“Impact of our CSR programs has to be equally felt and driven”

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Essar Foundation is the CSR arm of Essar committed to maintaining the highest standards of CSR in its business activities and aims to make a difference to the communities around its area of operations. The Foundation collaborates with key stakeholders, especially the local administration and institutions to facilitate development with initiatives in education, livelihoods, women’s empowerment and health. Deepak Arora, CEO, Essar Foundation speaks to SPO India to share more about its programs and contributions to the society –

Our readers would be happy to know your thoughts and vision on sustainability of CSR programs in India?

There are clearly 2-3 trends that are happening –
• CSR programs are getting more structured. There is a depth in the programs compared to what it was a few years back. Earlier when the concept was very new, people have been taking it for a very short time. But now corporates are taking a long term vision with it. So that has completely changed.
• The partnership aspects which we have not seen 3 years back are gradually seen now. We are seeing corporates coming into partnership with NGOs. 3 years back it was just the vendor-vendor relationship. That’s a significant change we are seeing of how programs are evolving in India.
• Most of the companies are focusing on health and education. Though if you speak of large contracts, large programs or contributions, that is yet to happen in the Indian context. But now corporates are seriously looking at business strategies and alignment when it comes to CSR programs. Nevertheless, the larger issues that need to be taken up as mission, collectively no broad steps have been taken so far.

Our foundation started in 2011; we initially had just 1 year long programs. But now we have close to 5 years program.

Could you share some of the recent initiatives of ‘Essar Foundation’, of how it is shaping the path for CSR within the company?

There are certain segments at Essar where we have a direct consumer interface, like the Essar retail business, whereas all other businesses are B2B business. The direct customer interface is not that significant, but the supply chain aspect becomes much larger. We are a supplier to car manufacturers across the world, so automatically we look at CSR initiative as a complete value chain. Whereas when we talk of the retail business, we also have to talk of how customer is going to perceive us as a consequence of our initiatives. But yes, the CSR programs have got very structured and definitely looking at a 5 year horizon. We are looking at the value proposition whenever we design our programs; we are looking at the impact that is going to be on the community. We are also looking at a definitive engagement with our customers. Essentially, whatever is happening, we aim for a much wider audience. It is not to propagate the idea that we are the driver of it but it is a growth factor where everybody should contribute. We may be a catalyst and a contributor to it but not the only one. The impact has to be equally felt and driven.

Essar Foundation in its course of work looks for contextualised developmental solutions which might have good utility in different social contexts. To promote this, the Foundation sets aside a separate fund called “Fund for Failure”, which as the name suggests focuses on identifying and nurturing social solutions which otherwise don’t get proper attention and funding, hence, never get tested in the first place. These solutions might not work but deserve a chance to be nurtured and if they are supported adequately, they may emerge as effective solutions.

Given the various setbacks to CSR implementation in the country, what is the need of the hour according to you for India to evolve a robust CSR framework?

CSR is a very evolving concept. I don’t think there are any setbacks to its implementation per se because there are already a large number of NGOs working across the country on these issues. These NGOs have already been working on health (AIDs, Tuberculosis). Implementation challenges have been more intrusive to the corporate sector as there has been a mismatch in understanding of how exactly the sector is doing. The only challenge is there are only a few organizations that are working pan India. If we want a corporate to reach out to the larger cross-section of the society, it really needs to be structured.

What is your CSR vision for ‘Essar Foundation’ for the year 2017?

We do not have a separate vision for 2017, since we come out with programs from a long term perspective. And whenever we do that, we ensure that every one of us who have been working together as a team becomes a part of the contributions that we make in the key areas.

What is your mantra of running a successful CSR program?

We are as a team very committed to skilful execution of our programs. In spite of us having people from different backgrounds and expertise in our team, we know how to execute each of our programs on time and with competence. Secondly, we know to integrate different elements of different programs and different strengths of different organizations into one package.

Samrita Baruah

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