of NGOs is crucial in the development process, especially in a country as diverse as India. The NGOs not only have expertise in the social development initiatives which the corporations are willing to implement, but also acts as the bridge between the corporations and the communities. They not only help in the community mobilisation process, but also ensure there is active participation of the community in the project. Taking the example of nature conservation, in many cases the expertise lies with the NGOs on how to create least negative impact on the eco-systems and its services. The NGOs also ensure that the efforts bring benefits for the community even after training the community people to become master trainers who in return train others in the nearby areas.
However, the most challenging question in front of corporations is what different levels of partnership is required and how these partnerships will affect the possible outcomes?
As the CSR trend suggests the need of strategic long-term high value collaborations, and it appears that partnerships are really moving the dial. Significant number of corporations and NGOs believe that partnerships have helped to enhance business understanding of social and environment issues, and especially the cross-sector collaborations have helped to improve business practices for the better. The collaborations for the CSR initiatives can be at several levels such as Policy Design,NGO Partnership, Programme Management, Initiative Design, Monitoring & Evaluation and Impact Assessment among others.
Partnering with a credible NGO which has a previous experience of working on similar projects will help in effective implementation of the initiatives. Likewise, partnering with an institution such as Fiinovation for monitoring and evaluation would help in identifying the loopholes and take necessary decisions accordingly. It is understandable that exchange of information between different parties enables an atmosphere of positivity which gets reflected on the ground. Therefore, partnerships are no longer an option for corporations, rather a method to address issues such as poverty, diseases, climate change etc., in a more effective way. The focus should be on building strong partnerships and engaging in effective planning for delivering, measuring and communicating the economical, social and environmental impacts.
Although, nothing is full proof and there is a need to carefully administer the processes for optimum results. It is also important for the corporations to maintain a problem-centric approach rather than being business-centric. The process of partnerships with different stakeholders should be perceived as a learning curve so that the conflicts are managed easily. It is important to engage in discussions with the stakeholders and create meaningful longterm solutions. Sometimes in demand of quick solutions, important aspects gets overlooked which might be harmful in the long term. A corporation must understand that when it comes to social initiatives achieving long term partnerships means reaching optimal outcomes for all the stakeholders.
Both corporations and civil society organisations have an incentive to build long term relationships as it affects long term stability and impact. Working together can have a far greater impact on people’s lives with the impact being measured. In the years to come, stakeholders will become more interested in business affairs, therefore corporations would like their partners to help them portray themselves in a socially responsible manner. It is expected that corporations would work together with civil societies and other organisations to implement social initiatives that will lead us towards sustainable development.
By Rahul Choudhury
Media & Communications, Fiinovation