Enabling the CSR landscape in India via technology

24 September, 2020

Corporate Social Responsibility was described as a “social contract” between business and society in the year 1971 by the Committee for Economic Development, but for India, the concept of CSR is not unfamiliar. In the pre-industrialization period, up till 1850, traders helped the population through charity in times of Famine and pandemics by giving out food and money thus making a consolidated position for themselves. With the arrival of colonial rule, this methodology towards CSR changed and the pioneers of industrialization and prominent family names like Tata, Birla, Godrej, Bajaj, advanced the possibility of CSR beyond charity by setting up foundations, clinical administrations, and establishments for Development, making them the key influencers of CSR. During this period endeavors towards social advantages were driven by religious and philanthropic intentions as well as impacted by political gains.

In the period following Independence, the role of the Indian State expanded significantly and the industries assumed a lower priority in their development initiatives, after some time, the failure of the State to end poverty and back financial development prompted the State began to consider help from the business world. During rapid industrialization in 1980 Indian organizations began deserting their traditional commitment with CSR and incorporated it into their business strategy as the Public pressure and the degree of criticism of business systems and the distribution of the benefits to the big corporations were called into question

Even today companies have realized that it is a rational move to take up CSR activities and integrate them with their business process, progressively aware of their role in society. This accompanies a developing acknowledgment that they, as an essential part of the general public themselves, can add to its upliftment and strengthening. The enormous test for businesses, however, is building up an approach that can genuinely convey these grand aspirations. The Companies (Amendment) Act 2013 marked the transition of CSR from voluntary to mandatory with companies required to develop a dedicated CSR policy and establish a CSR fund, Development sector funding continue to increase with contributions across the board the issue lies in:

  • Many companies direct their resources largely towards key areas of education, vocational training, and healthcare
  • There is also a significant geographical issue and area disparities in the initiatives with the top ten states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan accounting for 47 percent of the total CSR expenditure.
  • Cause-marketing programs that often benefit certain communities, but typically neither address the root causes nor deliver a direct and easily measurable impact due to businesses need to see the measurable impact and own an issue space putting a face and a name to the efforts they are sustaining so that they can tell their narrative.
  • Many organizations need more bandwidth to undertake consistent CSR implementation
  • The key concern becomes that while the financial pool for social initiatives is growing, funds need to be diverted efficiently to generate impact at a significant scale

This discourse paves way for cross-sector coordinated effort between corporates and NGOs. The Central Bureau of Investigation revealed, that as of 2009 there were 3.3 million NGOs registered in India boiling down to mind-boggling figures boil down to one NGO for every 400 Indian citizens.

Historically, these organizations have played a significant role in

  • Filling gaps in the government’s welfare such as delivering basic services like health care, education sanitation at the most Grassroot level in the country
  • In research-based advocacy, such as analyzing various government projects to guide the government for policy change
  • and, third being engaged on a rights-based approach to entitlements.

When it comes to corporate collaborations on CSR projects Having profound information on issues These NGOs help ensure that the initiatives are rooted in sound development theory also having versed in practical solutions such as project planning and implementation with limited resources and knowledge of complex environments. While most organizations like, Tata Motors and Marico adopt a mixed model for CSR— executing a few ventures themselves as well as setting up foundations and working through NGO's others like Reliance Industries and ICICI Bank prefer the foundation route as corporates are discovering ways for their foundations and CSR teams to work in sync with their business to influence social change. This has manifested in new Technological investments pointing towards social and ecological impact.

Utilizing technology platforms that facilitate monitoring frameworks across stages irrespective of geographical location enable monitoring of programs and give direct admittance to every mile recipient. Once the framework has been solidified, the information can continuously be fed from ground zero for organizations to allude to real-time. Apart from prompting swift monitoring for mid-course corrections, technology platforms can also help in analyzing large data sets to map trends, issues, successes, and failures. consequently, acting as a device that can address the basic issues in CSR, and help organizations create and improve their capacities.

A prominent tool in CSR is the Blockchain technology that permits different partners associated with CSR projects to get to reliable data at their comfort. It helps plan programs by chalking out the lifecycle, the different structures, and frameworks required for actualizing and bringing all stakeholders onto a common ground by making a platform for them to associate and work towards the bigger objective adhering to the concurred strategy. e.g. Kiva, a 501 non-profit organization has recently begun work on a blockchain platform called the Kiva Protocol to develop a decentralized identity system for their customers to keep track of their loans and payment while other organizations like NSDC are assessing associations with different AR/VR and Blockchain technology suppliers to create imaginative models of preparing Indian youth across segments in Courses such as Self-E-trailering, GST Consulting and VFX Editing.

Another technology being brought in the field of CSR is the AI system which can vigorously monitor and track emerging trends and changes and can provide accurate and multi-dimensional performance measures of a CSR program against global standards. Google is the most prominent example to understand the use of this technology in the field of CSR with its projects looking to leverage AI technology for distinguishing among communities 'people that are at high risk of getting infected with HIV/AIDS in its mission to build awareness among these networks. There are also, businesses like Imago-AI that hope to achieve social good by the utilization of AI to expand crop yields and diminish food wastage with optimism that technology can help feed the world's growing population through utilization of innovation to streamline agrarian methods.

In conclusion, we might say that utilizing innovation-based platforms for CSR makes for a more proficient way of following activities. Organizations can gauge the result of their plans and get a reasonable estimate of its effect and reach and by being in direct partnership with NGOs a company increases transparency within Key areas like the use of resources, timelines and deliverables are accessible for the two players to monitor through a report. This helps when zeroing in on long haul objectives too since joint efforts prompt connections being built.

About the author:

S Soundararajan (Soundar), is the COO of Treeni Sustainability Solutions, based out of Bangalore, India. Until recently Soundar was the Engagement Partner, Program Director & CISO at E&Y. He brings 30+ years of experience covering multiple techno-functional and leadership roles in India and Global markets, across Indian IT, Banking, Healthcare and Consulting domains.