by Rahul Kumar

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New Delhi: Corporates can join hands with the development sector and fill up the void that governments have not fulfilled in meeting the developmental needs of the people. Professionals from the corporate and the development sector at a conference – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia – agreed that corporations in today?s globalised world could respond to societal needs even while making profits.

The Business and Community Foundation (BCF) and OneWorld South Asia had organized a two-day seminar in New Delhi on – CSR in Asia: Where are we and what?s ahead? ? that looked at the role of companies in responding to the needs of the society. The seminar also focused on the role that companies could play in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), fulfilling Mission 2007 and accountability standards.

Journalist Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka Foundation believed that CSR is not a new thing for India. He said: ?CSR existed in India as landed people used to provide an umbrella to the masses as an ?act of grace?. We need to now step out of the ?act of grace? and create institutions that can force the government to deliver. I don?t believe that an egalitarian society can be delivered only by the rich. Social contract or even CSR has to move away from a feudal mindset.?

The seminar threw up a number of questions on the role of the corporates, the association between corporates and NGOs and the dichotomy between making profits and doing social good.

Commenting on corporate accountability in India, senior mentor of the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) Raghavan Iyer said: ?CSR is a balance of social, economic and environmental responsibility and performance. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guides an organisation to produce a sustainability report but only three Indian companies have done GRI reporting till now. And this says a lot about the accountability and transparency of Indian companies.?

Deputy High Commissioner of the British High Commission, Mark Runacres shared his observations about the changed role of corporates in a globalised world.

Runacres said: ?The key is not CSR but what is the vision of the business about its role in the society. Earlier there was skepticism amongst international development agencies towards corporate role in societal needs. Now we do not see that skepticism resistance from international NGOs in taking corporate money for social causes as compared to five-years back.?

Not many speakers were charitable towards corporates for following CSR practices. Many from the business community admitted that CSR makes for good business sense and is indulged in as a public relations exercise.

Global head CSR, British Telecom, Janet Blake shared her views on her firm?s CSR policy and how it made good business sense. She also announced the Lifelines India initiative in association with OneWorld South Asia, CISCO and several other partners at the grassroots.

Asit Roy from Kanoria Chemicals agreed with Blake: ?CSR is not an act of charity towards the masses. CSR practices have earned direct profitability, improved employee morale and also lead to better harmony with people that a company wants to interact with.?

Sachin Joshi from the Center for Social Markets said: ?There are many issues that are not being addressed by the corporates. These include a debate on internal and external CSR practices. No Indian organization is talking about climate change and it is difficult to convince the small and medium enterprises about the utility of CSR.?

But many at the conference said that businesses can play key roles as corporate citizens in contributing to human resource development, sensitive industrial restructuring and inclusive economic development as well as respecting human rights.

Chairman of the Business and Community Foundation (BCF) Simon Scarff was more optimistic. He said: ?Asia faces many critical issues ? environment, water, education, housing and others. CSR means both altruism and economics and has the potential to become a great human force in this century, particularly for Asia.?

OWSA director Basheerhamad Shadrach said: ?For the first time in history businesses are showing interest in the bottom-of-the-pyramid people, particularly in countries with a growing economy and a huge population. We know that now businesses are receptive to development and eradicating poverty.?

Chairman emeritus and trustee NASSCOM Foundation Saurabh Srivastava spoke on how MNCs and corporates can spot opportunities and trends to serve India?s poor. He said: ?Corporates needs to stop thinking of India?s population as a burden and look at it as an opportunity and a whole new world opens up for them.?

The verdict after two days of deliberations was – smart companies are those that will take a proactive approach and see CSR as a feature of mainstream business practice, employee engagement and a competitive advantage.

Source: OneWorld South Asia (link opens in a new window)