Healthcare, education tops CSR ‘spend’ list
Deepak Arora, CEO, Essar Foundation, sheds light on the key CSR initiatives undertaken by his company; how he has seen the development sector evolve and what are the challenges that lie ahead
It is believed that both, the company as well as the community benefit from the CSR activities and initiatives undertaken. But do you subscribe to this theory?
India is a country of huge disparity. On one end of the spectrum we have people subscribing to luxe living and on the other we have people struggling to meet even their daily needs. For the community - people stand a chance to move in the social hierarchy; infrastructure around them rapidly improves, which they can use and eventually we move ahead to ensure that the distribution of wealth is equal. On the other hand, for the company, there are no short-terms gains. But in the long run, the company stands a chance of having a strong local employable resource, which they can employ at their factory site. So, it's a win-win situation for both parties.
Can you discuss your company's CSR journey?
Our company started engaging in CSR activities since early 90s and from thereafter there is no looking back. We established our first school in Lonavala in the year 1991 and then subsequently went about setting-up schools in Hazira (Gujarat), Jamnagar (Gujarat), Madhya Pradesh and so on and so forth. Along with the schools, we also setup mobile health care facilities simultaneously. In fact, the healthcare facility was set-up in 1995 in Jamnagar, with the oil refinery plan still on the drawing board, which we eventually started operating in 2008. Hence, the process of engaging with the community started long ago.
What are the key CSR projects undertaken by your company?
I would like to shed light on three key programmes:
Indradhanush: It is an annual edutainment fest aimed at middle-school children, wherein we aim to encourage students to adopt unconventional techniques.
Unmukt: It is an attempt at making mainstream entertainment accessible to the visually impaired. We have adopted a technology called audio description through which we convert the non-verbal part into the verbal part.
Skill training programme: Under this initiative we support young budding entrepreneurs and train them so that they can earn a living for themselves. Also, another thing worth mentioning is usage of usage of technology. We had set-up a thalamic centre and mobile health care facility in places where people would not even go and setup regular clinics. So, we have experimented fair bit.
What are the key focus areas of your company's CSR activities?
Essar's CSR plan is focused on four broad areas of activity that address the problems and needs of today's society in a holistic manner: healthcare, education, skill development, infrastructure in rural areas. Our primary focus has and will always be - healthcare and education because if you see the health and education indicators of our country you will realise where we stand. Hence, since the problem is big it's important we act realistic and tackle it head on.
What is your CSR team's strength?
We follow a matrix structure in our company, which is very different from what other foundations follow. On one hand we have specialist on board, like communication specialist, thematic specialist (read: specialist in healthcare, specialist in entrepreneurship etc.) and then we have location managers (who take care of either an area or region or state). So, that is the vertical structure that we follow, which is embedded or meshed with the specialist's - so that is what gives our team an edge over others.
What is your opinion of the current phase of CSR in India? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?
I believe CSR is an evolving sector and we are still at a nascent stage. So, the main factors impacting the success of the CSR sector in the country are that the companies are still understanding the law and trying to work around the framework. Also, it is very difficult for CEO of a company who for instance, runs a steel plant to understand the nitty-gritties of a particular social issue. Also many are still hiring junior people to head the CSR department. Therefore, the degree of that person to influence the CEO of the company is very low.