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Development sector needs to explore retail giving space: CAF CEO

May 08, 2018

Innovation by way of partnerships and business solutions is the need of hour, says Meenakshi Batra, CEO of Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).

Meenakshi Batra has close to three decades of experience in the social development sector. Currently the CEO of Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) India, which is part of the CAF global alliance spread across nine countries.

Since the introduction of the CSR mandate in India, she has been working with about 250 corporates and 1000 NGOs, executing no less than 2500 projects! Quite the reason why the Bureau of Indian Standards convened CAF India to prepare a draft on CSR standards in an attempt to further flesh out the Companies Act.

In a freewheeling chat, Meenakshi tells Kiran Yadav that even as philanthropy is on the rise in India; the real challenge is to make it more effective.

OneWorld South Asia: One of the latest report says that corporates have spent more than Rs 28,000 crore towards social welfare activities since the Companies Act mandated a 2% spend on CSR. How, in your opinion, has the CSR landscape in India evolved overall?

Meenakshi Batra: The Companies Act, introduced in 2013, has opened up a whole new set of opportunities for citizens, businesses and not-for-profits in India. It goes without saying that many businesses were engaged in development work prior to CSR being introduced into the Companies Act. However, since its introduction, the act of investing in the development of the country has gained a huge momentum. Earlier the entire domain of CSR, right from the definition of the very term, was a little ambiguous. It was vulnerable to being interpreted in different ways. In that sense, the Companies Act definitely helped in providing a structured framework to the corporates.

Initially, there were lot of questions centring around the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ regarding CSR as a mandate but then as dialogues progressed all the stakeholders began to realize that there was definitely a business case to be made for CSR.

Conversations centring around CSR and the sustainable development goals have found a place in corporates. We now see a lot of corporates increasingly trying to align their CSR projects with the government’s developmental goals. This change in perspective has led to new and innovative forms of partnerships between corporates and NGOs leading to significant work being done towards the development of the country.

OWSA: So, in the process, have the NGOs become more corporatised in their approach and functioning?

Meenakshi Batra: NGOs have a big role to play in the CSR landscape as far as responsibility and reliability go since the onus of maintaining quality standards in delivery and accountability lies on them.

CAF-India strongly supports high standards of accountability and transparency. We have a robust NGO validation system which we put into action during the selection of our NGO partners. We have in place multiple compliance parameters to ensure NGOs’ ability to deliver. Additionally, we provide capacity building to NGOs on need basis. The idea is to help NGOs not only emerge as a strong partner to work with but to help them maximize their impact at the grassroots level.

Since the introduction of the CSR Act, CAF India has supported over 2,500 projects and we are committed to expand the principles of social responsibility and philanthropy across the country with a motive to strengthen local institutions, community and people - those largely placed at bottom of pyramid.

There are a lot of NGOs doing commendable work in rural and tribal areas but it is difficult for them to access donors and resources. CAF India is at the forefront, trying to bridge this divide by forging new and innovative partnerships and creating platforms that lead to the upscaling of operations and increase outreach. Our NGO partners have come a long way in these past few years and are able to deliver as per expectations, be it on-ground data gathering and baselining or in reporting and communications.

OWSA: How robust are the CSR provisions under the new Companies Act?

Meenakshi Batra: Since the inclusion of the CSR provisions under the Companies Act, a lot of work has been undertaken by various agencies, including to provide an understanding of the CSR Act.

While we have made significant progress in the right direction, a lot of work still needs to be done. In view of this realization the Bureau of Indian Standards has been working closely with CAF India to convene a committee on drafting CSR standards for the country.

Along with Bhaskar Chatterjee, ex DG-CEO, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, we have prepared a draft of CSR standards, which will soon be rolled out for stakeholder review. I must add that this initiative is a first of its kind globally. It generated a lot of interest amongst our corporate partners.

These CSR standards seek to provide clear guidelines on how an organization should go about their CSR policy; How committees should function, how projects should be planned and implemented, etc. This will prove to be a huge step towards helping companies, navigate the CSR and development work with greater ease and ensure greater impact.

OWSA: You mentioned that the corporates are aligning with the NGOs as well as the government to meet key developmental goals. Are there any examples you’d like to share in this context?

Meenakshi Batra: We are a cause agnostic organization and our endeavour is to integrate the synergies of corporates, NGOs, citizens of India as well as the government - leading to greater giving and bigger impact. To this end, the currency of the moment is innovation.

Innovation not just in products and process efficiency but also in business models. CAF India has been working tirelessly towards creating such innovative models through partnerships like the SDGs Drivers’ Forum and the CSR Colloquium for Indian Communicators (CCIC). These forums have been created with the goal of providing platforms for achieving effective CSR leading to attainment of SDGs and national priorities.

We see that corporates increasingly want to collaborate with each other for social causes. But collaborations do not happen on the surface. They happen when you dive deep. And that’s where we come in. CAF India has facilitated the pan India delivery of some of the most successful CSR collaborations such as Coca Cola Support My School, DHFL Behtar India, Right2Sanitation, Dettol Bangega Swachh India and many other Humanitarian Aid Programs through Give4Humanity. All of these initiatives have achieved scalability and outreach on ground.

Similarly our ‘Give4Good’ platform, an online giving platform run by CAF India, has been a major milestone in promoting the culture of giving and volunteering across India. Through this platform we have successfully managed more than 1.3 crore hours of volunteering initiatives pledged both by corporate as well as individual volunteers.

OWSA: What is next on CAF India’s agenda?

Meenakshi Batra: On one hand, the CSR support ecosystem in India has certainly evolved in the last few years but on the other, foreign funding to India has been witnessing a slow decline.

Over and above all this, the developmental challenges remain as daunting as ever. The need of the day, as I mentioned earlier, is innovation by way of partnerships and business solutions. The retail giving space needs to be explored. Volunteering and giving have traditionally been a part of India’s DNA.

As per the ‘World Giving Index’ released by CAF, India’s ranking has been steadily improving year on year. We need to find ways to engage the common man. Every donation, big or small, means a lot. Imagine a billion people contributing as little as INR 10. That’s INR 10 billion!

At CAF India, we want to make the efforts and contributions of all our partners – corporates, NGOs and individuals – count. To that end we are bringing to the table constant innovation, flexibility and commitment to making giving better and bigger in India.

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