In the second series of NSN Connect 2022, we focus on “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in India: The Big Picture.” Ms. Meena Ragunathan, a CSR Specialist, is the eminent guest of the six-episode series.
The fourth episode in the series is on “Implementing CSR projects with multiple stakeholders”, where Ms. Meena Raghunathan talks about implementing CSR projects with multiple stakeholders, navigating different aspects of collaborating and seeking partnerships, the demands and challenges of being socially responsible and the required skills and knowledge for various CSR projects.
Here are some of the highlights from the episode. To watch the full episode, please visit our YouTube channel.
Episode 4 – Implementing CSR projects with multiple stakeholders
While sharing insights on implementing CSR projects with multiple stakeholders and the importance of collaborations, Ms. Meena said that “as more and more large corporations with significant CSR spending establish their foundations, they understand the value of partnerships for effective CSR.” A foundation is not a legal term; rather, it simply denotes a non-commercial type of entity, which is why they are establishing their foundations. Naturally, mid-sized and smaller businesses do not have the resources to establish a full foundation. However, there may occasionally be a small CSR department with only two or three employees whose primary responsibility is to locate NGOs as partners, work with them to develop proposals, and oversee the process.
There may be a small percentage of employees who act as focal points for CSR, perhaps in the HR department, communications department, or sometimes even in the secretarial department, because they manage the processes. Additionally, it depends on how the company views CSR. The communications department would know right away what the company’s viewpoint was on CSR. Employee engagement in the HR department is an essential factor in CSR. Also, there are various kinds of partnerships in CSR, depending on the NGO partners.
When you establish a foundation, you enter into a partnership with the foundation, which is a separate legal entity from the company. The foundation maintains social development at the forefront within the corporate setting, which is the desired course of action. The company has its own goals. While the company’s primary goal is to conduct business, compliance with the CSR regulation is a secondary objective. As one is speaking a language other than that of business when the foundation is manned by social development professionals, there must be an effort made to forge a bond and a collaboration.
With CSR law in place, companies are now learning about NGOs and vice versa. There are also business-to-business partnerships in which the foundation of one company might work with another business, or two businesses may opt to collaborate and conduct CSR jointly.
Referring to the skill training example from the GMR Foundation’s CSR, Ms. Meena said, “When we used to work with Volvo, the company brought in its technological know-how to manage skill training programs and its equipment, not just financially. There are various types of collaboration, and while doing a requirements analysis and setting a baseline, it may be necessary to work in partnership with NGOs.”
Now that impact assessment is a required component for bigger projects, we need to look for individuals who can perform that. NGOs, consultants, the big four, the small four, or anyone else could be among them. CSR is a very fertile ground for partnerships. However, we must learn how to manage leveraged partnerships well. Knowing the budget for the upcoming year is one of the challenges as it is reliant on the last three years profits. In an ideal world, knowing exactly how much money is to be spent in the upcoming year is important because cutting back on spending can have major effects. Getting a handle on the budget is important to ensure that the plan in the budget is approved at the first board and CSR committee meetings.
As CSR professionals, we should have already obtained the budget, completed research on potential NGO partners, and discussed proposals before submitting them for approval in April. There are always challenges on the ground, challenges with business partners, and challenges even inside the community itself. As a result, conflicts may arise because one section may want something and the other may not. The community frequently expresses opinions about the company on the CSR rather than on the CSR itself.
For reporting, we had to make sure that partners met the deadlines for the financial report to be submitted. Each of them presents a challenge in actuality, followed by the effect. Sometimes, everyone is so preoccupied with the procedure that we lose sight of the impact. For CSR professionals, the problem is remembering the impact.
What we lack is a very solid baseline of information. We then begin our activities and then try to evaluate, having no idea of what we are evaluating and what the situation is. So, in our hurry to begin anything, we occasionally forget to have a clear idea. We need to have an idea and keep track of the changes. Another issue is that when you enter a group, people want hardware and other tangible resources, whereas some of the softer resources are overlooked. As a result, if we want to collaborate with a school, they would prefer that we create a classroom rather than make an effort to improve educational processes. Therefore, negotiating with the community is a difficult task. Not that they don’t see the need for enhancing educational processes, but the demand is for the classroom to be included as well. CSR professionals require strong negotiating skills since they are constantly engaged in negotiations with partners from the business context, community, or NGOs.
About the guest: Ms. Meena Ragunathan, a CSR Specialist and an expert in the development sector and has decades of experience setting up and leading Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments for big organizations. She has recently authored a book on CSR titled “Doing Good: Navigating the CSR Maze in India”.
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