CSR: A Strategic Imperative for Businesses and Nations to Achieve Societal Goals

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Sheena Kapoor

The desire to feel included is a basic human need. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) allows us to work with our employees, local communities and the people at large to build an inclusive and sustainable society. In a world where organisations face constraints brought on by depleting resources, business policies that include the critical area of CSR pave a path of transparency, diversity and inclusiveness.

A significant initiative by the Government of India was the introduction of Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, which mandates companies with a specified turnover, net worth or profits to spend at least 2 per cent of their average net profits in the preceding three years on CSR activities. Since then, CSR initiatives in India have seen significant growth. Today, CSR has become an essential aspect of the corporate world. These activities in India focus on various social and environmental issues such as education, skill development, healthcare, rural development and environmental conservation. Public sector companies have also been leading several of these large-scale initiatives. The Government’s focus on CSR has encouraged companies to contribute to society and the environment, thus looking beyond their immediate business interests. 

Collaborating with NGOs and social organisations help Corporates identify areas for maximum impact and address complex social problems at the grassroots level. Education is one key area where companies are making a great impact – from providing scholarships and building schools and colleges – to supporting educational programmes for children. Companies are increasingly engaging in social impact initiatives such as supporting community development and addressing poverty and inequality.

Rising CSR Demand

Companies are increasingly realising the importance of giving back to society. As a result, they have taken up the CSR mandate across social causes, leading to environmental sustainability, community development and a positive impact on society. Initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, BetiBachao-BetiPadhao, Make in India, and Namami Gange, spearheaded by the Government of India have garnered much support from various corporate houses. 

Today, companies are mindful of the well-being of the communities in which they operate, and they wish to build a sustainable future for all their stakeholders. As a nation, we have come a long way.

Collaborations – Collaborating with NGOs and social organisations help Corporates identify areas for maximum impact and address complex social problems at the grassroots level.

Health & Hygiene – We have several corporate houses from various sectors that contribute towards promoting the importance of hygiene and improving the overall health of people across urban and rural areas of India.

Education – Education is one key area where companies are making a great impact – from providing scholarships and building schools and colleges – to supporting educational programmes for children.

Environment Sustainability – Companies are eagerly adopting green technology, renewable energy, better waste management practices, and afforestation to reduce their carbon footprint.

Skill Development – Providing training and skill development uplifts people, improves their living standards and enhances their employment opportunities.

Social Impact – Companies are increasingly engaging in social impact initiatives such as supporting community development and addressing poverty and inequality.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) – Several companies are promoting DEI within their organisation, such as increasing diversity in their workforce, providing equal pay for equal work and addressing and sensitising employees to create a bias-free work environment.

Reporting and Transparency – With CSR awareness and the government’s support, we have seen a surge in companies reporting on their CSR activities, including the CSR progress and impact, thereby providing transparency and accountability to stakeholders. 

CSR – A Foundational Step in Building a Modern and Sustained Society  

  • The pandemic highlighted the need to ensure support for vulnerable communities. To effectively distribute resources and reach a wider population, we saw companies in India collaborate with NGOs and government agencies.
  • Companies all over India encouraged their employees to participate in CSR activities, including volunteering for relief efforts. This also helped in boosting employee morale and engagement.
  • 2020 highlighted the need for sustainable practices and led to companies increasing their focus on sustainability-related CSR activities such as waste reduction and energy conservation. 

Key Developments in CSR

Over the years, CSR has evolved from a task-oriented mandate to a more strategic and meaningful partnership aimed at developing communities.

Health and education continue to receive the highest share of CSR spending in India.

Thanks to the adoption of technology in CSR, companies are using digital platforms to implement CSR initiatives and engage with their stakeholders.

There has been increased collaboration with government agencies.

Employee volunteering has emerged as an important component of CSR activities in India. 

To help understand the return on investment, impact assessment has become critical for all CSR activities.

We are constantly trying to create a cohesive environment wherein all our stakeholders can excel and achieve societal goals. Time and again, it has been proven that CSR plays an imperative role for companies in building credibility amongst their stakeholders. The best organisations have recognised this and have integrated CSR into their operational endeavour. This realisation bodes well for the corporate world and society, making the world a better and more equitable place. 

Creating a Cohesive Environment for all Stakeholders through CSR

As a responsible corporate, we at ICICI Lombard are committed to making the world a safer and healthier place. One of our flagship community initiatives – Caring Hands focuses on employee volunteering to support visually-impaired children and empower them to lead better lives. Employees volunteer to scout for schools, take permission from authorities, and arrange for doctors, etc. We conduct eye check-up camps in municipal/government schools. Once the tests are performed, we provide corrective lenses to children requiring the same. We carry out this initiative annually across various locations in the country on a special day designated as Caring Hands Day. The initiative started in 2011 and has reached more than 4,00,000 beneficiaries. 

Similarly, under our Ride to Safety initiative, we hold educational sessions for school children and their parents. The sessions majorly focus on road safety rules, regulations and the importance of wearing helmets for parents and children alike. After the sessions, we freely distribute ISI-marked helmets to parents and children. We implement this initiative in 12 cities across the country – Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Patna, Agartala, Ludhiana and Nagpur.

In FY2021, through our preventive healthcare initiative, Niranjali, we embarked on a pilot exercise to uplift the Primary Health Centres (PHC) in rural locations by providing medical equipment to PHCs in UP, MP, West Bengal, and Uttarakhand. The intent was to reduce the transfer of medical cases to district hospitals. We provided equipment to these PHCs in FY2021-2022 and FY2022-23, benefiting more than 15,000 people. 

Further, we launched a pilot environmental sustainability programme involving the installation of solar panels in the schools in line with India’s net-zero ambitions. So far, we have installed solar panels in 95 schools in Mumbai, Patna and Agartala. 

Our CSR initiatives have touched over one million lives till FY2022-23. 

As a brand with customer-centricity at its core, we are driven by Nibhaye Vaade – our brand philosophy. Our marketing campaigns are also aligned with this philosophy and holistic approach that takes into account the Environmental, Social and Governance aspects. 

At ICICI Lombard, sustainability is at the core of our growth strategy. We are constantly trying to create a cohesive environment wherein all our stakeholders can excel and achieve societal goals.

Time and again, it has been proven that CSR plays an imperative role for companies in building credibility amongst their stakeholders. The best organisations have recognised this and have integrated CSR into their operational endeavour. This realisation bodes well for the corporate world and society, making the world a better and more equitable place. 

I believe that when we become a better version of ourselves, our environment, society, and nation also become better. After all, whether it is our family or company, our responsibility is to ensure that nobody is left behind or forgotten.

Sheena Kapoor is Head of Marketing, Corp Comm & CSR at ICICI Lombard.