Ten Years of CSR

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In the wake of the implementation of the CSR Amendment Rules 2021 on January 22, 2021, which mandated compulsory CSR spending, a notable surge in CSR initiatives has taken place.

It is indeed heartening to observe that a majority of corporations are actively engaging in the execution of CSR projects, demonstrating a preference for tangible actions over mere contributions to funds outlined in Schedule VII. With the fundamental aim of fostering awareness among all stakeholders in the CSR landscape about the core objectives and intricacies of the government-enacted CSR Legislation, the MMA-KAS in collaboration with CSR Spark conducted a conclave recently.

The CSR Conclave delved into the multiple opportunities that lie ahead for social entrepreneurs to harness CSR as a catalyst for propelling their enterprises, thus facilitating compliance with legal mandates while motivating corporations to undertake initiatives congruent with their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) aspirations. Furthermore, the event offered valuable insights into optimal accounting practices tailored for nonprofit organizations, punctuated by pertinent case studies spotlighting successful CSR implementations.

The welcome address was delivered by Mr R S Krishnaswamy, the Founder of CSR Spark. Mr Nikhil Pant, an esteemed CSR Coach, provided a comprehensive overview of his authored CSR Manual, which was formally unveiled during the conclave by distinguished dignitaries. In his address, Mr URC Devarajan, the Managing Director of URC Constructions Pvt Ltd, proposed the notion of a rating system for NGOs, a mechanism that could streamline their engagement with corporations seeking to extend support.

Mr. K Pandiarajan, Executive Director of CIEL and a former Tamil Nadu State Minister, articulated during the occasion that CSR is intrinsically linked to the ethos and operational conduct of an organization. “What is important is: What I do and how I do? This is the fundamental question that every organisation must ask themselves, as their first step towards CSR,” he said. He emphasized the significance of channeling the core competencies of an organization, consciously built in its DNA, towards fostering societal welfare and serving the larger good of the community.

Justice N. Seshasayee, Honourable Judge of the Madras High Court, stressed the need for the corporates and NGOs to go beyond the academic requirements of CSR legislations. “Corporate Social Responsibility is a journey from one ‘S’ to another—from Self to Society,” he said and added that this transformation necessitates a blend of compassion and empowerment. He further said, “As we chart our path, it’s crucial to be aware of where we stand and diligently work our way forward. The crux of this journey lies in individual responsibility. Thus, before we extend our focus to society at large, it’s important to begin by addressing the individual. The responsibility to nurture one’s family and organizational team members is a significant one because only when we keep our family and team happy, we can go out peacefully to serve the larger needs of the society.”

He also cautioned that the scope of CSR is not to be confined to ticking off the boxes of 80G or Section 135. “Often, CSR is directed primarily towards established entities, leaving out numerous unorganized individuals in need of support. Consider, for instance, those who dropped out of engineering colleges due to financial constraints or individuals who cannot afford medical treatment. To bridge this gap, I advocate for a collaborative network among all NGOs. Think of a platform where anyone in need could seek assistance. Such a mechanism must extend its benefits to all individuals, many of whom often remain hidden from our sight,” he said.

He pointed out that India’s strength lies in its numbers. “Even if 20 crore people each contribute a modest amount, collectively, it can yield a significant sum. It’s true that we might not be able to solve every problem for everyone, all the time. However, taking on one project per month is within our reach. We can begin with a group of hundred participants, each contributing a thousand rupees monthly. It’s a hard fact that people are willing to spend a similar amount on liquor but hesitate to contribute to charitable causes. When someone seeks help, a discreet inquiry can help verify their genuineness without demeaning or belittling them.”

Justice Seshasayee said that the question we must ask ourselves is: What’s the best I can do for my society? “Rather than merely quoting the wisdom of leaders like Gandhi or Nehru, it’s a call to action that is more important. In this crucial juncture in our nation’s history and civilisation, it’s our duty to bring about a positive change. Nation-building is not just an outsourcing of a construction project; it needs to be built in our hearts. We must carry the intent to shoulder the responsibility for our society, he said passionately. As I step out of my chambers each day, that thought that echoes in my mind is: What’s the best I can do today? Let’s infuse this thought into the fabric of our nation as we celebrate its 75th year of independence,” he said.  

The conclave hosted an assortment of sessions that encapsulated the spectrum of CSR dynamics. Mr R S Krishnaswamy delved deep into the intricacies of the CSR Act, encompassing recent amendments and penalties for non-compliance. Notably, while the top 20 companies contribute 27% of the total CSR expenditure, the other companies can focus on the balance 73%, he suggested. Mr Nikhil Pant’s session revolved around the theme “10 Years of CSR Evolution & Way Forward: Strategy & Policy Frameworks.”

Mr K.Ravi, the CFO of the Roots Group of Companies, deep-dived into the accounting practices tailored for nonprofit entities. These informative sessions were followed by a thought-provoking panel discussion on CSR Best Practices, featuring Mr. Rajaram from Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), Dr. Vasudevan representing MMA, and Mr. Prem Kumar from BumbleB Trust, moderated by Dr. K S Ravichandran, Managing Partner, KSR & Co Company Secretaries LLP.