Corporate Social Responsibility for the uninitiated is a corporate lingo that defines how much corporates invest back to the society and the qualitative and quantitative reforms that get implemented.
In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Competitive and Ambiguous) business environment, CSR, unfortunately may seem relegated to being a mere compliance. Goodera, a company that has been working in the CSR area came up with a 2017 report on the spate of CSR funding. The Goodera team analyzed the CSR spending patterns of 92 companies based on their annual reports. Some of these companies include Reliance Industries, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, Tata Consultancy etc. And, the data found a contribution of Rs 6810 crore in various exercises.
While a number of inferences and implications could be made on Goodera's observations, the most striking on is the point that ten companies contributed a whopping 50% of that amount.
Does this imply that in a land of over a billion heads and lakhs of companies, corporate India was using CSR as a mere compliance tool?
Goodera's Richa Bajpai sheds light in this exclusive interaction with Sify.com.
Question: Tell us a bit about what prompted Goodera to start working on the CSR and sustainability model?
Richa Bajpai: While working on a startup on renewable energy, Abhishek [Abhishek Humbad is the Co-founder at Goodera] and I learned how the CSR sector and NGOs work. We observed that there was a huge transparency and accountability issue; what happened on the field vs what got communicated at the boardroom of donors was completely different.
Technology has helped transform other functions in the corporate world like HRIS, CRM amongst others but there was nothing to manage CSR activities in a similar way. With a vision to transform how the world of good works, Goodera’s technology platform was conceived. The platform promotes transparency and thereby efficiency and accountability in the social sector by bringing various CSR and sustainability stakeholders (different functions/teams, NGOs, beneficiaries) on the same page.
Give us a brief background of the logic of why a data-based platform to tackle CSR related challenges? And also how relevant is an external tool in the age of Facebook and Twitter?
Data based platforms are the best way for program stakeholders to collaborate and be more efficient since they allow seamless interactions to facilitate quicker decision making and undertaking necessary course corrections.
These platforms are designed for community program management and provide last mile visibility and contextual data to businesses helping them get connected to the on-ground activities and seek opportunities to contribute in a more meaningful way.
Stakeholder management and impact analysis is often quite a challenge for organizations executing CSR projects. Most often, data may not be readily available and even in cases where it is available, there is a severe lack of standardized information, making it extremely ineffective for analysis and impact measurement. At Goodera, we use Big Data for CSR project management with instant analysis and actionable insights.
In companies with a large employee base, it becomes tedious to reach out to each registered volunteer through digital mediums. On the contrary if every employee/volunteer is given a single platform - to check volunteering opportunities across multiple cause areas, nominate colleagues, share experiences, photographs and feedback - the entire process becomes convenient and more purposeful. Furthermore, companies can also view a detailed summary of the volunteering activities - details of the attendees, sentiment analysis for each of the activities, all at one place.
As far as direct integration via Facebook/twitter is concerned, these social mediums may not be able to provide real-time information at each beneficiary level across the remotest areas of the country - which data- based platforms are adept at.
Which Indian companies use your product?
SBI, BPCL, L&T, HDFC Bank, Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services, Vedanta, Hindustan Unilever, Hero Motocorp, Bajaj Finserv, Bajaj Auto, Tata Communications, Suzlon, Tata Chemicals, CapGemini, IDFC, Godrej Consumer Products, Britannia, Eicher, Voltas, IIFL, United Breweries, RBL Bank, Indraprashtha Gas, Hinduja Global Solutions, Hexaware, Rane Holdings, Abbott India, GSK, Capital First..These are the Fortune India 500 companies we work with and who use the Goodera Technology platform.
Approximately 25% of Corporate India’s CSR Capital is managed on our platform.
You have partnered with NGOs such as Oxfam and Goonj during the Kerala Floods. What was the role played by your platform here?
We are the technology platform that enables a donation link for anyone to donate money to these NGOs that were helping rebuild Kerala during the floods. We collected about INR 50 lakhs through the process to help flood victims.
What according to you are the top CSR related misconceptions?
One of the biggest misconception is that CSR is a cost center. Currently many companies do it as a compliance tick mark. However, they must understand that doing good is as important as doing well for them since caring for the welfare of their stakeholders (such as communities and environment) will eventually prove to be extremely beneficial for the long term sustainability of their own business.
Considering that you are operational in nearly 63 countries, which countries would you find or observe are at the top of the table when it comes to spending on CSR activities.
The USA might be at the top of the global spenders (on CSR and philanthropy) list with approximately $ 500 billion, but we do not have the exact research that talks about countries in comparison. [$500 billion at the current exchange rate of Rs 74 per dollar is Rs 37 lakh crores. Top 100 Indian businesses contributed Rs 6810 crores in CSR activities in 2017.]
You say there are data-points that you have setup with NGOs. Could you elaborate on these data points?
NGO partners of the CSR projects of the companies are on-boarded on Goodera’s platform. They can feed the project related data through their mobile phones (via our app) or using desktop (via our web app) in online as well as offline mode depending on the availability of internet connection. The data hence collected on our platform is analysed to spot any trends and to draw actionable insights for the companies to strategize their actions further.
We have collected more than 14,050,539 data points our platform with NGOs working with our Corporate clients in India alone.
For one of our clients, we set up a tech platform to track the usage of various community services provided under their social commitment project in Africa. Based on the analytics on the platform, the company is now able to understand which service has a higher demand among the local community and hence the need to set up additional units to meet the demand.
When Corporate India says CSR, what are they actually meaning- compliance or true corporate benevolence and charity?
Well the ratio is skewed towards more companies considering CSR as mandatory compliance. However, large Indian corporates and many MNCs are setting a benchmark by going beyond their CSR budgets to create last mile impact, and using data and technology to maximise their CSR impact in the long run. As its said by some benevolent corporate leaders, when CSR & businesses start working in confluence with each other, it’s then that the Company has truly served the purpose it has been created for.
How relevant are concepts such as Sustainability or as we hear many corporate saying- a VUCA world?
Indian companies today, are keen on adopting the global trends across their business processes. Embracing 4th industrial revolution, automating processes through technology, adopting responsible ways of running their businesses, aligning their CSR projects to SDGs, stakeholder collaborations, encouraging employee volunteering etc. are some practices that companies are inclining towards to keep ahead of competition.
In such a scenario the concept of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) is highly relevant and inevitable in any business - also in the Indian context. For instance, adopting sustainable ways of doing business help companies mitigate the implications of VUCA by being more energy efficient and reducing carbon footprint. This leads to more efficient processes that are also cost effective, encouraging cross-functional management resulting in innovative modes of operation, product development and supply chain management. This can further help businesses minimize uncertainties and business risks as well as help reduce the adverse effects on the environment.
Which CSR programs are corporate aligning more towards- environment, hygiene, conservation of heritage structures, learning and skill development etc? What could be the top priority factors driving Indian corporates to such programs?
As per a recent Goodera-Mint Study, Corporate India seems most aligned towards cause areas such as education which witnessed close to 32% of India’s total CSR spend followed by healthcare, hunger and poverty projects at 25%.
Areas such as technology incubation, supporting rural sports and national heritage remain towards the bottom of the list of causes supported through CSR with each of them getting a share of 0.03%, 1.8%, 2.2% respectively of the total India’s CSR budget. This is mainly because companies, many times prefer convenience and ease of implementation when deciding which programs to undertake.
Here is a case that started initially as an act of benevolence, but ended in a case of an interim bail, referring to the Idol theft case involving TVS Group' Chairman Venu Srinivasan. How could your tool be used here?
This is exactly where it becomes more important to enhance the governance and accountability measures and understand the last mile impact.
This is an example of a property that was stolen. The future technologies such as drones or maybe current technologies such as CCTV cameras can help with clearly identifying who stole the idols, but the impact created by CSR spends by TVS could have been better measured if you knew where each and every penny was being spent. Our platform enables corporates to understand the impact of their CSR expenditures and maintains an audit trail which enables better governance and accountability.However, this particular case will not be counted under CSR because of its religious affiliation.
How are your conversations with VCs or other startups. What is their understanding of the value of a CSR program? Do large fund houses see the social responsibility and also the value that your business is drawing?
Business stakeholders such as consumers and employees prefer companies that have purpose infused in their business. Hence investors are looking for companies that are purpose driven and focus not only on profit but people and planet too.
Investors like Omidyar [one of Goodera’s investees] have started ‘impact investing’ in a big way to help move the nations and industries forward.
It aims at generating both social change and return on capital while blurring the lines between business (earlier only seen as a way to make profit) and social progress (expected to be achieved through philanthropy or public policy). Globally, investors of larger companies are also thinking alike. Larry Fink (CEO of Blackrock, the American global investment management company) through his letter to the C-suite, emphasised that companies must have a social purpose and pursue a strategy for achieving long-term growth.
It is safe to say that VCs want to be associated with companies that have a long-term strategy to sustainably operate and maintain harmonious relationships with their stakeholders.
Also Read: The (absent) CSR in Swachh Bharat