Responsible And Sustainable Business Through Conscious CSR

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“We are entering an era of new hopes as well as new fears. Both demand strategic but well-grounded actions.”- Bryan Smith, Author

Anil Jaggi

Successful corporations have directly and indirectly contributed to most of the 21st Century’s ecological and social problems. In this age of globalisation, sustainable strategies give corporations the choice to get ahead of the curve, defining and redefining new rules and being rewarded by stakeholders for behaving responsibly. Multinationals hold the future of our planet in their hands.

Scientists who study the effects of climate change say that we have only some 10 or 20 years before we trigger irreversible tipping points. Some regions of the world are fast losing access to food and water and heading for war; they are experiencing severe resource, environment, health and pollution problems. All these issues need the urgent attention of our policymakers and business leaders. Each individual problem needs the collective effort and actions of our respective leaders in government, the corporate world, academia and spiritual institutions.

Our younger generation need a safer planet and that is only possible with a sustainable, responsible approach, and well-defined actions. These actions may come initially from deep concern, fear or even a sense of panic, but to be sustainable over time, our actions must ultimately be connected to our positive aspirations.

CSR and 21st Century

The term ‘CSR’ has been around for more than a decade now, along with its allied jugglery of words like “Sustainability in Business”, “Business Ethics”, “Corporate Competitiveness (CC)”, “Corporate Governance (CG)”, “Corporate Sustainability (CS)”, “Voluntary Commitment of a Business”, “Triple Bottom Line” and so on. These jargons have inundated every fibre of corporate life but what we should focus on is, or rather, not to forget the mission and objective we all have: to contribute to the people living at the “Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP)”. With the passage of the Companies Act 2013, the Government of India has also engaged India Inc. under the new legal obligation of CSR to contribute for the betterment of the society using their resources and professional expertise.

It is widely recognised that implementation of CSR and Sustainability requires time to reach maturity and the speed of achieving these goals is purely dependent on the vision and passion of the top management and its leadership.

I have been fortunate to be a part of this domain and witnessing the scenario before and after the implementation of CSR. It is commendable that the new Companies Act 2013 gave us a new direction, dimension and new life to this loosely connected sector of multi stakeholders; and when we look at the facts, figures and reports, it indicates that business in India is much more responsible and sensitive today towards the burning issues of society i.e. taking India towards open defecation free, digital literacy, carbon footprint, literacy, health for all, skill development, etc.

When I look back at the history and stages of social work, charity and philanthropic activities done by local ‘Seth’ (wealthy individuals of the town) who donated big chunks of land for setting up schools/colleges, charity hospitals or dharamshalas on one side and the initiatives of, for example, Tata and Birla Groups on the other, it gives me a different perception about the present form of legal CSR under the Companies Act 2013 or ISO 26000.

After closely observing strategic CSR programmes, exploring agendas behind sustainable development projects and microscopically investigating probable reasons for the success and failures of the projects, I will share my innermost thoughts and experience right from its conceptualisation to execution i.e. CSR Eco-System.

Irrespective of the best concepts, working strategies, professional team, sufficient funds etc., many projects are not able to make any tangible impact on the lives of target beneficiaries; while on the other hand, small projects are more successful and have a greater impact in the communities they work in. The obvious reason is the alternative ways of connecting, of looking at finance, wealth generation, understanding communities and their issues, etc. In other terms, it is all about the conscious and holistic approach of top leadership to keep on working with passion and determination for communities, with or without CSR.

I would like to highlight the importance of consciousness in the entire ecosystem, which may be a new entrant to CSR-related vocabulary. But I have a strong urge to include this transforming word, not because it is new and trendy, but because I feel this is the main cause behind the success and failure of all humanitarian endeavours in any form.

Though India is progressing well in the CSR space, especially after the Companies Act 2013, it is too early to judge and come to any conclusion. According to my observation, there is a major divide between ‘Legal CSR’ and ‘Conscious CSR’ – and this is having a phenomenal impact – right from conceptualising to the implementation of strategic CSR frameworks.

“The need to create sustainable revolutions through business organisations is one of the most urgent and important missions of our time and must be met with passion, energy and determination”

Changing Mindsets

As influential US philosopher, William James said, we as human beings “by changing the inner attitudes of our minds, can change the outer aspects of our lives.” With various initiatives and interventions by change makers, chief sustainability officers, NGOs and social entrepreneurs at the local, regional and global level of the business world, there is finally evidence of a change in the thought process for the good, and I call them conscious decision rather than strategic ones. Boards of Directors the world over are now starting to take sustainability and strategic CSR issues into account as never before. The question now is not ‘why’ but ‘how’. The need to create sustainable revolutions through business organisations is one of the most urgent and important missions of our time and must be met with passion, energy and determination.

CSR and Consciousness

My suggestion to all CSR stakeholders is that we must consciously focus more on community-centric projects and not be confined to legal frameworks. The satisfaction knowing that you have done so will find better outcome; without chasing the glory of publicity and awards.

“The planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who you have no fear of living with side by side. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it David Orr Ecologist and Writer”

There may be different types of CSR – from internal and external, to obligatory and conscious, but I strongly feel that until our thoughts are matched with a clear purpose, there can be no major accomplishment.

Spiritual awakening (consciousness) of our business leaders and policymakers is also important for peaceful existence, ethical business and inclusive development of all human beings. If the majority choose to be more conscious and adopt a sustainable way of being, different possibilities could be created in the world, thus, inspiring all of us to intentionally live a benevolent life and become catalysts for change.

When one starts functioning as a conscious leader, every choice they make will create a different future, not only for the decision maker (leader) but for the people in the immediate surroundings, and the world at large. What kind of world would you like to live in? It is your choice to create it; and making the right, conscious decision will make a huge difference.

Need For Awakening

We can have a legal framework ready for CSR but we need a conscious framework to determine “Good CSR”and “Bad CSR”, and for that, it is essentially important to have ‘awakened’ business leaders in boardrooms to take correct decisions for the larger interest of humankind, and for our mother earth. We call this “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” in Hindu philosophy; meaning the whole world is one family under one God. Spirituality needs to awaken the human consciousness in order for the world to progress in the right direction.

Whether a human being is a political leader, business head or a CSR champion, our conscience should take the right decision irrespective of legal obligations. We have a large number of corporate leaders in India who are doing great business alongside sustainable CSR and this is able to bring tangible results through a holistic approach. If the top management of any corporation does not follow their own conscience in designing and implementing strategic CSR, the outcome will only be cosmetic and devoid of tangible results.

There is a need to have clear cut directions, guided by our conscience for achieving goodness as explained in this diagram:

In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from Mahatma Gandhi where he linked economics with ethics, and cited the seven dangers of human virtue:

Wealth without Work Pleasure without Conscience Knowledge without Character Business without Ethics Science without Humanity Religion without Sacrifice Politics without Principle.

Dr. Anil Jaggi (PhD) is a trained Senior CSR Consultant. He is the CEO of consulting firm – Green Earth Alliance (South Asia). He is involve din promoting, supporting, incubating and mentoring various social business ventures at the micro and macro level.

He recently launched another multilateral initiative – “India-Middle East CSR Partnership Initiative(I-MECPI)” to promote CSR-related partnership between India and the Middle East Region.