A national conference organised by IIRD on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility- Emerging Issues, Challenges and Strategies’ urged the corporate houses to  spread CSR activities in rural areas.

With the passage of new Companies Act in India, the much awaited debate around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the role it could play on the social welfare scene in India has got all the possible stakeholders talking about it, rather vigorously. According to estimations around 8,000 companies would fall under the Act’s ambit which translates into CSR spending of roughly around INR 12,000-15,000 crore every year.

To discuss various issues like transparency, accountability, role of the communities and the government perception towards CSR, the Shimla based Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD), organised a national conference on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility- Emerging Issues, Challenges and Strategies’ in New Delhi.

OP Rawat, Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises, said that sky was the limit for CSR projects in the field of social welfare. According to him, the new CSR act comes with new opportunities. “We must focus on capacity building of all those people who are responsible for implementing and formulating CSR policies at the ground level.

He advised to use CSR as a window to fill the critical voids because of which the social welfare programmes of the Indian government are not being fulfilled in their true spirit. “CSR programmes should supplement the government sponsored schemes at the quality level,” he said.

Meena Chaturvedi, CEO of a nonprofit SAHAJ, urged the corporate houses for shifting the CSR activities to the rural areas. “Rural areas in India are also emerging huge markets for the corporates, where the per capita income is increasing rapidly,” she said.

Chaturvedi also called for more efforts in building skills of the unemployed youth in the rural areas who in turn could prove to be great assets for the corporate sector as well. “Skill development could be mutually beneficial,” she said.

Ashok Kumar Pavadia, Joint Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises, said that CSR should not be looked at as a mere provision where companies have to spend two per cent of their-year average annual profit. “The important aspect is to change the behaviour of these companies,” he said.

Pavadia also highlighted the need for developing key indicators or matrices to measure the achievements on the social front. “Sustainable development is a wide goal and CSR is one of those tools to achieve that goal,” he said.

Rakesh Kaushal, Member IIRD Board, said that the schemes implemented through CSR should be watched by media, beneficiaries and the community which is being served. Advocating for the promotion of agro-food processing industries using CSR, he said, India was ready for the next big opportunity. “There is a need for developing systems for accounting every penny spent through CSR,” Kaushal cautioned.

Pranava Prakash cautioned against the lack of continuity in CSR activities which is for small periods ranging from one to three years. He also stressed on the need for sensitizing business leaders in terms of CSR. “NGOs do not want to be termed as vendors while carrying out CSR works on behalf of the corporate houses,” Prakash pointed out.

Sundaram Ramaswamy, CEO XCallibre Digital Pen Solutions, suggested that to maintain transparency, most of the CSR activities should be technology based. “Technology has helped a lot in weeding out corruption. Maximum use of technology should be used to carry out CSR activities,” Ramaswamy exhorted.

A K Gulati, a former Indian Forest Service officer, regretted that CSR activities in their present form lacked long term commitment. “There is a need for dialogue between corporates and environmentalists to address the damage caused to the latter,” Gulati said.

Dr Nilay Ranjan, representing UNDP, said that transparency was a major issue in implementing CSR projects and urged for ways to scale up social innovations brought by the companies.

Dr L C Sharma, Director, IIRD, said that the new companies Act have given a new hope to the nonprofits working towards sustainable development. “Earlier, the NGOs were facing several difficulties in sustaining themselves. But with the passage of the new act, they have become more vibrant than ever,” Sharma said.

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