Why newborn survival should be on India’s CSR agenda


Akhil Paliath and Dasra


The 2 per cent CSR mandate in the Companies Act, 2013 requires companies of a certain size in India to allocate  2 per cent of their average net profits from the preceding three financial years to corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. It is estimated that this will release an additional $1.8 billion in funding resources for the social sector in the year 2014-15. This means that the largest 100 corporates in India will have a little less than $9 million each on average to invest in various issues every year.

Resources of this magnitude have the power to be a massive game-changer for some of the most pressing issues facing India today. But as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. Corporates need to be strategic with their giving. The focus must be on issues where their considerable resources can create the maximum amount of impact. One such issue in India, often overlooked by corporates, is that of newborn survival.  CSR efforts in India have largely focused on education or livelihood, ignoring the fact that 760,000 babies do not live beyond 28 days and 300,000 die within 24 hours of their birth. Newborn mortality rates must be first addressed to make any efforts in issues like education meaningful.

The issue of newborn survival, with the scale of the problem in India and the massive potential for impact,  presents a significant opportunity for CSR investment. India contributes to over 27 per cent of newborn deaths worldwide. However, most of these deaths are preventable. Providing bare minimums like a hygienic and safe place at birth, basic equipment and medicines, and the right skills to help the mother and baby during birth and in the critical days that follow could save up to 75 per cent of these babies every year. CSR investments have the potential to show results within a short period, especially through NGOs working in districts with a high burden of newborn mortality.

Newborn deaths in India contribute to over half of its child mortality and need to be addressed urgently if India is to achieve its MDG Four target of reducing child mortality by two-thirds. Recognizing this, the issue of newborn survival has received considerable attention this past year. The Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) launched in June 2014 has commitments from governments, foundations and private sector players reaffirming that newborn survival will be a major part of the post-2015 development agenda. The Indian Government followed through with the release of the India Newborn Action Plan (INAP) in September 2014. The INAP sets out an ambitious target of reducing India’s newborn mortality rate from 29 per 1,000 births to a single digit by 2030 (five years before the global target). The INAP actively recognizes the need for private sector involvement and the need for collaboration through public-private partnerships that have the power to accelerate and multiply impact. The government’s attention on the issue and its need to generate private sector involvement provides not only a ‘safe’ and high-impact CSR investment option, but also the perfect opportunity for building visibility and relationships with the government, a critical stakeholder and decision maker for business in India.

Despite the opportunity, historically few corporate interventions have focused on addressing challenges around newborn mortality at scale. By investing in saving newborn lives now, corporates can establish leadership in a space that is otherwise relatively nascent in its evolution. The birth of newborns is celebrated the world over. Efforts to save the lives of India’s newborns would win universal goodwill and attention.

Dasra’s work over the past few months has engaged corporates, experts, NGOs and social enterprises on the issue. Dasra is a strategic philanthropy foundation that drives funding, partnerships and capacity building support to the social sector in India. Our research reveals that there are a lot of great programmes on the ground with promising results, and there are a variety of ways in which businesses can help scale their impact. All the necessary ingredients to make corporate intervention successful – the need, potential for impact, the resources and the political will – exist today. Our conversations with corporates make us hopeful that there is genuine interest from the private sector as well. There is an urgent need to translate this into saving India’s newborns’ lives. The time to act is now.

Akhil Paliath is an Analyst for the Dasra Girl Alliance at Dasra

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