Doing Good Differently: 5 ways to make CSR more enterprising

According to Dan Pallotta, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”. In his 2013 TED talk, he challenges the general concept of charity as we have been accustomed to since ages.

The dictionary defines ‘charity’ as: an organisation set up to provide assistance and raise money for those in need. Traditionally, it is seen as a linear flow of money or resources from the privileged to the deprived. While doing so, any profit or benefit is, largely, discouraged. In the modern times, we have moved from individual philanthropy to corporate responsibility.

CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, which was a voluntary act in the past, has now become a regulatory requirement. These environmental or community initiatives are often seen as ‘obligations’, and hence the value created by them are negligible. A large chunk of those eligible to pay, prefer to view it as a financial transaction rather than an opportunity to build social currency. This is par for the course for anything that is imposed. But, professionalism complements volunteerism. If it reaps more benefit to performing voluntary activities professionally, without losing the significance for the cause, it could prove more productive for the stakeholders as well as shareholders.

What if we pursue corporate social responsibility as aggressively as we chase our sales targets? What if we have a capitalist outlook towards our social responsibility, and probably create much more impact than we could have ever imagined? What if the resources that we “donate” to get tax benefits also give us additional manifold proceeds?

Here is a list of five approaches that your organisation could implement; to get, give, and gain maximum out of their CSR expenditure:

Choose your cause wisely

One of the most important aspects of CSR should be to strategize and scrutinize the cause that the business wishes to get into, instead of just donating to the first cause that it comes across.

Reverse Planning

To help make a better plan and strategy, the method that really works is planning in reverse. It is important to foresee the results, visualise the response that the enterprise desires, the goodwill that the cause may create for them, and then figure the cause by the method of elimination.

Capitalist Approach

People raise their eyebrows at the mention of a corporate behemoth that seeks profit while doing well. Michael Porter, famed Harvard business strategist, has coined the term “shared value” to define a concept by which companies become more competitive while simultaneously alleviating social problems in communities where they operate.

Scalability

One of the most important facets of Shared Value is- Scalability. The social good is not merely from the marginal cream of the entire company’s finance, but a core financial value of the company. And hence, when CSR, just like business, is measurable and scalable, the impact it creates is rather powerful.

Win-Win-Win

This aggressive go-getter attitude, which traditionally is seen as rather selfish, helps the cause much more than traditional “charity”, creates a much greater influence, and brings goodwill to the industry. This creates a win-win-win situation for the business, community and the government as a whole. So, who is complaining?

Just a small tweak in the attitude that the establishment has towards these funds, that the enterprise anyway “needs” to shell out, could great a greater influence not only on the community but also the company as a whole.

U+ Collective is a Design, Planning & Consultancy firm that offers CSR strategy, implementation and outreach services. Please let us know your views on uplus.collective@gmail.com.

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em-Power-ment

‘Power’ means so many things. Its meaning varies as vastly as the rate of doing work, physical strength, influence or control and, across the Indian subcontinent – electrical energy. While we dream of making the nation the next super-power, it is that last definition of power, where we certainly lag. It is a misfortune that almost two decades into the new millennium; we in India are still struggling to provide the basic ingredient required for what we call the digital age, i.e. electricity.

India is home to the largest un-electrified population in the world, according to a World Bank survey done in 2014. Keeping this in mind, the current union government led by Hon. PM. Shri Narendra Modi has set an onerous deadline of hundred percent rural electrification across the length and breadth of the country by May 2018. While a host of schemes like ‘Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana’, URJA, UJALA and UDAY are being undertaken on a war footing, there still remains a substantial gap between the electrification of villages and that of households at the village level. In India, a village is considered electrified if at least 10% of the households and public buildings like schools have been provided electricity. Even if connected to the grid, frequent outages are neither unheard of nor a rarity. In fact, judging by the widespread use of the term ‘load shedding’ used to describe the deliberate shutdown of electric power in a part of a power-distribution system, just goes to show how outages are the norm rather than an exception. This, therefore, leaves a lot to be desired before we can truly call ourselves completely electrified.

While India sure has come a long way from 32227 un-electrified villages at the end of August 2013 (CEA, 2013), one aspect completely overlooked in this entire hullabaloo over complete electrification is the use of renewable sources of technology in achieving this goal. The current dispensation has set an ambitious target of generating 100 GW of electricity under the National Solar Mission. Despite the fact that the scheme employs innovative solutions like, rooftop solar electricity generation and bundling of solar power with cheaper conventional power in order to reduce tariffs, the mission focuses largely on capacity building for grid-connected projects rather than providing power to those households that are yet to get access to electricity.  Various estimates peg this number to be as high as 300 million persons (Kumarankandath, 2015).

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Lately, there have been some unique initiatives in tapping the variety of options that technology associated solar power brings with it. Ease of transport, installation and decentralised power generation has made solar lamps a viable option. It is an attractive stop-gap solution, especially for remote villages, where laying of infrastructure and grid connections has proven to be a challenge so far. Even in areas affected with Left Wing Extremism (LWE), this is a quick and implementable proposition, one that is cleaner, greener and doesn’t involve any intense investment – financial or manpower. The lamp is, effectively, a small photovoltaic panel connected to a battery that can power a light for about five to six hours. Although not sufficient to provide for all their needs, it produces enough light to allow – the kids to study for a few more hours, the shop to remain open for some more time, the dinner to be consumed in light.

Agreed that it is a short-term solution that can only last till a more sustainable long term arrangement is put in place, and that it comes with its own associated list of problems of durability and being prone to theft; but it also presents a golden opportunity to showcase the intention and benefits of development to those, whose populace have either resisted it for decades or have been left bereft of it. Granted that it may still be awhile before we can claim to have taken the digital revolution to their doorstep, but it does offer the proverbial glimmer of hope and, to put it simply a preview of sorts for the larger transition to follow. A first of many steps, bringing the benefits of power to those deprived of it- an empowerment in its true sense. Access to power (electrical energy) gives you true power (influence or control).

U.Plus Collective, in collaboration with weRsolar, has been spearheading a campaign under the name of ‘Sungram’ whereby it has undertaken the solar electrification of a remote village in Kasara, Maharashtra; electrifying about 150 households through the means of solar lamps. This entire initiative was funded by a unique crowd-sourcing mechanism through both online and offline campaigns to raise funds and awareness for such social infrastructure causes.

Ganapati or GanApathy?

Every festival is a reminder of togetherness, fun, food, celebration and at least one environmental problem! It’s funny that we become conscious about the growing water scarcity only during Holi, and noise/air pollution only during Diwali. These days, of course, Shadu Mati Ganpati tops the chart!

Well, to be honest, I too am guilty as charged! Though, in my defense, activism is my second name – and I do not need a festival to kindle that side of me. (No, that’s not the only reason why I have such less friends.)

Earlier we used to live frugally, and hence festivals were an expression of celebration and life, and thus, so lavish! Now, we read a couple of listicles on Buzzfeed, get inspired and spend every moment like it’s the last moment of our life – of course, till our resources last and then we fall back on the ground, and how! We spend every day like there is no tomorrow – which is exactly what they said, figuratively! But we Humans are an expert in making everything into as convenient as it can get!

Last week I stumbled upon a video that compared the popularity of an urgent and important environmental issue with that of Taylor Swift’s legs! Nope, that is not a typo! As bizarre as it sounds, the video made more sense than any walking-talking-breathing creature next to you right now! What it rightly sums up is that we are tired of being told how to live, what to do, how to celebrate – we are all trying to be our best anyway day after day, and this sort of creates a lot of pressure! Wait, what?

But the truth is even if we stop human activities from putting any more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere tomorrow, we’re still going to have a rough ride. We’re not even surprised anymore when there’s flooding somewhere at a time of the year when they’ve never got floods before. Unpredictable is the new predictable. Umm, I am not sure if that made sense, but why, me making sense is also tad-bit unpredictable.

do-nothingGoing green isn’t just a gimmick. With mountains of evidence behind our planet’s climate change, the green movement has exploded over the last decade, but saving the planet isn’t the only reason go green. I mean if we don’t save the planet Earth and give it all the love and affection it needs right now, even Taylor Swift’s legs are endangered! Think about it. The problem is graver than it looks at the face of it!

As easy as it can be to believe, we do NOT live in our own world. We share this one. I am saying all of this at the cost of sounding too preachy but we only have one chance to get it right. We all share responsibility for the planet. (Please don’t stop hanging out with me, my dear leftover friends!)

PS: Ganeshji toh maati ke hone chahiye, POP ka toh culture bhi hai!

Tap The Tap

“By 2050, India may have to import its drinking water” read the headlines of most major national newspapers around mid-April. Such news, in the time of an extreme drought is especially disturbing. A conclusion like this must make us recoil in horror and make us question where we as a country are going wrong. For a nation of people that worships our rivers as goddesses, and take pride in deriving our identity from the land of the Sapta-Sindhu, it seems modern India has scant regard for water.

rklaxman - rwhFor a country that is largely dependent on the rains, where even the stock market rallies upwards on a mere prediction of a good monsoon, there are very few local level initiatives undertaken to conserve water. While it has used huge dam projects to project an image of modernity, our ingenious ways of conserving water seem to be lost in our walk towards development.

Irrigation projects are often opportunities for corruption, while water from mega dams travel hundreds of kilometres away to quench the thirst of cities, it is increasingly clear that the solution to deal with water is not in centralising and bureaucratizing it. It needs to be understood that mega-dams or river linking projects have resulted in only two things – providing a profit making opportunity to the people involved, and in creating political fissures around water. There are ample examples for both – ranging from the 70,000crore Maharashtra irrigation scam or the politicisation of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link or the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Although unintended, mega projects have produced more headaches than they might have solved.

The time now is to flip this approach. In keeping with the PM’s vision of maximum governance-minimum government, we believe that it is essential to let water conservation project be at the local scale. Instead of pushing 3-4 mega project that are promised to be the messiahs in solving our water crisis, it is essential we push for hundreds of local water conservation projects throughout the country that can be undertaken by the local government directly.

Considering the diversity in the physical and socio-economic landscape throughout the country, let the local gram panchayat- at the rural level and the area sabha or mohalla committee at the urban level take the lead in conserving water. This can be aided by the central and state governments in terms of financial and technical assistance, but it is essential that the conceptualisation of the project be done at the local level, by the local residents and for the locals. Just the way net metering as a concept is applied for to promote generation of electricity, a similar mechanism can be devised to audit the sharing of water. Self-sufficiency of water being the aim, the modalities can be worked out such that only the deficit is supplied by the government. In case of excess, they can be shared into a larger water network grid.

This would have multiple impacts – the onus of water conservation falls on the people themselves, the responsibility of providing the infrastructure lies with the local body, and a reduction in demand for transporting water over long distances, thus reducing leakages and wastage. The result of this would be emergence of more such water-men of India like Rajendra Singh of Rajasthan, diversity of water harvesting-storing-conserving and recycling initiatives suiting the modern times, much like our indigenous baoris, stepwells and jhalras.

UPA- Urban Poverty Alleviation?

There are an estimated 93 million slum dwellers in our country, with an urban housing shortage of nearly 18 million. The challenges confronting our cities with respect to our urban poor are daunting in view of the unprecedented scale at which India is expected to urbanise in the near future. It is said, that by 2030, India shall add about 250 million more to its existing urban population. The way India tackles its urbanisation, will be the key in determining whether a majority of these 250 million will add to the already burgeoning number of urban poor or no.

cartoon_Jul13Currently, most of our policies for Urban Poverty Alleviation work around providing freebies and/or subsidies. These provide the poor with the proverbial fish for the day, but not anything beyond that. Sure subsidies are an essential safety net for the poor, but they have an unintended effect of increasing inequality amongst the residents. What it effectively also does is, create a class of citizens that are largely dependent on state handouts who will continue to do so through no fault of theirs and thus perpetuating a culture of a mai-baap sarkar.

Poverty alleviation cannot be achieved by a single minded focus on the provision of the lacking physical manifestation of the need. Giving a house to the homeless, or ensured employment to the jobless are self-limiting approaches to the cause of poverty alleviation. What is instead required is a zealous drive towards the provision of a quality of life. An improvement in the social, economic, cultural, educational and judicial parameters of a citizen’s life will have a greater impact on their ability to alleviate themselves out of poverty and relinquishing the need for the safety nets.
While the campaign urging people to give up subsidy is a good start, but not an end goal in itself. The savings through many such schemes should be effectively transferred to the creation of a social-economic infrastructure with the help of an assisting government would achieve two large objectives – reduce the number of dependents on government handouts, and also invariably reduce the governments dependency on the market in the provision of essential services. It will effectively shift from a PPP model where the public denotes the state, to one where it denotes enterprising individuals becoming players in the market. This can be achieved if strong community/co-operative institutions are allowed to grow. Enough examples are available in the social institutions of the Kutchi/Marwadi communities that offer financial and legal assistance to their members thus proving to be a strong support system for individuals to be able to dream big and achieve it too.

This radical approach of building of social infrastructure vis-a-vis direct provision of material requirements would considerable aid in poverty alleviation and also make our cities resilient and buffered from the inconsistencies of the free market.

What On Earth?

“What on Earth are you guys doing?” says Earth, every time one cuts some trees, pollutes our water bodies, uses or rather misuses plastic or trips on “Aaj blue hai paani paani paani, aur din bhi sunny sunny sunny”.

22nd April is when we celebrate “Earth Day”. It also happens to be the day when Kumbha Mela- the biggest party on earth- commences at Ujjain. This is what I read in one of the articles – “The Kumbh reminds us of our place in the order of things in the creation and our duty to take care of our rivers, mountains, soil and land.” Really? The last time I checked Kumbh Mela put an entire state in the worst drought we have seen in over a decade, and costed farmers their life, to say the least!

We have violated our duty to protect our soil and water. Now the violence committed on nature is translating into an emergency for humans. And nowhere is this more evident than in Marathwada. And yet, the responses are nowhere close to addressing the root causes.

save-earth-planet-chocolate

There are a few topics that I think aren’t spoken about as much. This Earth Day, I would like to put them forth for us to ponder, and take some actions in their correction:

  1. Ever-growing Mountain of electronic waste. There already are more devices than people on this planet! Our mantra seems to be – “I don’t care if it’s the same, but if it’s a new apple product, I want it!” If only they were talking about the apple tree.
  2. Slow down fast fashion. Need I say more? Fashion is changing, and at what rate! Even before we can reuse what we just bought, it’s not “in” anymore! We are not only wasting resources and money, but also adding to the exhaustion of our planet. (And here goes my weekend shopping plan!)
  3. If it goes the way it is going right now, soon we will hear ourselves wishing – Happy Earth’s Day to all the remaining species! Man has single-handedly managed to endanger every other species’ existence, and there is nothing to be proud of.
  4. “Jungle Jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai..Arre chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai phool khila hai” Oops, no Jungle left! I fear of the day when we will take our children to a museum to show them how our planet looked like, what other creatures inhabited it – though it may all be fiction for them. So unfortunate!

I know that beautiful acts of compassion happen every day.  I know that good abounds.  But, today, as I look at our stunning Blue Marble planet, there are just too many issues that bother me. Deeply.

I know I can’t save the whole world. Neither can you. But, each of us can have influence in our circle. Each of us can make a change, no matter how small. We can speak up for those who have no voice. We can come alongside those who are fallen. We can stand up for those who have no platform. We can join together and with each contribution, large or small, we can change this planet we call home.

Oxy-Moron

What I am going to write about now is a actually a paradoxical situation, but I never leave an opportunity to use a bad pun!😉

Morons – that’s what they actually are.

With ‘they’, I mean people in authority, people who think they have a right to decide who gets what resources, and impact the lives of millions, and people who actually do, but are not responsible enough!

With what we do, we have to visit these tiny villages, sometimes located in the most mesmerizing locations! This little world of people has a world of it’s own problems. Here they are struggling to live. To live at least till the next moment, next day. When you visit them, you realize the whole futility of trying to find life somewhere else when we can’t even respect most of them here. Now. At this moment. Alive.

Last year I set out to go to a tiny place, near Kasara.

At the first glance, it was a breath-taking view! Wow. What more could one ask for! I mean people pay crazy amounts to go live in a place like this – be it only for 5 days! I was standing at one of hills surrounding Upper Vaitarna dam, and overlooking a village on another hill-top. What beauty!

But there was no road to get there. So we climbed down “our” hill, and climbed up the adjacent one! No connect, no roads was the just the beginning of their miseries. It did not hit me so hard till we actually reached the village, and oh my, what we saw was what I used to think was just a sure-shot formula for a successful movie! People had no water to drink. TO DRINK. Forget spa, Jacuzzi, have a bath, or even cook! Let us not even speak about water therapies! They did not have water to drink, when they were surrounded by a dam, that gives water about 200 km away! I cannot emphasize on this more!

Government is trolling them. In their face!

Can you see the little rocky trench? Can you see a little wet portion above the 3 buckets in the trench? So what actually is happening is, there a few drops of water coming out of those rocks – and this is “paani aaya” situation for them! This is how they fill water. Drop-by-drop. And can you see the queue of vessels? By the time even one fills up, we would have wasted 10 of those – just putting things in perspective!

We have heard this a lot. I mean I won’t say I haven’t seen millions of pictures (award-wining) or videos where people are struggling to fill their bucket. It doesn’t hit you so hard, till you don’t see it. For yourself. It was the saddest, the most helpless moment of my life for me. Very clichéd,  but this was like a “Swades-moment” of my life.

I know for a reader like you, this will yet again be another story, heard from someone else-you will empathize with it, may be even agitate a little, but it will not make you think twice before the hot water shower bath! Still, on my end it is attempt to show the reality. And our so-very-efficient government!

You know what was worse? I came home and told about this to a few people, and the reaction I get is – “yeh toh kuch bhi nahi hai, waha toh aisa hai, yahaan toh waisa hai, aur woh toh sabse bura hai!”

Seriously?! Signing off before I can’t stop myself from adding another bad pun!