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With the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law coming into effect, the landscape of CSR in India has evolved manifold. Corporates across the nation have embraced the law and initiated a number of CSR projects across the entire spectrum as mentioned under Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013. To showcase the trends seen in the sector over the last year and to share some ideas from leaders driving these changes, we introduce to you ‘The CSR Leadership Series’. NextGen had the opportunity to interview Ramraj Pai, president of the Crisil Foundation in Mumbai earlier this month. He shared with us the Crisil CSR story and his vision for the future.
The Crisil Foundation was established in March 2013 as a public charitable trust to implement the CSR agenda of the company. Ramraj Pai took charge as president in May 2014. His transition from business head at Crisil Ratings to his current role involved a shift from the usual approach. “The language and the intent of typical business activities are well established, making processes easier and goals clearer. But engaging with communities is sensitive and requires a deeper sense of humility and compassion,” says Ramraj Pai.
The Crisil Foundation works mainly in two areas—financial inclusion and environmental conservation. The programme on environmental sustainability, Crisil RE, is directed towards employee volunteering and engagement, while the financial inclusion programme, ‘Mein Pragati’, focuses on empowering rural women by strengthening their financial capabilities. The need to focus on financial empowerment was realised during the development of Crisil’s financial inclusion index, ‘Inclusix’, which measures inclusion levels at the national, state and district levels. Inclusix showed that India’s northeastern states had the lowest level of financial inclusion, indicating a direct need for intervention in the region. For Pai, empowerment means “the ability of the person to choose the type of financial security best suited to them”. Therefore, the Crisil Foundation moved forward with its agenda of imparting financial knowledge to women in six districts in Assam.
According to Pai, the sine qua non for any business to thrive in the field of CSR is in-depth understanding and dedication. He adds, “From a corporate lens, the benefactors need to be perceived as ‘customers’ rather than as ‘beneficiaries’. Extension of the client-comes-first principle of business into CSR would enable corporates to deliver solutions and services with greater efficiency based on the needs of the community.” Additionally, he believes that if foundations too could incorporate a ‘fundamentals of business’ approach to CSR, the amalgamation of foundations and corporates would result in greater social good, reducing the inefficiencies in the sector. He recommends collaboration between corporates and implementation agencies, packaged with sensitivity and humility, to address the requirements of communities involved. He asserts that solving problems together as partners would bring a positive change towards CSR.
India’s CSR law, the first of its kind, has initiated a new trend in social growth for the country. Pai is positive about the coming of the law and believes it to be a step in the right direction. He strongly emphasizes on channelizing CSR spends toward Research and Development in the social space. He further adds that innovative products and services are the key to the future of this sector. This can be initiated by entities with an organizational structure inclined toward innovation and originality.
Although some aspects of CSR such as monitoring and evaluation are still in the nascent stage, the ecosystem needs to be empowered with the capacity to envision and execute on a larger scale. Mr. Pai is a staunch believer in impact assessment and good governance in the sector. He stresses on the importance of creating more positive change per Rupee spent. In addition to this, Mr. Pai encourages broad-basing of areas intervention, thereby increasing the avenues for overall development of the country. The CRISIL Foundation is now set to inspire and partner with other corporates to help scale up financial empowerment in the country.
The future of CSR seems bright with eminent proponents like Mr. Pai whose dedication and enthusiasm to create systematic processes and efficiency for greater social change is definitely inspiring.
(Interviewed by Monica Simha & Richa Bajpai, Edited by Divya Nawale)