Responsibility with a
Iris C F Gomes
The idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in India, is not a new one. It existed in the form of philanthropy well before the Industrial Revolution made its impact in India. The 19th century saw India’s corporate giants take an active role in promoting social causes, but they did incorporate their biases and ulterior motives in a covert manner into whatever practices they chose to undertake. The Companies Act, 2013, which came into effect on 1 April, 2014 mandates companies having a net worth of Rs. 500 crore or a turnover of Rs. 1000 crore or a net profit of Rs. 5 crores, to spend 2 per cent of their average net profit of the previous three years on corporate social responsibility activities.
Mr Manguirish Pai Raiker is a prominent business figure in Goa, who has in addition to his long list of credentials, the honour of being the erstwhile president of Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the director of Goa Handicrafts Rural and Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (GHRSSIDC). He is, at present, the chairman and managing director of Brown Packaging Systems Private Limited and is also the director of S. R. Consultancy Service.
Mr. Raiker’s approach to corporate social responsibility is that it should come from the heart and that constructive change can be brought about without needlessly spending huge amounts of money. There are an estimated 25 per cent of the ‘big leaguers’, as he says, in the corporate sector that have been in the business of charity out of their own free will. The remainder have to be cajoled, if not, pressurised into dipping their toes into the area of philanthropy.
Quite often this duress leads to negative results. Money is spent, but on veritably worthless projects such as putting up bus shelters which are often neglected thereafter, or are removed to make way for something else. Concentration on public utilities is fundamentally a sound option but this could digress into pointless expenditure when companies do not do their groundwork and do not focus on what is actually essential to the public. He cites the example of business tycoon and India’s foremost philanthropist, Azim Premji, who has made arrangements for computer classes in the remotest localities of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This is a good example of finding a need and filling it; it is an example of sound philanthropy.
And while it makes sense to work in the areas of health, education, the environment, and providing meaningful services such as libraries and recreational facilities for senior citizens, etc., Mr. Raiker points out that all companies do not have the infrastructure to do so. These companies would normally extend the monetary aid but the onus of carrying out social work activities would be on NGOs selected by them.
Herein lies the danger of transferring one’s responsibilities onto another party and not giving a thought to whether the money is being spent fruitfully. Mr. Raiker says, ‘Corporate social responsibility should be need based and action oriented. Not just for the sake of it.’ Companies should take care to select NGOs that make research a priority before starting a project. For example, if one wanted to educate drop-outs, the NGO would first have to delve into the reasons why the students dropped out so that those liabilities are removed. Children could be leaving because they cannot concentrate due to lack of nutrition or because they do not have school supplies. Besides this, he says, ‘Companies should monitor how funds are spent.’
There may be dubious NGOs just as there are unscrupulous company directors who will exploit every loophole to safeguard their own interests, however, one cannot disdain NGOs in general. Mr. Raiker commends NGOs like Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust Venture that has started the Hamara School project for street children in Goa. Furthermore, he talks about an NGO in Loutolim involved in conducting surveys on the number of children suffering from malnutrition and their immunisation. It began with one village and has now proceeded to cover twenty villages. The NGO has provided the villages with a play school and moreover it keeps checks on the environment of the children and their hygiene. Special social workers have been employed to shoulder the task. Additionally, the villagers and priests have been drawn into participation.
Where his own corporate social responsibility activities are concerned, Mr. Raiker has adopted a novel method. He asked his employees to form groups and encouraged them to use their imagination to tackle the issue. His employees happily surprised him.
One group began periodic visits to an old age home where they would engage the inmates in happy banter, read to them, walk with them, lend them their phones to speak with relatives, and recommend doctors known to them who would treat the inmates free of charge and so on. The inmates became so attached to Mr. Raiker’s employees that they would eagerly await them.
One of his employees began teaching drop-out kids how to service motorcycles, from the replacement of cables and spark plugs to the changing of bulbs. ‘Two of these kids have started working on their own with toolkits given to them by a bank. These two have assistants and so are in their way creating employment too,’ says Mr. Raiker. In the other two groups, garbage collection was dealt with involving the children of the community, and kitchen gardens were encouraged with the distribution of seeds. The latter could be a means of taking care of the immediate dietary needs of the family and possibly provide the base for commercialisation and sale of the vegetables.
To Mr. Raiker, the ventures his employees engaged in were much more effective in creating a difference than having large sums of money spent with little or no constructive outcome. This proves that personal contribution in terms of time and energy, albeit on a small scale, could steadily build up to a blanket transformation. It is left to each one of us to take up the challenge and be the catalyst to alter adverse conditions. This is, in Mr. Raiker’s opinion, the best way to engage in corporate social responsibility activities.