We live in the age of technology-enabled innovations. Everyone from industries to individuals use smart digital solutions for everything, whether they're buying a movie ticket or making any investments. Technology has become the single most important driver across industries, being witnessed in diverse fields such as transportation, travel, food delivery, e-commerce, and many more. Therefore, it is not surprising that the fields of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social impact are also undergoing a transformation with the help of technology, or “Goodtech”.
CSR is something most companies have always been doing but it has never really been at the forefront. People also confuse CSR with philanthropy, which is simply the act of giving money to non-governmental organisations (NGO) partners or towards charitable causes. Moreover, the lack of transparency and accountability related to CSR activities have raised questions around it. However, developments in the CSR space such as The Companies Act, 2013, in India, bringing in the CSR law, have positively changed the scenario.
Companies have started to view CSR from the point of brand positioning and profitability. For their CSR initiatives, they are adopting practices and technologies that were until now restricted to traditional business units only. This change is being driven by their desire to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place, and to measure and manage their CSR projects in a holistic manner. They have come to the realisation that social impact is the currency of CSR and the only way to measure that is with technology.
Traditional hurdles in the CSR space
Historically, the key concern has been the lack of a universal currency to measure the effectiveness of CSR projects. This has led to a lot of good work going unrecorded, discouraging some parties from doing more. With the latest CSR corporate regulations though, the prevailing unregulated and retrofitted approach does not work anymore.
The Companies Act of 2013 has led companies to evaluate their strategies for measuring CSR effectiveness. They understand that strategising and mobilising funds for CSR can only be achieved now with the help of technology that is accessible and transparent.
A lot of money in this sector has also been simultaneously allocated towards indirect costs such as administrative expenses, field expenses, physical assets, knowledge management and more, thus making it harder to measure impact. Another issue that companies have struggled with is enabling employees to undertake strategic volunteering. This is an initiative that engages employees with the long-term CSR objectives and enables them to volunteer their unique skills in a strategically planned way.
The underlying problem here is the perceived distinction between CSR and traditional business functions. Most people and companies still do not view them in the same light. Few realise the cumulative brand impact that CSR can have on business reputation and performance. Recent reports state that Rs 2,514 crore was spent on CSR in FY16 and with such huge amounts of money involved, it’s only logical for companies to streamline their processes towards making collective impact.
As they realise the value of collaborations with NGOs and competing organisations, the need for a simple, accessible and universal tool to measure CSR spend and its collective impact is compounded. This is achievable when all parties can operate together on a common platform and work cohesively towards achieving long-term CSR objectives.
How Goodtech provides the answer
From a CSR perspective, the things that matter now for companies are impact, partnerships, long term projects and employee engagements. While the CSR law has given them the motivation and impetus to make a greater impact, it is inevitable for them to make use of modern technology such as cloud computing, big data, machine learning and more to measure it.
While companies spend 2 percent of the average of profits for the last three years, on CSR projects, they also want to merge long-term company objectives to strengthen brand recall and penetration.
Uber, Swiggy, and Amazon are just some examples of companies that have transformed their respective industries. For instance, who would have imagined that getting a reliable cab would be as simple as firing up your phone, or ordering food would be as easy as calling a friend, or that an entire warehouse full of merchandise could be viewed from anywhere. It is the creation and adoption of easy-to-use technology that has made all this possible.
It is now abundantly clear that CSR and social impact are also ready for a similar transformation.
So how can technology in CSR help?
Firstly, it enables the measurement of impact, which is the single most important currency, in a simple and universal way.Secondly, it helps companies with common CSR objectives maximise their reach and impact. Lastly, it enables companies track their initiatives, share reports, study data and formulate effective strategies.
While there will always be doubts about the ease with which CSR data can be collected and analysed, technology at least ensures that the process is entirely transparent. At their core, CSR activities combine reputation management with social good, so they play a vital role in the public image of an organisation.
CSR initiatives interlinked with technology facilitate this evolution and make it easier for companies to go ahead and change the world and watch themselves while they do it.
Related categories such as fintech, edutech and foodtech have been widely adopted by a wide user base and it is only a matter of time before Goodtech penetrates the CSR space with similar effects.
Therefore, every company that undertakes CSR activities of different magnitudes can now reap the benefits of modern technology to make a lasting social impact.
The author is incharge of marketing at Goodera