Around this time last year, the Securities and Exchange Board of India passed the Companies Bill, which prescribed that corporations in India try to spend at least 2%, if not more, of their average net profit on CSR activities. While debates around why, how and what corporations should do to catch up with this imposed recommendation persist, the Bill awakened corporate India towards considering social responsibility a stronger element of its workaday practice than ever before.
The effect of this Bill was not only faced by just the 2000-odd companies that appeared in the list; it also warned many others. Regardless of size, geography or potential, all companies experienced the dynamics, and started identifying activities to do, projects to adopt or NGOs to support. While the bigger companies expanded their CSR calendars through well-identified CSR teams, most of the others that weren’t capable of hiring professionals just for CSR delegated such responsibilities to allied business departments such as HR or corporate communications. Though in some cases these changes helped to define ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ in a more refined manner, in others the changes brought in a disarray of activities without overall vision, and only contributed towards the term becoming a buzzword in the corporate jargon.
At a time when corporations are trying to bring together various elements to create the most apt representation of their CSR strategies, one cannot neglect that the simple concept of giving stays the core philosophy behind one and all. Particularly since the visits by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who equated giving back with fun, corporations have been looking towards ways of bringing social responsibility towards employees with a sense of pre-defined involvement.
The India Giving Challenge is one such platform that addresses this need and brings together corporations, individuals and NGOs on a common platform. Hosted by GiveIndia during the celebratory Joy of Giving Week (held annually in October), the challenge sets the tone for a country-wide festival of giving and encourages participants to root for causes close to their hearts and gain recognition in return. While NGOs raise funds for themselves to garner support, corporations and their stakeholders nominate NGOs that they would like to support in a driven and competitive spirit through engaging in a variety of activities that provide for a holistic giving experience.
Even though this online event is essentially directed towards fundraising, in the three years since its inception the India Giving Challenge has worked remarkably well in addressing the CSR needs of the participating corporations as well as elevating the levels of employee engagement and participation. The festival gives the required impetus for participating corporations to first identify a direction, in terms of the causes or charities they want to associate with, and then execute that high-level thought by outlining activities that make employees connect with the cause in a unified way.
Some of the activities that participating corporations have adopted in previous years were particularly interesting. For instance, senior management of one such corporation donated articles for auction in which employees bid; the proceeds of the auction went to the chosen charity. This made for a two-fold involvement for employees as they not only got an opportunity to interact seamlessly with the most senior people in the organization but also contributed more since the activity was in line with the purpose of giving back.
At another corporation, employees came together to visit the chosen NGO on a non-working day. The activity allowed employees to connect with the beneficiaries at the NGO and made for a fun ‘out of office’ time shared with colleagues from across different departments and hierarchies. At another corporation, employee teams carried out bake sales and in-kind collection drives of food items, old books, clothes and toys to raise support for the chosen NGOs, fostering a high level of team effort within routine work spaces and also encouraging a healthy competition among other teams to see which team could do more.
Ultimately, it is a shame that it had to come to the Indian Government almost enforcing a CSR mandate on corporations, one must agree on some level that corporations in India do have the potential to give more towards the needs of this developing country and that such an expectation can come true only when the giving in corporations rises inherently. Platforms such as the India Giving Challenge have proved to be a positive step in encouraging activities that nurture and elevate this growth of giving within and across corporations. It is only one step, however. If corporations ever aspire to get rid of the Bill’s enforcement, they will need to either step up their leverage of existing platforms or carve out new platforms that evoke similar levels of giving.
Priyanka Saha is manager of marcom for the payroll giving team at GiveIndia.