Why Corporate Social Responsibility Is The Way Forward For Social Change

By Ira Sahai: 

Development as a sole responsibility of the government is a defunct concept, and debated at large in not just intellectual forums, but in people’s living rooms too. Economic and social development in the 21st century has to be participatory and inclusive with all sectors of society reaching out to one another. Citizens now have access to vast networks of knowledge, and peers and have been instrumental in driving social movements across the globe. But this is still small compared to the role that corporate enterprises are expected to play.

India is one of the very first countries to have defined the expected role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) vis-a-vis finance. This is a welcome step, since corporates have a large pool of talented resources and have the capacity and financial muscle to drive large-scale change. Till now most enterprises carry an image of having focused on driving growth and maximising shareholder value, while ignoring the communities around it.

Every vertical, from education, healthcare, environment to energy, can benefit with such partnerships and bring about much-needed change – pick up speed to catch up to 21st-century skills, which are missing in the grassroot programs. But the long-standing argument that comes from corporates is that, we pay taxes, so why should we be responsible for anything more? But this is changing now, with more socially conscious enterprises coming up. In the wake of a crisis, we have seen large conglomerates, rallying for support – from Facebook introducing safety check-ins to Ola offering free cab rides and ferry services in flood-hit Chennai.

Although India is growing at a very fast pace, we see extreme polarisation in opportunities available for rural and urban population – whether it relates to education, healthcare or even livelihoods. What is worse is that the environment is not even considered in the whole equation. The larger population shirks away from taking responsibility for social change.

Why is it so important for organisations to participate in the development of society? Numerous research and studies have found that employee satisfaction is higher if the organisation is seen as an engine of social change. More than financial resources, sometimes skill-based, volunteering, mentoring and sharing technological know-how can have a hugely positive impact on the overall development of society – as well as give the employees a greater sense of fulfilment beyond monetary incentives.

We have seen many examples of organisations adopting communities near their plants and setups, and helping them develop by supporting education, providing healthcare facilities, and creating opportunities for livelihood enhancement for women and other underprivileged folks. But unfortunately, this is only one side of the coin. We still find a number of organisations indulging in bad business practices and continuing to take no responsibility for their actions. Instead, many a time we have seen philanthropy arms of these corporate houses making brazen statements and asking communities to develop on their own.

But rather than making these comparisons, which are multiple and omnipresent, what is required is a consistent action plan and support medium to make sure we create an environment of overall responsible growth and raise conscious citizens who care not only about profit making and shareholder wealth, but also about underprivileged and marginalised communities.

I would like to close by urging everyone to take a small step this festival of lights, and help one person or adopt one good habit. By doing this, we not only raise the bar for ourselves and our peer group, but for overall society and corporate participants. If we can achieve this, we will be able to create an overall environment of growth which is fuelled by an urge to grow rather than what is mandated by the government.

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