"We do CSR for ourselves"
Anand Deshpande, Founder and Managing Director, Persistent Systems Limited, gives an insight into his company's CSR projects or 'investment in society' as he likes to put it.
Both the company and the community benefit from CSR initiatives. Do you subscribe to this?
When we started small, back in 1995, we wanted to be a long- term player in the society and the community, so to that end we recognised the need to invest in the community as well. Over the last two decades we have undertaken various projects in the areas of Education, Health and Community Development, first in Pune and then in other centres like Nagpur, Goa, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. There is this belief that we are doing philanthropy for somebody else; we are giving. Actually, we do it for ourselves. It is about fulfiling our responsibility to make the best use of the resources that are being made available, not just from the individual's point of view but from the point of view of the society. Furthermore, from an HR standpoint, we have this concept called 'Life at Persistent' that emphasises four vectors of balance for an employee - personal growth and career, family, workplace and community at large. So, the Persistent HR team and the Persistent Foundation are co-aligned to provide employees in the company, an outlet to contribute to the society. I think every individual needs to look at contributing to society as their personal social responsibility.
Can you discuss your company's CSR journey?
We started our operations in 1990. After steadily earning profits, we wanted to use the additional income for welfare projects. Back then, there was no formal concept such as CSR. By 1996, in line with our vision to be a long-term player in the society, we pledged one per cent of our profits for a range of welfare programmes. We initially began by partnering with local institutions in the neighbourhood to effect social change in communities' close to us. Over the next 10 years we ploughed back a percentage of our profits and looked toward re-evaluating our CSR strategy. We started identifying good NGOs that were consistently working towards the welfare of society. We maintained accountability by setting long-term goals that we could monitor not only on an annual basis but also through constant engagement with various teams. In 2009, we formally set up the Persistent Foundation that solely looks after CSR activities. Our CSR journey is also enhanced by active employee engagement.
What are the key focus areas for your company's CSR?
When we started our partnerships with NGOs, we realised that there was no shortage of problems that needed addressing. In response to this, we defined three areas of focus - Education, Healthcare and Community Development.
What is the implementation method of CSR at your company?
In a professional sense, we wanted our CSR to be dynamic, accountable, systemised and consistent. With our regular partnerships, we have been able to advance to higher grounds of development by mapping possibilities. Our activities are not designed for short-term gains or results. It is aimed toward systematic transformation. There is a constant interaction between Persistent Systems and partner NGOs on a regular basis. With this, we keep track of our efforts for forecasts and future goals.
What is your CSR team's strength?
We have six people who work as full-time employees of Persistent Foundation. Apart from the Foundation, we have other teams that over the course of their professional work, coordinate with the CSR platform regularly.
What is your opinion of the current phase of CSR in India? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?
These are still early days. There is potential for NGOs in India to mature. There is a lot that needs to be worked upon, especially in handling resources effectively. Also, as a society, we need people to be patient. With technology giving us instant results, I think we have come to expect the same from people. CSR in India needs much more public participation for planned development.
Are there any programmes in the world of CSR that you think are brilliant?
I admire the recent 'Toilet mission' in schools conducted by the Union Government. It addresses a very important issue that is often neglected, that of sanitation. The work being done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also very admirable.