Unlocking the power of CSR: Impactful initiatives and future outlook
Corporate Social Responsibility encourages companies to be more responsible and accountable to society and the environment.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can take many forms, including philanthropy, community engagement, sustainable business practices, and ethical behaviour. It encourages companies to be more responsible and accountable to society and the environment, and to use their resources and influence to create positive change in the world.
With a strong network of partners and a vast geographical presence, Give brings people and organizations closer to realizing a poverty-free India.
Sumit Tayal is serving at Give as COO, to fulfil the organisation’s purpose of alleviating poverty by enabling the world to give. Joined Give as a volunteer during the pandemic, Tayal stayed on after being inspired by Give's mission of making giving bigger and better. He now leads Give Grants, working with institutional donors to maximize their social impact.
We talked to him about the role of corporate social responsibility in the social sector and the challenges it faces across the country, among other things. Here are edited excerpts:
What have been the highlights and areas of improvement in the social/development sector?
We know that government spending in the social sector, especially healthcare and education, went up during the pandemic. The sector continues to experience growth, even after the peak pandemic years. The Economic Survey 2023 indicated that social sector spending more than doubled to ₹21.3 lakh crore in seven years.
The expenditure in this sector does not just flow from the government but from CSR and philanthropists too.
CSR became a large contributor to this sector - the India Philanthropy Report 2023 - suggests CSR spending, which contributes 30% of private giving, has seen an annual growth rate of 13% over the last five years, reaching INR 27,000 crore in FY 2022.
The largest challenge facing the sector is the scarcity of top talent. Attracting talent from diverse sectors will bring a multi-dimensional approach to scaling the highly fragmented non-profit ecosystem. Building strong and resilient foundations for grassroots NGOs will enable them to serve communities better, but for that to happen, non-profits need the backing of institutional funding, with CSR leading the way. The positive influence that corporates can have on the communities they operate in is tremendous, and one that should not be overlooked.
How can corporations pivot CSR initiatives to suit the country’s needs?
India has diverse needs. While the government focuses on large issues, and rightly so, many smaller communities and needs do not get adequate attention in the process. This is where CSR can be of value - it has the ability to plug gaps.
The pandemic is a classic example. While the government did the heavy lifting of developing and manufacturing the Covid vaccination, CSR initiatives drove last-mile connectivity via NGOs.
CSR can be instrumental in funding innovations & pilots and breaking away from tried & tested interventions. If the innovation delivers results, governments can fund the scaling of these initiatives.
Can CSR help in employability? And how?
CSR is so much more than ‘doing good’. It’s about aligning your CSR program beyond the obvious and aiming for long-term outcomes.
To break the vicious circle of poverty, poor education and unemployment, CSR initiatives need to focus beyond mere employment opportunities. Over and above equipping our youth with 21st-century skills, building resilience and personal competency ensures they are prepared for the long term.
Over 50% of our population is below the age of 30. While we are the world's second-most populated country, with the highest number of youth, we also struggle with high unemployment rates. It is crucial our youth is able to adapt to the constantly changing employment landscape and develop their competency skills and resilience. CSR initiatives that support training, skill enhancement and entrepreneurship development will be most effective in these times. Having a holistic lens that measures welfare and retention can bring about impactful change.
What opportunities and challenges do you foresee in the CSR landscape?
CSR can make a huge difference in underrepresented sectors and geographical locations. While different companies bring different sets of expertise to the table – when resources are combined, much more can be done.
Leveraging technology to improve outcomes is becoming more a norm than an exception. Even among small and midsize CSR players. Technology can help organisations track impact data, and use it to drive better outcomes.
In terms of challenges, CSR funds should reach beyond those top 5 states. The post-pandemic world saw inequalities reinforced, where the vulnerable became more vulnerable. When companies are guided just by their place of operation, a few states get a disproportionate share of CSR spending. Some of the least developed states are left lagging.
What is the outlook for CSR this year and what should be the key focus areas?
According to the India Philanthropy Report 2023 by Dasra and Bain & Co., driven by the 2% mandate, CSR has grown at 15% annually in the past seven years, with its share in total private giving growing from approximately 12% in fiscal year (FY) 2015 to 23% in FY 2021. This continued growth in philanthropic spending is a great trend.
Today, with CSR being an integral part of doing business, it should drive company decisions that align with climate action, ESG, green tech & sustainability. Socially responsible businesses that explore green technologies can help set the right tone for emerging businesses.
Better data tracking monitoring, reporting and outcome-based planning are also needs of the hour. Decision-making is easier with the availability of trustworthy and proven data, and this leads to accelerated impact.