In a post COVID world, the need to build community resilience has been made more apparent than ever. CSR forms an integral part of responsible business initiatives that enable organizations to engage with stakeholders in a relevant manner, to help empower communities through policies and operations that have sustainability at its core. Treeni Sustainability Solutions in association with CMS Group conducted a webinar on ‘‘Building Community Resilience through Improved CSR & Sustainability Practices’’, on 3rd December, with an elite panel of speakers consisting of Ashwini Saxena (CEO, JSW Foundation), Aruna Newton (Global Head- Diversity & Inclusion, Infosys), and Sagarika Bose (General Manager – Sustainability & Lead CSR, Godrej Group). The discussion was moderated by Aparajita Agarwal, Advisor-Innovative finance at CMS Group
The key takeaways from the webinar were :
- The theory of change and engaging with communities on the ground: The approach to sustainability is intertwined with larger business goals, with organizations across the private, public, and philanthropic sectors beginning to rethink how they pursue key objectives, modes of engagements, and ultimate outcomes. The present scenario is testing us on what we stand for and are reflected in the way employees are becoming ambassadors of driving change within the community. Investments in social impact programs have empowered millions of households through employment initiatives, waste management projects, collaborations for education initiatives, energy efficiency, and renewable resource generation. This also creates shared value for the businesses, which not only adds to the overarching business objectives but also builds integrity.
“COVID- 19 has impacted everyone severely, but it has also greatly exposed the vulnerabilities of the less privileged communities and put them at risk. Organizations have always responded effectively to such crises and built their sustainability practices around this, however, this time has been a big test in terms of innovations that they have been able to bring to the table ” - Aparajita Agarwal
- Learning about community resilience through a COVID lens: An important question businesses need to ask is, how can they create an opportunity for all. Infosys has taken up a goal to operate through their strength - digital skilling for 10 million people by 2025, to enable a community of not job seekers, but job givers. Godrej has been empowering thousands of micro and nano women entrepreneurs pan India for many years, and this time around, a helpline has been set up to ensure they can communicate with mentors more openly during COVID. Social problems are much more than what meets the eye, and an interdisciplinary approach is essential to tackle these complexities.
“Communities respond to crises in a way that allows them to utilize the resources they have to the maximum. There are many ways to operationally improve our collective efforts, but I feel that change actually comes from a much deeper space. The biggest change has to be driven from compassion, care, and an opportunity for all. We need to look at how people are earning their living, and operate from there.”
- How organizations are working with communities during the pandemic: In a poll conducted during the webinar, a majority of the audience members stated that a long-term CSR strategy has been a priority for them. Organizations have taken multiple steps to put communities first. The importance of agility and quick adaptive response measures has been a key learning for organizations this time round. A combination of government support, having the correct systems in place and the ability to reach out to various stakeholders is what can enable community support at scale. Projects that are started by organizations that can then be completed by communities go a long way.
“Early response initiatives focused on food distribution and immediate relief programs, but experts soon realized that this needed a more effective long term strategy. Our decision making was informed by directly engaging with the community through telephonic surveys. Much of our recovery efforts are now investment-focused, be it seed funds, loans to micro-entrepreneurs, or e-learning for children.”
- The link between community resilience and business continuity planning: The community is an entity in itself with different levels of stakeholders interdependent for resources. Resilience as a term is multidimensional. However, any effort to build community resilience must factor in some amount of business continuity since there are always several things at stake. In another poll, when asked if building community resilience has become a priority for businesses through CSR and sustainability strategies, 89% of audience members were affirmative. Organizations need to focus on being not just enablers of resilience, but response-able, even with something like COVID that puts all plans on the back burner. In that case, having strong systems and processes along with a great network into the community can drive efficient response.
- Ensuring continuous feedback from the communities: Some businesses foster direct community engagement through stakeholders others, may work with NGO partners. Surveys and interactions go a long way in understanding the level of engagement, whether the correct people are being reached, and their response to it. Routine third-party assessments can also ensure objective feedback and identification of improvement areas. Start with the end in mind - select partners carefully for each project, to truly understand their influence on the impact created. Co-implementation is essential.
“Community resilience cannot be an add on to your strategies. Designing a program in a participative program is the foundation that needs to be set first. Only then can response mechanisms be accurate. Today’s communities are also quite forthcoming in their response, to share candid feedback, and this creates a regular dialogue between both parties. We are thus, not just designing programs, but interacting with them regularly to understand the resources they have, to generate maximum impact.”
CSR, sustainability, and community resilience go hand in hand when it comes to empowering communities for a better tomorrow. The way responsible action is integrated into practices also reflects a business’s overall approach towards ESG. The attitude of ‘giving’ is slowly fading away, and being replaced by the concept of ‘empowering.’ While navigating through the pandemic has definitely been difficult, it is through challenges like this that we continue to grow and enable a more resilient community.
To watch the entire webinar please visit : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYmBWVbUrnE