Connect, Inspire, Care, Deliver and Pursue Purpose in 2022

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By Rusen Kumar

Rusen Kumar

The years 2020 and 2021 will always be remembered, of course, for all the wrong reasons. Since March 11, 2020, when WHO declared COVID-19 a notified disaster, 4.78 lakh deaths and 3.47 crore cases have been reported in India. The dramatic spread of COVID-19 has disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses worldwide. It has been a tough fight since then in India. Organisations, individuals, civil societies, environmentalists, activists, and the Government came together and toiled hard to minimise COVID’s impact on people and the planet. While the health machinery, Corona warriors, disaster management, etc., have taken the fight on their shoulders, there was latent but rock-hard support that fuelled up the fight for India – the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) battalion.

Although CSR was initiated and mandated for social good only, it played a phenomenal role in India’s fight against the pandemic. In fiscals 2020 and 2019, CSR expenditure was Rs 24,689 Crores and Rs 20,150 Crores. As the second and more virulent wave of COVID-19 infections gripped the country, the 350 public-listed companies spent more than Rs 1,600 Crores on CSR initiatives between March and May 2020 to check the deadly pandemic.

Speedy and agile efforts of all CSR stakeholders played a major role to address the COVID-19 pandemic with the Union and State Governments and NGOs. This has proven to have had a greater impact on the relief work taking place during this challenging period. From facilitating government relief work to distributing safety kits, ration, vaccination or awareness, various stakeholders from CSR are still acting as an auxiliary military force against COVID-19 in India. 

The CSR Battalion

Although CSR was initiated and mandated for social good only, it played a phenomenal role in India’s fight against the pandemic. In fiscals 2020 and 2019, CSR expenditure was Rs 24,689 Crores and Rs 20,150 Crores. As the second and more virulent wave of COVID-19 infections gripped the country, the 350 public-listed companies spent more than Rs 1,600 Crores on CSR initiatives between March and May 2020 to check the deadly pandemic. Corporates were large-hearted, the NGOs showed their expertise, knowledge and deep grip at the ground; the volunteers became the ground soldiers, and corporates initiated more than 750 initiatives during the second wave. 

The Joint Response

While all the CSR stakeholders were standing fast against the pandemic, the Government of India also ensured the seamless implementation of CSR activities on the ground. In the recent budgets, the Government has made amendments for easy FDI in CSR, transparency in FCRA and brought amendments to the Companies Act in an attempt to divert CSR expenditure on COVID relief. In March 2020, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) clarified that CSR funds may be spent by the companies for various activities related to COVID-19.

The Government has also set up the ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’ (PM CARES) to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and provide relief to those affected. Further, Schedule VII was amended to include contributions to PM CARES as CSR along with the existing Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. On March 23, 2020, all expenditures incurred on activities related to COVID-19 were announced to be added as the permissible avenues for CSR expenditure. It was further informed that the funds may be spent on activities relating to the promotion of healthcare, including preventive health care, sanitation and disaster management. 

The CSR community quickly took up the mantle to drive up its response initiatives with internal approval processes. Even before this announcement was made, we saw some examples of benevolent individual corporate leaders offering resources to combat COVID-19. A huge amount of funding has also been directed from corporates to the PM Cares Fund. As per Times of India, the private sector donated Rs 5,565 Crores and the public sector Rs 3,249 Crores. 

The pandemic has affected both personal and professional lives across industries of all scales and types, thereby multiplying relief efforts through the cooperation of all kinds of entities.

Cascading the Good Change – The New CSR 

As per a recent report by the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA), the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a flux wherein responsible and responsive business has become more important. The current times pushed global and corporate leadership to take the forefront, especially in being responsive to the safety of employees, effectively running core operations and responding to change. It is evident how the efforts of companies are not only to serve targeted beneficiaries but solve national problems. This has been translated into CSR efforts as well. CSR must also invest in advocating for and enabling access to health insurance schemes and other equity measures in responseClimate change, WASH, socio-economic concerns including livelihood, hunger, poverty, rural development are some areas that will need significant impetus.

Apart from corporate houses, employees, too, need to pledge to be a part of the social responsibilities, and here is where the new trend, Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) comes to play. Employee and volunteer engagement are becoming a crucial aspect of the new CSR. The need to understand and assess the CSR response from preparedness, response, recovery and risk mitigation and resilience perspective to better assess, understand and measure the impact of short-term and long-term initiatives. 

In every crisis, there are risks and opportunities. Companies across all sectors have taken the opportunity to further embed themselves into the social fabric of the communities where they operate. In this context, CSR presents a pathway to protect consumer trust, investor confidence and workforce loyalty. If there is a simple lesson that we can relearn – it is that CSR practices can act as powerful intermediaries when responding to a crisis of our nation. 

Indubitably, businesses responded to these unprecedented times in the most responsible way, witnessed extraordinary measures taken by corporates in a very innovative way. It has changed our outlook on CSR. In the years to come, we shall Connect, Inspire, Care, Deliver and Pursue Purpose through CSR in a different way

Closing the Loop through SDGs in 2022

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whilst imposing social distancing, has also galvanised all of humanity to come together to meet this challenge and be motivated by a single purpose – to save lives. Nearly five years ago, another challenge, development that balances social, economic and environmental sustainability, brought all of humankind on the same page to be guided by a single framework – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint in achieving a better sustainable future for all. These 17 Goals consist of 169 Targets earmarked to be achieved by 2030.

Although India played a prominent role in formulating the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, it still ranks 120 out of 162 on the SDG Index. This slow progress called for immediate action through collaboration between the corporate sector, civil society organisations and the Government. CSR is seen as the key driver of SDGs as they can apply their creativity and innovation to achieve sustainable development and facilitate the implementation of these goals. For years to come, re-orienting CSR with SDGs shall add purpose to the process.

The current economic environment is marked by the globalisation phenomenon of the interdependence between environment and development. It increasingly shares the view that corporate social responsibility and sustainable development approaches should become an integral part of the economic concepts used by businesses to ensure a balance between social progress, natural resource reserves and economic growth. The 17 Goals include the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and protection of the environment. Undoubtedly, CSR and SDGs are intertwined, just like two strands of DNA. So the ultimate aim of business in future shall be to serve society without eroding our environmental and community life-support systems by providing safe, high-quality products and services that improve our well-being.

The utilisation of CSR funds is likely to see an upward trend as corporates will be under a moral obligation to support communities and people in out-of-the-box ways. Despite less revenue or loss, corporates will spend more on CSR. Collaboration and collective efforts are the mantras. Let us collaborate and partner for Sustainable Social Development together; let us build a sustainable and socially responsible future.

New Spirit of CSR

With just one stroke of the coronavirus, nature bounced back and penalised us for our crimes against nature. Delhi skies were blue and clear, mountains were visible from Chandigarh, and Ganga recorded its all-time high numbers in Water Quality Index. Indubitably, businesses responded to these unprecedented times in the most responsible way, witnessed extraordinary measures taken by corporates in a very innovative way. It has changed our outlook on CSR. In the years to come, we shall Connect, Inspire, Care, Deliver and Pursue Purpose through CSR in a different way where: 

  • CSR decisions shall be taken at the board and broad level now as the pandemic taught us if you do not plan sustainably, you will repent the same in future. 
  • The delivery of purpose shall take over, and CSR will have innocuous credits to its face in the near future. 
  • We shall also see a paradigm shift in the programme priorities of the CSR: Health, Education and Livelihood will be the norm but in a digitised way using technology.
  • Also, new skills will be an indication. One has to unlearn to learn new skills. For example, as per the MART survey, from the four crore people who migrated to villages from cities, 25 per cent will not return. We need to provide them with skills to earn a dignified livelihood. Free ration and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA/MGNREGA) are not sustainable answers in the long run.
  • Stakeholder engagement: The ternion of Government, corporate and community must work in rhythm to have a better world for all of us. The Government must act to address the emerging needs of communities; corporates should work closely with the Government and communities to address it through their CSR.

The utilisation of CSR funds is likely to see an upward trend as corporates will be under a moral obligation to support communities and people in out-of-the-box ways. Despite less revenue or loss, corporates will spend more on CSR. Collaboration and collective efforts are the mantras. Let us collaborate and partner for Sustainable Social Development together; let us build a sustainable and socially responsible future.

About the Author:
Rusen Kumar is the Founder and Managing Editor of IndiaCSR Network (indiacsr.in)