CSR will enhance the pace of recovery at the grassroots: Manish Michael

For a long time now CSR has been an integral part of corporates to go beyond the usual business and give back to the society. The ultimate purpose of CSR is to maximise shared value among organisations, employees, customers, shareholders, and community members. In the pandemic times, CEOs are pushing their teams to pay more attention and focus on sustained CSR activities. Organisations are re-aligning their business goals not only on profitability, but on creating sustainable value for every stakeholder in their supply chains and extended communities and encouraging CSR in a big way with clearly earmarked budgets for them to happen with a long-term vision.

This week, PR Conversation features an interaction with Manish Michael, Senior Advisor - CSR,The PRactice, on how CSR has evolved over time and what are some of the steps that corporates are taking to systematically focus their work on CSR activities and campaigns in building corporate image.

Why does CSR today form an important part of the overall vision and mission of any organisation? How are corporates embracing CSR today, especially after the pandemic?

We are witnessing a shift in how business is done. Organisations are re-aligning their businesses goals not only on profitability, but on creating sustainable value for every stakeholder in their supply chains and extended communities. There is an increased scrutiny on responsible businesses with a focus on Environment, Society and Governance. Moreover, in India, businesses are mandated by a provision in the Companies Act to invest 2 per cent of their company’s profitin social projects, set up Board Sub-Committees to approve CSR budgets. This has brought CSR discussions into the Board rooms of the companies.

CSR in the post-pandemic scenario will play a catalytic role in stabilising the largescale disruption in the lives of people. It will enhance the pace of recovery at the grassroots. While corporations and more privileged communities have been able to adapt to the disruption more rapidly, grassroots communities are struggling. Much of the available funding has been used for relief work and social sector organisations at the grassroots are getting less for long-term activities and, therefore, resource divide is likely to widen. The need of the hour, therefore, is to prioritise funding in consultation with local governments and communities in order to ensure that CSR investments bridge the divide.

How do CEOs view CSR initiatives? Are they open to investments in CSR campaigns and do they value the importance of CSR for the company? 

Doing good comes instinctively to people, and CEOs are no exception. There is enough data to suggest that companies which prioritise social good are able to retain employees better and create a positive image about the company in the community.

In my interaction with CEOs and senior management teams, I have strongly discerned that CSR is viewed as an opportunity to give back to the society and an opportunity for the companies to be rooted in the community they operate.

Additionally, CSR engagement with employees as volunteers, is seen as a leadership development tool, as also opportunity for companies to check attrition and build loyalty for the company.

What are some of the best practices one must follow to run a CSR campaign? What are the key factors that will help in running an effective CSR initiative? 

In my opinion, companies should treat end beneficiaries as their clients and work closely with NGO partners to solve their problems.

‘Engagement’ is the key word while running effective CSR Initiatives. This engagement must be meaningful and include all stakeholders within and outside organisation, including local Government, beneficiaries, and community at large.

Direct engagement of the Board, CEO and senior management team encourages the organisation and partners to be serious about the CSR initiatives.

What are some of the successful CSR campaigns that are popular today? Can you illustrate one or two memorable campaigns?

Some of the successful CSR campaigns that I witnessed are in the rural areas. The need for CSR funds in rural areas are high and, therefore, the impact is witnessed in the short term. One of the CSR initiatives in Kolar, a district about 40 km outside Bangalore, which I developed, was to empower women by providing them locally viable livelihood opportunities, address water issues and provide scholarship to youth along with English speaking skills, value education and leadership development inspired and transformed the community in Kolar.

Another CSR activity which I fondly remember, which was quite successful, was a scholarship program for urban underprivileged youth. Volunteers from the company met students twice a week for mentoring, helping them with studies. Volunteers helped youth to graduate. Eventually a lot of children, who were supported by the scholarship program was recruited by the company.

What is the role of PR in CSR campaigns? How do corporates leverage CSR activities through PR? 

PR has an important role to play while mapping stakeholders and measuring impact in any CSR campaign. PR, however, has to be well strategised and designed in order to not only showcase, but also invite feedback from as many stakeholders as possible. This calls for widening of PR strategies beyond conventional ones. PR works two ways,a) engaging stakeholders and influencers forpowerful and impact driven CSR activities and with their support ensuringoutcomes for social good and ROI,b), communicating these activities well, earns goodwill for the company from communities. PR could also play a critical role in breaking old myths and bring about behavioural change.

You have years of experience in the CSR field. As an expert, what are some of the tips that you would suggest to corporates to run successful CSR campaigns which have the sustainability power? 

While it is important to choose area of CSR activities based on business alignment, it is important to listen to the beneficiaries as clients to accordingly design and implement the CSR activities. Beneficiaries inputs in design the program empowers them and they become partners in change.

More often than not sustainable impact is not visible in just a year; therefore, corporations must stay invested for a minimum of 3 years to bring about sustainable change. Long term foresight and engagement are crucial.

As a part of the strategy for sustainable change, capacity building of NGO/ implementing partners should also be factored in. Capacity building needs of the NGO partners may vary from helping them with project management skills, to recruitment people, investment in the organisation, leadership development, etc.


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