Bridge the gap

Tags: Op-ed
Corporate houses sho-uld function on a fundamental philosophy that in a free enterprise, community is not just another stakeholder in business, but the very purpose of its existence. In this regard, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) journey of a company should ideally evolve from “giving to the society” to “creating an enabling environment” and finally to “creating self-sustained communities”.

Unfortunately, most business houses treat CSR as a mere obligation and tend to perceive it as a diversion from the primary business goal of maximising profits. While profits are and will always remain the principal focus, it is crucial to recognise the benefits of CSR to one’s business. Investing in CSR measures in one’s areas of operation gives an opportunity to focus and earn the trust of a business’s most important stakeholder — its end consumers and communities. Corporate houses should live up to this philosophy by engaging with communities through well planned interventions across key areas of development such as education, healthcare, environment sustainability and capacity building of the society at large. Without understanding the expectations and aspirations of the society, no business can succeed or sustain itself. Moreover, garnering trust of the society helps gain the trust of one’s employees and investors as well. Edmund Burke, a political theorist and philosopher, had introduced such a concept in 1999 where he mentioned that “a company and its customers can help each other achieve goals by reciprocating trust.”

Let us consider the issue of unemployment in India. A large number of our young population is deprived of gainful employment due to lack of employability skills. Companies stand to make a difference in this area through introduction of skill development training programmes spanning across different fields such as construction, automobiles, motor driving, BPO, hospitality, apparel designing, and healthcare, to name but a few. An added advantage of undertaking such capacity building measures with local communities will also reduce the burden and costs of bringing skilled employees from other states, thereby adding to the overall growth of the company.

Yet another way to enhance the quality of life in the local community is by introducing CSR interventions in healthcare services. Providing basic facilities such as regular health checkups, vaccination drives, and conducting hygiene awareness programmes helps garner positive mileage in the community. Educating the locals about pandemic diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis and its preventive measures, will ignite positive interaction between the society and corporate houses.

Understanding the aspirations of local communities is crucial to shared value creation, and will prove beneficial to both parties in the long term. Corporate houses have a responsibility to the local communities, especially towards vulnerable sections of the society such as tribal communities. Their unique culture, music, language and food forms the essence of tribal heritage. Organisations conducting business in these regions can contribute significantly towards the preservation and promotion of tribal languages and literature, restore the glorious past of traditional tribal instruments and music, create opportunities for the tribals to highlight their skills and talent at various programmes that brings together people from across the country. Such steps will not only preserve the ethnicity and culture of these indigenous communities, but also further instill trust among the local people towards the companies engaging them.

Another key CSR strategy that can contribute immensely to youth empowerment is strengthening of local community sports. These kind of initiatives open a two-way dialogue between local communities and businesses, thus establishing a firm cultural connect between them.

Companies can scale-up the reach of their CSR activities by encouraging employees to participate and contribute towards the overall CSR strategy of the company. This will impart a feeling of satisfaction among them and would also help develop a broader perspective towards company goals. Issues such as women empowerment, strengthening healthcare systems, skills development, access to quality education, etc. are also focus areas for the government. Various central and state government schemes have been introduced in these areas and therefore, businesses can also consider partnering with these bodies. Public Private Partnership (PPPs) models can play an important role in overcoming the challenges in these areas.

While it is fair to argue that companies are not setup to take responsibility of fixing societal issues, engaging in CSR activities helps gain greater competitive edge, create positive corporate identity and reputation, thus reinforcing the brand image of a business. CSR interventions provide a rare opportunity for businesses to establish and inculcate a relationship with local communities thereby, bridging the gap in between. Since business enterprises are vehicles of nation building, CSR should be fostered, encouraged, and integrated with business models — not just as an obligation but with the aim to positively contribute to the success of the nation. It’s about time that corporate houses change their outlook towards CSR initiatives for the success of their businesses.

The writer is chief, corporate social responsibility, Tata Steel

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