The ‘Conversations around CSR’ continue with Urja Shah, president, Setco Foundation.

Keeping in view the areas mandated as part of CSR, how does it impact your organisation’s focus and investment?

Setco Foundation was set up in May 2007 to implement the corporate social responsibility initiatives of the Setco Group of companies. Both our current projects – the Nandghar project and the women’s empowerment project – are completely within the broad areas defined for CSR under the new law.

Moreover, Setco Group already contributes five per cent of their annual net profits towards the foundation’s activities. They also encourage employees to actively volunteer in many ways. For example, an annual blood donation camp sees over 30 per cent of Setco’s employees donating voluntarily.

What will be the impact, if any, on the NGOs or social enterprises (you engage with) and the communities/causes they support?

Setco Foundation strives to empower the larger community to ensure that every child and woman has access to healthcare, nutrition, education and opportunity for growth. Our mission is to touch the lives of at least 10,000 children in the next three years. Our models work on the basis of partnership between government, corporate and community. The interventions are constructively impacting people’s lives in Panchmahal District of Gujarat by providing them with basic education, nutrition and meals.

We have clear documentation of several statistics concerning nutrition rates, school admissions and childhood and maternal survival and health. Additionally, the results of our efforts are measured through the number of lives that we have impacted, be it through basic primary education, sustained nutrition for women and children, or the number of avenues we created for financial independence for the slum and tribal women. We have also documented case studies of each and every beneficiary of our income-generational activities, which also gives qualitative evidence of the social benefits such as confidence building and decision making.

Are the projects currently implemented by your organisation ‘sustainable’? To the extent possible, do elaborate upon the complexities.

The end goal of any CSR project is to bring about sustainable change and curtail dependence on the organisation. The complexity arises in the nature of interventions – initially there is direct intervention, but in the long run the need and solutions are identifiable and implementable by the community. For example, malnutrition was initially addressed by direct food supplements, but today it is addressed through education, awareness and training. There is sufficient drive within the community itself to identify and eradicate malnutrition amongst their children.

Setco Foundation is currently working on a replicable, scalable partnership system between corporate–community and government at the anganwadi level. The goal is to ensure that every child is able to achieve the appropriate early childhood development (ECD) milestones, which are measured by clear and simple evaluation levels devised in accordance with current child development norms.

Please share the journey of one project implemented by your organisation, with focus on its impact at the grassroots.

Nandghar project
In partnership with the government’s anganwadi programme, Setco Foundation has adopted 12 anganwadis in communally tense areas of Panchmahal District. Five of these anganwadis have been integrated into one secular anganwadi. Setco Foundation augments the efforts of the local Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme through supplementary nutrition, educational support, capacity-building outreach and advocacy.

The Nandghar project has three main objectives: 1) to improve maternal-foetal-infant health in the community, 2) to eradicate malnutrition, and 3) to ensure that 0–6 years old children are meeting ECD parameters. We have reached out to approximately 1,200 children in the age group of 0–6 years, as well as 250 expectant and nursing mothers.

The Setco Foundation anganwadi programme has impacted the marginalized people in the Kalol taluka of Panchmahal District by reducing childhood malnutrition in slum and rural communities from over 80 per cent to less than 15 per cent in the last 3 years. The physical growth of children is an indicator of this development. The programme has also increased sustained attendance of children in primary school, while 30 per cent even secured admission into private schools including those with English as a medium of instruction.

Recognizing our efforts and their impact, the government of Gujarat has invited us to help develop a ‘scaleable and replicable model’ for partnership between the state, the community and corporates to tackle malnutrition.

One insightful thought, experience or learning that you will like to share with your counterparts as well as other individuals in the causes domain.

Focus on ‘results’. Too many projects and activities are input-driven – how many books did we donate, how many workshops did we have, and so on. Instead, focus on output – how many children did we manage to enrol, how many stayed, and how many ‘actually’ learned.

Corporates are used to thinking along the ‘bottom line’ – that is, the final result. Bring that thinking into your CSR projects. What do you want to achieve and what have you actually achieved? It will automatically help focus on those inputs that have real impact, rather than those that just have a ‘feel good’ factor.

Setco Foundation itself went through this journey with the Nandghar project: our focus shifted from what we were contributing – food, clothing, lunchboxes, etc. –   to understanding what was making a real difference. The focus was on bringing about change in the nutritional status of a malnourished child and the final impact on the nutritional status of a community.

One of the biggest strengths for any corporate is their resources – human, capital and technology. Leveraging this for maximum impact is the most important thing a corporate can do, and therefore picking up projects with an eye on real impact is extremely important.

I would advise you to
a. Pick projects that are near enough to your factories or offices to avoid logistic hassles.
b. Go beyond cheque writing to support local institutions. If local NGOs or institutions are doing good work, help them in scaling up. Involve employees to ensure transparency, accountability and a sense of ownership of the company’s CSR activities.
c. Partner with existing government initiatives and institutions since this is the only way to focus on quality and scale. A corporate will never have the reach that government institutions such as primary schools or anganwadis have. Bringing in expertise, training and programmes to augment existing infrastructure and keeping an eye on results can make a tremendous difference.
d. Invest in your CSR team and ensure that committed, result-driven people run your projects.