Shekhar Ramamurthy, Managing Director, United Breweries Limited, believes that the company's objective is to impact the communities and society at large.
Both the company and the community benefit from CSR initiatives. Do you subscribe to this?
CSR should be about empowerment of the community. You have to have the goodwill and participation of the community. Our objective is to impact the communities that we operate in. What we recognised over time is that while engineering intervention is important, it is equally important to have community acceptance of the project. It is very easy to find a lake somewhere and say we want to rejuvenate it. But it should have the acceptance of the local community and benefit them. For example, in Mangalore, we rejuvenated a 5 kilometre long canal in the village that we work with. This is ironical because Mangalore is one of the regions that receives the highest rainfall, but most of it runs off into the sea. With this canal that we have recreated, the water does not run off and is available for use by the farmers.
Can you discuss your company's CSR journey?
We started our CSR activities almost 10 years ago, even before it became fashionable to do so or even before it was mandated by the government.
What are the key focus areas for your company's CSR projects?
There are three pillars to our CSR and sustainability: Water, health and primary education. We realised that water is a key resource for two reasons - one, it is a scarce resource in our country, and second, because we are a water-dependent industry, it makes sense for us to focus on it. We operate our breweries largely outside the big centres, and the challenges in those areas are in health and primary education. So while water will be our key focus, we will assist in primary education and primary health. We are aware that we cannot take on and rectify the education system or plug all the gaps in the healthcare system, but if we can contribute to the communities in the areas that we operate within, we will do it. We want to be a water-positive company by 2025, and by that we mean that we want to put back to productive use all the fresh water we have consumed. With the initiatives we have ongoing, by March 2018 we should close it at 50 percent.
What is your opinion on the current phase of CSR in India? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?
India is a country of inequality and probably the only one operating in a first, second and third world simultaneously. Though the government is doing its bit, we as an organisation, cannot be successful unless we carry the society with us. We need the genuine goodwill of the people. It is not charity. The challenge is that it has to have the acceptance of the highest levels in the organisation, only then sustainable CSR can be driven. It is not easy to communicate this shared value through the organisation. It has to be recognised and accepted by the people who'll be working at the ground level.
What is the implementation method of CSR at your company?
Our method gets driven from the very top of our organisation. Our CSR Head and the team work in close association with HR executives who work in our breweries and on our CSR projects. We implement the large projects through NGOs. In all these projects, the NGOs implement and thereafter, hand it over to the local community to manage it for themselves. Each project is monitored and the teams involved in the projects of each brewery submit the report to our CSR Head to ensure that the mandate is followed.
What are the benchmarks you have set through your CSR initiatives?
We believe in excellence in whatever we do. We don't do it for others to emulate us. We will, of course, be happy if somebody takes the example of our good work. We do it because we feel it is the right thing to do. Whatever we do, we do with a commitment. Apart from the communities we operate in who will benefit, it is also established that we are not doing it because the people are underprivileged. We improve their life so they can contribute better and become more productive citizens.
Should more companies adopt CSR?
CSR and sustainability are good for business. Internalise that and accept that, then work on your CSR and sustainability strategy. Ensure that it is congruent to your business objectives. You must at the first level believe it is good for your business.