Wednesday, 5 March: Dasra has gathered over 200 people for the first of its three conference days of Philanthropy Week. The venue is unusual, and quite historic – the old trading floor of the Bombay Stock Exchange, founded in 1875 and today the largest globally by number of listings. In his opening remarks Dasra’s co-founder, Deval Sanghavi, makes a good case for opening a philanthropy conference in the exchange building – he says Dasra and BSE share common values of transparency, collaboration, scalability and impact. There’s another good reason – timing: in just under a month the new Companies Act comes into force, requiring large and medium-sized Indian companies to spend 2% of their profits on charitable causes. The numbers are mind-boggling – 16,000 qualifying companies dispersing 18,000 Crore Rupees (US$2.9 billion) annually! I remember that numbers are always big in India.
The first panel session unpacks this new social clause in some detail, and it seems that while spending 2% of pre-tax profit on charitable causes is not compulsory, a company must justify spending less in a mandatory annual report signed off by three senior directors. Some companies will just see this as additional corporation tax and make large contributions to government social welfare schemes, but it could become an unprecedented flow of donations to Indian non-profits. CSR guru Nikhil Pant says India would need 100,000 NGOs to absorb the funds available and a corporate sector with the professional capacity to disperse huge grants responsibly, with social impact. No wonder a whole CSR industry ecosystem is rapidly evolving. Dasra teamed up with US academics to publish a CSR primer, which can be freely downloaded here>
A session on ‘sharing lessons learned’ showcases some excellent grantmaking practices by EdelGive Foundation, the engineering firm Cummins (whose pioneering work in training a generation of women engineers is mentioned in passing) and Novartis (who use the shared value concept to integrate business and social activity).
In a country with this many people educated to university level, the scope for volunteering is limitless – the Confederation of Indian Industry is leading a campaign to build a pro bono sector with a monetized value of US$10 billion by 2022. If the funding tap is turned on for NGOs, few believe the sector has the capacity to absorb capital without first building capacity and professionalism. Corporate volunteering will be one approach. In the panel on employee engagement we learned from Elaine D’Mello that Tata Consulting Services (now a truly global consulting firm, where the average age is 28) expects every employee to make at least one pro bono assignment each year, the CEO included. She sees it as a win for the company too – staff churn is reduced when consultants offer their skills to non-profits. Much of the discussion focused on inputs and activities by pro bono consultants, but the conversation must shift to outcomes: can commercially focused consulting companies really make a difference in the non-profit sector?
Rob John is a senior visiting fellow at the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy, NUS Business School, Singapore, and a co-founder of AVPN.