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.

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!

Let’s talk Plastic!

plastic-vs-paper-bagWe wish to discuss the great debate around using plastic bags verses paper bags.

So which would you choose – plastic or paper?

It is becoming a question that has created huge debate; when it comes to packing your grocery shopping, would you choose a paper or plastic bag? It seems like it should be an easy choice, but there are a lot of positive and negative aspects associated with each type of bag. From durability and re-usability to life-cycle costs, there’s a lot more to paper and plastic bags than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the way each bag affects the environment.

Plastic or paper – comparing facts and figures:

Many people think that paper bags are much more environmentally-friendly than plastic, because it comes from wood, which is an honest, organic and renewable resource, whereas plastic comes from oil or gas, which is a non-renewable resource, manufactured via a chemical process. If we look at the manufacturing processes of both materials however, producing paper bags seems a lot less environmentally-friendly than producing plastic ones. One difficulty in comparing facts and figures is that there are so many sources to be found, based on different studies. The following gives a comparitive overview between plastic and paper bag production (1).

As you can see, both manufacturing processes use water, but 220 litres are needed to produce 1000 plastic bags, while 3800 litres of water are needed to produce the same number of paper bags(1). And in terms of energy used and greenhouse gases being emitted during manufacturing, the plastic bag comes out best.

To replace all the plastic bags being used in the European Union with paper ones in one year, you would need to cut down an additional 2.2 million trees. This is the same as chopping down 110 Km2 of forest. If wood is being used from a sustainable forest (where 5% of the adult trees are felled every year and new planting takes place), then you would need an area slightly smaller than the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and you would need to use 156 Billion additional liters of water each year (equivalent to 60,000 Olympic swimming pools).

A study commissioned by the international retail chain Carrefour Group(2) in 2005 compared the environmental impact of plastic and paper bags. The conclusion was that overall, plastic bags were more environmentally friendly than paper bags and their advantages grew the more they were reused.

Recycling: Paper versus Plastic

Recycling of paper or plastic bags is not an easy process.  In order for paper to be recycled collected paper must first be re-pulped using many chemicals to bleach and separate the pulp fibres. These fibres are then cleaned and screened to make sure that they are free of contaminants. Finally, the fibres are washed before being pressed and rolled into paper once again. In Europe, the current rate for recycling paper successfully is 70%, thanks to municipal paper collections; more than 60 million tonnes of used paper are collected in Europe each year (3).

To recycle plastic it must be re-melted and re-formed, resulting in a quality that isn’t as good the second time round. That’s why plastic is more often down-cycled into less functional forms. In the Netherlands, the “Plastic Heroes” recycling campaign aims to efficiently recycle 42% of all plastic packaging by 2012. Even though it takes 91% less energy to recycle a kilo of plastic than a kilo of paper (4), it still has to be ensured that recycling streams are stimulated and improved, to reduce single-time use of bags and save precious resources. If societies across all European countries were more responsible about recycling plastic, an enormous percentage of plastic could efficiently be re-used in this way.

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The negative image of plastic:

Somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills (estimates range from less than 1-3% of the bags (5)) and this is one of the reasons why plastic bags receive such bad press. Torn and ripped plastic bags caught in trees, stuck in sewers and found drifting on oceans are causing real problems; graphic images of dolphins, turtles and penguins being killed due to ingesting plastic has caused public outrage. For these reasons, some European Member states have taken different measures to tackle the increasing use of plastic bags and the pollution they cause. Ireland and Denmark have bag taxes while in Belgium and France retailers charge a fee that goes toward their collection and recycling. The Italian Government has taken the issue one step further by introducing a total ban on plastic bags.

We need to be more responsible.

Taxing or banning plastic bags outright may reduce the amount of plastic bags used, but replacing them with, for example, paper bags will add to carbon emissions, along with more energy being used to cut, print, package and transport them. A good solution is to re-use plastic or paper bags multiple times for grocery carrying, and then recycle them as bin-liners. Investing in a high-quality re-usable carrier bag or a collapsible plastic crate offers a more sustainable solution. The most effective solution of course is for people to be responsible for their waste and take care of proper waste separation and recycle actions, so that bags flying around in our natural environment and oceans can be avoided. Plastic hardly degrades in nature; even paper can take weeks or even months to decompose (6).

It’s only through proper waste management that we can stop the plastic ‘soups’ in our oceans from getting bigger. At the 5th International Marine Debris Conference (7) held in March 2011 in Honolulu, representatives of plastics organisations from around the world signed up to an initiative aimed at preventing marine debris. They will work with the scientific community and researchers to evaluate the scope, origins, and impact of and solutions to marine litter, particularly in communities and countries that border our oceans and watersheds. In Europe, fishermen are now being paid to collect surface litter, especially plastic litter, using specially designed booms (8). This pilot project has been set up by the European Plastics Converters (an EU-level Trade Association) and supported financially by the European Fisheries Fund. This initiative will help to save marine life while cleaning up the oceans. At the end of the day however, the initiative to properly dispose of litter starts with YOU!

References

Breaking The Plastic bag Habit
1. Plastic’s contribution to climate protection
2. Scottish Government
3. Paper: Recovery and Recycling
4. Reuse It
5. National Geographic
6. Answers
7. Marine Debris Solutions
8. Waste Free Oceans

Hey!

“What do you want to do in life?” – This is one question that is an integral part of our growing up years. And this question is never so relevant as it is in mid-twenties!
 
Some choose to delay answering it by choosing not to leave the university until miraculously they know one day! Some know it since they were in their mother’s womb and are already on their way. Some are grilling themselves in a job that they detest, trying to look for that ray of hope guiding them out of their sticky situation. Meanwhile, we architects are still drafting through our final submission in college. And our friends are pursuing MBA. Yeah that’s right. And we all know when they are done with completely boring us with their unending surveys through college, all they talk about are ideas! A new venture, a new business. A start-up.
 
And when you have a few passionate MBA’s around they are quite contagious. So that led us thinking about what could be a start-up in architecture!
U+ Collective is an answer just to that. 
 

U+ is a collective initiated by Kshitij Shah and Ojashree Sarda with the purpose of bringing about Urban change. With India about to witness unprecedented urbanisation, we have taken this initiative to concentrate on providing their services to upgrading the quality of life in the tier 2 and 3 towns and cities of India.

With our diverse professional experiences and our passion for quality urban spaces we aim to provide strategic urban interventions that can help in urban transformation.

Through the medium of CSR, we aim to transform industrial hinterlands and help in the provision of basic infrastructural, environmental and public amenities.

Being a young start-up, with the guidance of various professionals in the industry we believe we offer the right combination of innovation, energy and experience to see through such initiatives.