It's Time we Give Back to the Society

It's Time we Give Back to the Society

The need for CSR in rural areas makes more sync with the changing world. In a recent interaction with the Editor of Siliconindia, Vishal Bhardwaj, CEO, Dalmia Bharat Foundation, shared his insights on how corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that assists a company to be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.

Narrate the Inception story of CSR model and share how you have outgrownin the industry segment.

I started my journey with Gov. of India, the Ministry of Rural Development - worked there for a while and then worked with one of India's leading NGOs. At that time, the term CSR had not been devised. The industries were trying to engage with communities around them, particularly the manufacturing and mining industries by the name of community development which was, more or less, charitable in nature. But then the focus shifted on social licence to operate, and the engagement towards communities increased. Then in 2014, CSR law was introduced in India, and then every industry that met specific criteria had to get into CSR. So, in a pretty long journey of two and a half decades, I've seen all sides of it, the government, the NGO, the corporate, but a more significant part of it has been spent with the cement industry.

There may not be one universally accepted definition of CSR. I had come across a very interesting quote once that was, “while producing goods, company also produces bad and when companies are conscious of this and make an effort to minimise their impacts, that is their Corporate responsibility or Corporate Social Responsibility”.

At my organization, we believe in “Giving Back to the communities”. We believe that when we co-exist in same ecosystem, we will be having positive and negative impact on societies.

Industries operate within legal parameters; hence, the compliance of all of that would be in place. However, there will still sometimes be some negative impact or footprints on the environment and society. We believe in mitigating those to the extent that we can. We work towards givingback to the community in a manner   that the community celebrates our presence.  That’s the philosophy we work with at Dalmia Bharat Group.

How is CSR model laying path for strong education and other developments in rural communities?

If we look at the evolving world, access to information is essential; anyone who has access to information adopts quickly and maintains their pace with the change. Access to information, good infrastructure, and access to services, is what lays the path of development in rural communities. And companies through their CSR have been making a lot of effort and impact in that direction.

Health and Education are the sectorswherein most of the CSR investments have been happening across India. Even though the government is making an effort to improve the infrastructure and access at rural places, the CSR of various companies supports filling the gap and make the process more impactful. At Dalmia, we have also been working on infrastructure and access to services, however we have focussed our has effortson building the human capital and social capital in villages, which helps rural communities keep pace with this rapidly changing world.

As an illustration, if micro-enterprises have to be developed or agriculture is to be made more progressive in the villages, access to microfinance is essential. And through theFarmerProducerOrganizations and self-help groups, basically the social capital we build makes these people more bankable. They have access to credit from banks to make investments in their agriculture or non-farm sector enterprises, etc.This led to rural areas witnessing a rapid development. Even during COVID times when there was a lot of reverse migration,villages were still able to absorb the population inflow and take care of their people.

As per the NFHS Survey 2019-21, how do you think CSR has played a vital role in evolution?

“There is a significant change comparedto 2015-16, over this period, very encouraging to know that infant and child mortality rate has declined. There are more of institutional deliveries now.” The availability of basic amenities such as water, electricity, cooking fuel, and sanitation has increased considerably. More interesting isthe finding that women are nowtaking crucial decisions in the house.This is a testament of all the efforts done for women empowerment. Now they have their own bank accounts. The access to mobile phones has also increased. They have land and property in their ownership.

Besides these positive developments, one of the things that is still worryingand needs to be looked at is the rising level of Anaemia.

Among all this, one would find a footprint of the CSR and the NGOs' who have worked very hard along with the government on these issues. Like I just mentioned about how we collectivize women into self-help groups. This programme was launched by Gov in 1990s and has thus become an important tool for not only enabling access to credit but also for women empowerment. The NGOs and Corporates have contributed a lot to this. Further access to basic amenities like sanitation is another example of efforts of CSR. Addressing energy poverty by enabling access to solar lights and pump systems is another area where corporates like Dalmia have contributed.

Nevertheless, we need to pay attention to this and work together with the government to bring change in anaemia levels.

The whole idea of CSR is doing well for society. Being a leader, what should be the approach for CSR from the leaders of a corporate?

Leadership influences the kind of work that a company would do. Sometimes, the priorities or kind of investment companies make is influenced by the leaders. There are large number of companies like us who areactually going beyond the 2 percent mandate. However, the scenario is changing. With a shift in focus among investors and stakeholders from financial to non-financial performance, the decisions are increasingly being driven from stakeholder’s perspectives. So, the leadership, stakeholders and materiality are what drives the issues for CSR. Materiality has become more essential ever since CSR has been integrated into the business processes. Therefore, it's a mix of all that eventually influences the organization's CSR.

How would you advise the young, growing leaders of the country to indulge in these CSR initiatives? 

A good thing that I see around me is the desire to do good and its very encouraging to see that in the ecosystem. Along with that, it is essential to have a strategy to build more impactful projects. The output is not enough any longer and thus we should have processes and strategy in place to have a more considerable impact with whatever resources we have. 

Collaborating and partnering is the key to an impactful CSR. Even the "Sustainable Development Goals-17" also talks about partnerships for accomplishment. If various stakeholders, the government, the NGOs and the corporate sector, can do this, if we can avoid replications and could come together to make resources more efficient. It's a huge opportunity to do impactful work and amplify the work. We at Dalmia Bharat Foundation, work with Central Government, State Government, Local District Administration, Corporates, NGOs and each of our partner has brought in value-addition to our programmes and that is what has made our programme more impactful.