Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How do we give some sense to our CSR?


Does this question bog you very often as a practicing CSR professional? It certainly did bother my long time friend, who I have also known professionally now for around a decade.

My friend works for a top-line FMCG company that is also quiet active in community development. Quiet an expert himself, somehow this time he seemed to grapple hard with the question (How do we give some sense to our CSR?).

I am about to describe a situation that may be familar to some of you. His company was involved in several community welfare activities and that too in a totally decentralised fashion. You may be wondering where was the problem in all this? After all decentralization is a good word!

Well the problem was there and profound, as my friend articulated:

1) Most of the activities did not add up and hence the impact caused by them was not clear and measurable.

2) With 50 odd offices in 50 different cities doing their own bit, there seemed to be no sense of direction

Well, when he narrated this to me I was quiet surprised. The community development programme that they were running was almost the size that a mid-size non-profit in India manages. Not many non-profits in India, leave alone corporations, have a 50 city programme.

Obviously the programme was spread quiet thin. Clearly, the desire of each office to have their own programme had led to this situation. "But how does one handle this?", asked my friend.

That set me thinking. If a corporation's community development programme is equivalent in size to the programme that a mid-sized non-profit organisation usually runs, then it has to be handled in a manner the non-profits handle it. Like a serious business!
There are some best practices that rest with the non-profits. And if we superimpose some of these with corporate situations then the cocktail, as served below may offer some solutions:

a) It could be a good thing to issue guidelines to your local offices for the type of community welfare activities that they can enter into e.g. stocking the school library, sponsoring the teachers/health workers for critically important training programme, providing teaching/learning aids and so on.

I think a dozen odd activities amplifying the corporate vision should help.A best practice would be to evolve these dozen odd activity types by the way of an inter-office consultation.

b) I would reckon around 75% of the programming could take the above route and 25% could be still totally left to local office judgement;allowing for local level flexibilities.

c)The programme impact surely needs to be measurable. Some non-profits categorise their various projects on a two by two matrix. On one axis is the 'critically of the programme to overall vision' and on the other is 'resources involved'. So the programmes that rank high on both the parameters deserve and get special attention. These are provided special inputs in terms of agreeing on mission, goals, objectives and plan of action. Besides, these are frequently checked on the direction they are taking.

The corporations like the ones for which my friend works could also do the same. Focus on key projects, plan and monitor them well. The rest of the projects could be left to the judgment of people at local level. Mind you, this is not because people at local level know less. This is because,at the local level mostly the people stationed are sales/operations/production staff who are all the time busy chasing their own targets and do not have enough time for all this additional serious work.

d) The high ranking programmes could be even monitored by an outside agency. Often corporations do not have enough people for the purpose and hence an outside agency with expertise in this should be a great help.A mid-term followed by an year end evaluation should be good enough to start with.

The non-profits even go to a greater extent to plan and monitor their programmes. But at most of the corporations it is still a different story. CSR and hence community development is not an integral part of business for many. Nothing to fret about, we know it is still evolving!

These basics if applied could make the Community Development programme of a corporation (often called CSR to great dismay of many) more strategic and give it an increased sense of direction. There is much more, but as I said these are just few basics.

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