There is much difference between charity and social responsibility. If one were to gloss over the Indian history, almost all prominent thinkers have emphasised social responsibility, referring to it as 'Dharma'. So there was the Raja's dharma towards his population, the population's (jan) dharma towards the land and so on. Sadly, the concept of Dharma seems to have fallen out of favor for Indian corporates, like any other capitalist entity their sole focus seems to be in amassing wealth. The little that they do, they do it as a favor.
Take the case of Indian IT, not many companies have a CSR policy so as to state, and even those that do, have it just in writing. Most of the companies are having small itsy-bitsy projects on education, etc. There is the famous case of a multinational that adopted a village and made a lot of hue and cry about it, and next year it even took away the computers that it had installed.
The good thing is that it is the MNC's itself, who have brought the concept of CSR in India. And Indian companies need to learn from them. The notable exception will always be the TATAs. Today, every Indian citizen takes the name of the company with immense respect, only because of the amazing work done by the company. And to think of it, they were doing it for over a century, when the concept of CSR wasn't even born. So, to be honest, Tatas have been the only ones who have lived by the Dharma, the rest are more or less Adharmis (sounds a wee bit too harsh).
Anway, I had done an extensive article for the Dataquest, where I had examined CSR policies of various companies, namely IT and how they are faring. Here is the story....
The charitable side of Indian IT
There is one kind of charity common enough among us… It is that patchwork philanthropy which clothes the ragged, feeds the poor, and heals the sick. I am far from decrying the noble spirit, which seeks to help a poor or suffering fellow being… [However] what advances a nation or a community is not so much to prop up its weakest and most helpless members, but to lift up the best and the most gifted, so as to make them of the greatest service to the country.
-- Jamsetji Tata
Tata is more than a surname in India. Tatas are one of the largest industrial conglomerates in India, yet the fame of the group is not indebted to company’s economic prowess. The name symbolizes trust and ethicality, an intangible asset that has accumulated over a long period of time. Parents are known to have beatific smile when their wards join any Tata company. Not many years in the past, employees would put up with lower salaries, just because it happened to be a Tata company. The answers are not really that hard to find.
Intel is another company that has been fairly active in India. “Under the umbrella of the Outreach program, Intel in India has been working to increase literacy, specifically in science, mathematics and computer literacy. We have invested substantial efforts and money in CSR projects in India. Our main focus has been in the K-12 (children up to 12 years). We have different projects running, like Intel Teach, wherein we have a fairly comprehensive training program for teachers to learn computers. We have trained around 6,00,000 teachers in 14 states in India,” says Timothy McGuill, Asia Pacific Region PA (India Public Affairs), Intel.
IBM too has initiated a host of CSR projects in India mainly targeted at increasing computer literacy among the children. “IBM’s philosophy is not just to get involved in community but also to stay involved in order to bridge the digital divide that exists in the society. Hence, most of our corporate community relation initiatives are ongoing campaigns, designed to impart education to lesser-privileged children across age groups through technology. IBM’s Community initiatives – internationally and in India – focus on education and children,” says Jalaja Pillai, manager (Corporate Community Relations), IBM India.
It is fairly obvious that the CSR in India is still linked to individuals, so Narayana K Murthy is a driving force behind Infosys Foundation, while Azim Premji is the inspiring light behind Wipro’s philanthropic arm. Corporates have to yet to truly awaken to the underlying economic benefits that can accrue from CSR.
By involving employees, companies achieve two things; it results in better employee morale as it gives the worker a sense of belonging towards the company. Secondly these employees turn into brand ambassadors for the company and spread the word around. A beaming employee is worth more than a full-page advert.
There are also some unique and interesting projects taken up by companies. For instance Sapient India’s MD Soumya Banerjee had auctioned to slave a day to any employee. Eventually, the silent auction went for Rs. 35,000 that was donated to charitable causes.
This brings us to the essential question, is CSR just another branding exercise, a way to create a favorable impression among the stakeholders and public at large? That was a view that was prevalent a few years back, but gradually that is changing as well. Many corporates now understand the need for CSR and are pretty serious about it as well. While HR dept is often entrusted with the task to carry out CSR projects. A few companies have gone ahead and established a small team to look into such activities.
Yet some challenges persist, as Mcguill from Intel says, “currently the CSR activities are happening in lot isolation. These dots need to be connected in someway.” For instance, he talks of an occurrence, where Intel and a competition were funding a computer literacy program in the same school itself. “There is a lot of overlap that could be avoided and needs to be avoided,” he says.
The government also needs to be more aware of CSR and needs to implement policies and strategies that promote it. Not just from the regulatory point-of-view but general welfare, there could be incentives like tax benefits for companies that are rated highly on CSR quotient. Companies could also look at reporting their CSR spend in the annual reports according to international benchmarks like, ILO Conventions, UN Millennium Development Goals, etc.
All in all, the seeds have been sown and the saplings are taking root.