DLF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of DLF Group has been walking on the path of CSR for almost a decade. In a conversation on the present and the future of CSR in India, Lt. Gen (Retd) Rajender Singh, CEO DLF Foundation, shares his perspectives –
In the wake of the introduction of CSR clause in the Companies Act, 2013 and subsequent enactment of CSR Rules in 2014, there has been a spurt in attention towards CSR with lot of deliberations, dialogues, seminars and events on the subject. This is indeed a big landmark as far as the present and the future of CSR in India is concerned. There is a call for action from the businesses in India to go beyond the aspect of mitigating their personalized impacts and use CSR only for Brand Building. The country needs them to play a more important role in equitable and inclusive socio-economic development of the country and therefore the businesses need to contribute mainly in fields which are the national priorities.
Could you throw some more light on how DLF function?
DLF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of DLF Limited was established in the year 2008 to create the structure for the ongoing social responsibility initiatives of the company. It has been formed with the mission to empower the communities and create livelihood opportunities for the underprivileged. Education, Health and skill development have been covered under all the initiatives taken by DLF Foundation. Sustainable and inclusive growth is ensured with our approach that is both environment-friendly and socially uplifting.
DLF Foundation has been registered under the laws of India as a charitable organization, under the direct patronage of Mr. K.P. Singh, the Chairman of the DLF Group. The Foundation has taken rural education, Training, Health and Environmental initiatives since its incorporation, and it looks forward to creating new innovative precedents in areas of Rural Education, Health, and Labor care.
What should be the top priority of CSR initiatives to contribute towards socio-economic development of the country?
The relationship between CSR and business is built around the premise that the latter plays an indispensable role alongside government, civil society and communities to solve complex national development challenges. The corporations have to create values for the underprivileged sections of the society, for leading a life of dignity. So, they need to build capacities and create resources for the marginalized people, even in areas where the company may not have business presence. It is also imperative for corporations to direct their CSR projects towards national development priorities and poverty eradication strategies of the government so as to supplement their efforts. Therefore, a paradigm shift is needed to identify critical development projects of national importance and these can very well be structured under the CSR domains mentioned in the CSR Rules 2014, such as education, skill development, healthcare, sanitation, disaster relief, food security, and environment and so on.
How is DLF Foundation working to provide quality education to the poor?
Education and poverty have an inverse proportional relationship. ‘Bring education from the front door and poverty disappears from the rear window’. In keeping with this concept, DLF Foundation through its Integrated Nurturing Talent Programme helps thousands of students annually, through its over 60 educational centers and schools. With an objective to provide quality education to the meritorious underprivileged, the programme also aims to pick up the brightest among them and help them pursue their professional dreams. Their personality is further groomed for a bright career through multi-faceted interventions such as regular personalized counselling, mentoring, coaching and soft skills training and preparing them to become leaders. The Nurturing Talent Programme is unique as its builds the capacity of the meritorious underprivileged students to fight against all odds, be it at socio-economic or personal level. We help them to be successful and it is already yielding high impacts.
Positively affecting the lives of nearly 20,000 students, the Program remains the lighthouse which guides the careers and lives of the scholars. Among them, over 1100 most talented and gifted scholars, including the nearly 300 in professional categories, benefit from the scholarship programme. The Foundation has also been supporting promising sports men and women, including children with special needs, for their coaching and participation at national and international sports events. The result was amazing when some of these youngsters won 14 Medals Including 7 Gold at the Special Olympics, at Los Angeles recently.
Talking about the Government’s call for action, like “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” Mission, the Foundation emphasizes on empowering women scholars. Taking this initiative forward, the Foundation has launched the Women Professional Scholarship Programme. The goal is to see their foot prints in the managerial cadre of India.
How does the Foundation identify credible partners for implementing social and environment projects?
It is important to have credible NGOs and other institutional partners with track record and impactful models to make the CSR Programs effective. Hence, we pick up partners after a rigorous selection process in consultation with Industry bodies and use referrals for the same. For the purpose of effectively carrying out our social projects, Foundation has entered into partnerships with local government and NGO’s like Pratham, Mamta, Gunjan Foundation, Shiksha, ISKCON, Arunodya, Bharti Foundation, International Institute of Global Development and many others. The Foundation has also forged partnership with over 20 colleges and schools to nurture the talents of the meritorious underprivileged. The CSR Department is in continuous dialogue with the local governments to partner and participate in their development projects and plans.
How has DLF adapted itself to the CSR mandate?
Since the new CSR Provisions in the Companies Act 2013 and the CSR Rules that came in to existence in 2014, the perspectives have started changing. With evolution in many companies, where CSR is becoming part of the core business strategy; it is getting more attention and integrated management approach. For example, we see that CSR is moving out of Corporate Affairs, Corporate Communication, HR or Marketing Departments to an exclusive CSR Department being set up or forming own corporate Foundations. This is a healthy sign.
As far DLF is concerned, in the year 2008, DLF Foundation was established to deliver CSR objectives, and contribute to create sustainable communities and transforming lives for the better. One of the major programmes relates to Skill Development which aims to train and help employ 1 Million youths pan India in next 10 years by opening Skill Development Centres to impart job linked training. DLF Foundation is also running and supporting over 60 schools and educational centers for the underprivileged in rural areas of Rajasthan, Haryana. Besides this, the Foundation has also launched a very innovative Nurturing Talent Programme which targets bright slum dwellers and rural under privileged students and handholds them right from 6th standard to professional colleges. In addition, the Foundation also launched a comprehensive community development programme namely Village Cluster Development Programme, which also includes healthcare, educational and other miscellaneous community development initiatives like Swachh Campaign as part of the same. This has proved to be extremely successful and has been very well received.
How does the Foundation leverage employee volunteering & the growing millennials workforce to further the scope of impact of its operations?
Over the years, our employee volunteering programme has seen immense participation, where employees of the DLF group are Volunteer Mentors, who have been Guides, Friends and Facilitators to the scholars supported under the Nurturing Talent Programme. It was heartening to see 30 employees of the DLF group, who took out time from their busy schedules for not only extending valuable knowledge to these scholars, but also teach them skills. Earning appreciation for their contribution, DLF Sahyog Volunteers are also recognized with Citations and/or Token of Appreciation.
What are the key lessons and takeaways that you can share with CSR & Sustainability professionals in India?
Before joining DLF Foundation in 2009, I was heading the largest arm of the Indian Army as the Director General of Infantry. I was also the Force Commander of the UN Peace Keeping Forces in Ethiopia & Eritrea from 2004 to 2006. I was involved in undertaking many welfare & development sector initiatives and it became more intense during my tenure at DLF Foundation. At all these assignments, I have, learnt certain key lessons and I would like to give some takeaways for the CSR & Sustainability professionals hoping to contribute to sustainable, equitable growth in India.
• First of all, sustainability of business is unthinkable without sustainable communities and hence meaningful engagement has therefore become absolutely necessary.
• I think some of the major areas that the businesses could contribute are in the fields of national priorities like skill development, education, healthcare, sanitation, drinking water and community development.
• Businesses should utilize their management expertise and investments in innovation through research and development to address some of these concerns. Then, only will maximum payoffs would be obtained.
• The Primary aim of CSR should not be Brand Building but focus must be on Nation Building.
• It is essential for business to realize that corporate need to do even more than the stipulated 2% CSR Expenditure for community development and the welfare of the underprivileged which is in tune with the National Objectives.