‘Aware’ is the word that best describes the countrymen we live with today. Gone are the days when the Tatas or the Birlas would plant trees on roadsides and claim being environmentally responsible, or announce scholarships for half-a-dozen poor kids and boast about being socially responsible.

Today, exploitation of nature and humanitarian values cannot be camouflaged by symbolic activities that many corporate houses in the country have been involved in. The need is to be responsible in actuality, connect with and propagate the cause, and be consistent.

We are in the developing part of the world where one does not have to look for a cause. To initiate a CSR activity one can find hundreds of reasons. Be it climate change, poverty, gender differences, abuse of values or exploitation of rights, various corporates and NGOs are now advocating a gamut of initiatives that largely help in the overall growth of the society. They are seriously solving problems, or are at least trying to do so. Never mind that they also expect recognition for the same.

Recently, speaking at the India Eco Summit, Sachin Duggal, president and chief executive officer of Nivio, Switzerland, said that besides price arbitrage, companies should focus on problem solving by not treating innovation as a part of corporate social responsibility. According to Duggal, CSR and innovation are two different things and should not be mingled up to serve a particular purpose.

Michael Hastings, global head of citizenship and diversity, KPMG, in an interview, said that the company has a big citizenship responsibility. ‘When I joined KPMG, I tried to redefine CSR by renaming it corporate citizenship. It is not just activities that individuals or groups within the company undertake, but what impact the organization has as a whole. We set ourselves a huge citizenship responsibility, a series of objectives and timeline for achieving them,’ he said.

Hastings added that every single day comes with a whole lot of issues that one can address and find solutions to. But if there are structural issues like women empowerment, then a coordinated corporate initiative is needed. He informed, ‘We have just one programme in Kolkata and we are doing it through an NGO, CINI, which has been working for girl’s education and basic guidance of women on health nutrition and education of girl children for 35 years.’

Elevating budgets also indicate the seriousness about CSR in the major corporate houses.

Coal India Ltd (CIL) recently announced that it would devote five per cent of its net profit toward its CSR agenda. Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said, ‘CIL will provide five per cent of the net profit so that there is no scarcity of funds for CSR activities.’

The company will support 100 BPL meritorious students selected through a nationwide selection process and provide them full financial support for higher education. Moreover, the minister promised that all these successful students would be offered jobs at CIL.

Following suit, Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL), a subsidiary of the London-listed Vedanta Resources, is planning to increase its investment on corporate social responsibility (CSR) to five per cent of its net profit.

NGOs, for their part, are not just concentrating on regular fund-raising activities to help the needy, but are also trying to empower them through innovative methods so that they do not remain needy anymore. An NGO named Centre for Social Research says that low female literacy rate, gender gap, low life expectancy, and a range of other women-centric issues that are facing India can only be addressed if more women enter politics. Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of the NGO, said, ‘Major discrepancies in the sex ratio, literacy rate and life expectancy rate of women can only be addressed when there are more women in decision-making bodies.’

The NGO had organized a workshop for aspiring women politicians in Delhi, wherein 60 aspiring women politicians participated to know more about the Indian Constitution, political set-up, governance, gender issues, women in politics, and the issue of 33 per cent reservation for women in parliament. The workshop was a part of the NGO’s United Nations Democracy Fund- (UNDEF)-supported project that aims at addressing the gender gap as well as the challenges faced by women in Indian politics.

By all means, imbued with awareness, innovations and positive initiatives, the first long stride, it seems, is in the right direction and spirit. The planters of a sapling now understand that it needs to be nurtured to become a tree. Still?

CB bureau