Giving back to the community has always been a part of human ethos from eternity. Though the government mandated corporates to contribute to community services and development schemes, the road towards achieving the same is rigged with various roadblocks such as budget, strategy and willing hands to help.
The practice of CSR is an age-old concept in a nation like India with a robust and thriving development sector. The sector has grown exponentially over the last few years and is now attracting unprecedented interest and investment from the Boards of Indian and multinational companies. The passage of the Companies Act, 2013 has mandated more companies to come into the fold resulting in increased spending. However, if this increased spending is expected to achieve results on ground, which is the goal of the Act, then there needs to be a robust strategy to implement corporate social responsibility systematically and thoughtfully.
Being a country of myriad contradictions, India is home to some of the richest and the poorest, and paints an unfortunate picture of unequal distribution of the benefits of growth leading to social unrest. The inclusion of the CSR mandate in the Companies Act 2013, is a step in the right direction to supplement the government’s efforts to equitably deliver the benefits of growth by engaging the corporate world to participate in the country’s development agenda. A combination of regulatory and societal pressure makes it imperative for companies to take recourse to a more professional route to pursue corporate social responsibility in India.
Fact vs fiction Although CSR is a mandate for all registered companies, the ground reality unravels a different story. Companies participate in corporate social responsibility activities but more often than not, the results are not optimally delivered. One possible reason can be that CSR activities are driven by the profits of an organisation and since profits can fluctuate, it can adversely affect the contributions for CSR. Another reason can be attributed to limited purpose-driven human resources in an organisation that often lacks a professional approach towards realising CSR goals. Today, CSR to some employees means receiving free lunches from participation. To others, it’s about tackling global warming and environmental issues. Employees all over the world lack a deeper meaning in what they are doing and consequently their motivation and engagement levels are alarmingly low. Lack of a cohesive CSR strategy provides little benefit to either the community or the company and dilutes the sense of collaboration that is expected from employees who volunteer.
We listed four potentially effective strategies that can help companies evolve their approach towards inviting employee volunteers on their own accord.
Incentive scheme to attract those who care : Since there are no financial gains derived from volunteering in community engagement programs, it is pertinent that companies take the arduous task of educating the incentives (such as skill development, public speaking, socialisation and professional enhancements) that employees can earn from undertaking the responsibility of a CSR project or task on his or her own accord as part of daily job routines. It is also imperative for organisations to set up a reward and recognition programme to distinguish corporate volunteers as they do not have any financial gains. It is also pertinent to encourage and celebrate the concept of diversity by allowing employees from different backgrounds to work together as a team and benefit from volunteering exercises. This can potentially lead to a unique learning experience that can go a long way in increasing productivity, responsiveness and effectiveness to changing conditions and enhance their ability to adapt. At Giving Circle, we have done thorough research to propose an employee-focused volunteering process model that companies can exploit as a guideline towards greater CSR engagement.
Skill growth : To engage employees in corporate social responsibility activities proactively, businesses have to innovate ways to incorporate skill growth. Since career growth and development is significant to a large section of the workforce, companies should offer CSR activities to enable employees to pick up new skills. For example, appointing a team to conduct surveys on women’s health in underprivileged communities can equip them with market survey, field research, and reporting experience, three essential skills that they probably would have had exposure to despite attending formal training programs in the company.
Participate in workspace enhancement : Every organised sector expects employees to spend 9-10 hours each day at work. If the workspace is not conducive to employee motivation, it will have an adverse effect on their productivity. It is a good idea to incorporate ideas from CSR activities that they can bring back to their workspaces to increase the overall appeal of the work environment. For instance, if a company wants to involve employees to participate in a sapling plantation drive, they can also consider asking the participants to think of new methods to enhance the appeal of the work environment such as keeping desk plants or donating waste papers to an organisation who recycles them. These easy changes will impact the way employees feel about the space.
Enhance employee involvement : Employees may not be driven to participate to volunteer for CSR activities in India. Rather, asking their opinions on what they want the company to focus on can make them more proactive. Employees feel valued when they have a real influence on a company's business decisions and such a step towards employee involvement will have a positive ripple effect towards volunteering activities. How many hours are employees willing to volunteer? Would employees rather donate time, money, or things? What organizations or movements are employees passionate about? A survey with these pertinent questions will help an organisation realise what is achievable as part of their meeting their CSR goals and what kind of employees are willing to volunteer and for what kind of causes.
Promote leadership : Extra responsibility gives employees a sense of pride and ownership in their work. Determining your employees’ strengths and then drawing from those skills is key to developing leadership opportunities. An employee prone to food allergies will be best fit for a CSR program that aims to advocate for organic food options. Someone who spent coaching her classmates at the eleventh hour to reinforce their fundamental concepts will be ideal as a volunteer for teaching assistance at a CSR programme with which the company partners.
Lead by Example : Role Models are important here too. CSR cannot be only talking points for the senior management but the philosophy that needs to be seen in action at all hierarchies.
As workers are the prominent internal stakeholders for CSR activities in India, it directly influences them, and they reciprocate with positive behaviour such as more cooperative behaviour and engagement in their work. It is thus important for firms to pay more attention to employees’ perception of CSR and understand the key motivating factors to encourage them towards volunteering.
The dominant paradigm underlying corporate social responsibility is centered on the idea of creating ‘shared value’. The role of business, according to this model, is to create value for its shareholders but in such a way that it also creates value for society. And in this the philanthropic motivations of employees cannot be ignored as an integral part of driving CSR.