Qualifying social work as CSR is a welcome suggestion but India Inc. needs to look beyond philanthropy

Somatish Banerji | January 14th, 2014, 1:25 pm

The passing of the Companies Act 2013 marks a definitive step by India towards institutionalizing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As the final contours of the new law, set to come into effect from FY 2014-15, are given shape, India Inc. has asked the Government to allow the value of pro bono social work undertaken by their employees to qualify as CSR.

According to an Economic Times (ET) article today, “Include social work in CSR spend: India Inc”, leading Indian corporate houses have submitted a proposal to this effect to the corporate affairs minister, Sachin Pilot. The proposal outlines a national volunteering grid being created by a Tata Group led India Inc. task force and powered by a technology application developed by Infosys Technologies. The grid will match volunteers willing to work on social causes with NGOs that seek to benefit from their professional skills. The idea mirrors the practice in the US where such pro bono work is valued at US$187 billion. The proposal suggests that up to 10% of the mandatory CSR requirement could be met through such pro bono social work.

In India, CSR has traditionally been viewed through the lenses of philanthropy. This latest move to qualify pro bono social work as mandatory CSR, in essence reflects this traditional preoccupation. The valuable contribution of philanthropy in poverty alleviation makes this suggestion a welcome one. However, the realm of CSR is much broader in scope and philanthropy forms only a small part of it. Indian companies need to embrace the concept of CSR in its totality and integrate it with their core business strategies for achieving a balance of their economic, environmental and social imperatives (Triple-Bottom-Line Approach). In effect, India Inc. should deploy CSR as a powerful tool for evolving inclusive market based solutions which harbour the potential of creating deeper and more sustainable social and environmental impact.