News / A bottom-up approach to corporate citizenship
By, May 19, 2015

New York: A group of techies are huddled in deep discussion on the verdant lawns of the company. They are engrossed in thinking through the strategy for the upcoming project in one of the “thinking spaces” created exclusively for employees to be creative and function outside the four walls of the office. In case you are wondering that these folks are discussing the next multi-million dollar project related to a high-profile client, you are mistaken. They are laying out the strategic plan for the calendar year’s Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR [as it is commonly referred to] activities of their company and also determining the roles and responsibilities for their colleagues.

Many companies are scrambling to meet the newly mandated CSR requirements under the Companies Act 2013. Under pressure to meaningfully invest 2% of their average net profit on social good, companies face a steep learning curve as “giving away” funds requires thought, strategy and a deliberate process ensuring that there is a reasonable [social] return on investment. Azad Oommen, Executive Director of Central Square Foundation who works closely with both sides, the companies as well as non-profits, says, “They are figuring out how to spend their money most effectively. Most did not have a CSR strategy and are now taking steps to identify issues in which they are interested and find good organizations.” That apart, it also needs people who understand and care about the issues, are willing to invest the time to undertake the due diligence and work with identified partners in the social sector. However, companies like Infinite Computer Solutions have stayed ahead of the game and have ingrained the culture of philanthropy at all levels of the organization. So much so that the entire engagement plan is designed, owned and executed by the employees of Infinite.

How did this happen? Ironically and not surprisingly, the bottom-up approach starts from the top! Publicly traded companies like Infinite are constantly trying to generate shareholder value. But the top leaders have been able to make a case for deep engagement with the community and succeeded. “Infinite is absolutely committed to enriching the communities where we have presence. This entails giving back to our community and enabling opportunities for citizens they may not have access to otherwise”, says Sanjay Govil, Founder and Chairman of Infinite.

People at Infinite walk the talk. The string of activities all through the year are a testimony to this. “Community service events with a focus on education and improving the lives of less-privileged children have been a very meaningful way of connecting with the community. Mobilizing and providing funds in one aspect of it. But our employees provide their most valuable resource, which is their time”, says Upinder Zutshi, Managing Director and CEO of Infinite. One of the examples Upinder was referring to was Infinite’s partnership with Sparsha Trust. Sparsha is a Bangalore-based NGO that is working towards creating a safe space for vulnerable children. These could be street children or working children who are compelled to work due to various circumstances. Sparsha works towards providing them basic services to integrate them into the mainstream society. The “home” that Sparsha is running in the Shivajinagar locality is buzzing with the humdrum of little children going about their daily chores. During this summer break, they are partaking in various camps and skill-building activities and at the end of the day they have a home and loving community to come back to. The children have been mostly rescued from various streams of abuses. “Our children are constantly being counseled, schooled and trained along with addressing their health and emotional needs. End of the day, our vision is to give them a piece of their lost childhood & to empower them. This is where the collaboration with Infinite is invaluable. Children find role models amongst the Infinite team members and form bonds. The employees coming and spending time with the children has been equally if not more important than the financial support we get from Infinite”, says Gopinath, the leader of Sparsha.

“A school is a part of the community. That means the investment in education involves preparing the community to understand what happens in the school and mirror it in their midst, carefully observe the affairs of the school and plan the programs of the school which is interwoven in their culture and lifestyle,” says Vasudeva Sharma, Executive Director, Child Rights Trust[CRT]. This thoughtful approach is evident in the activities of Sparsha Trust. “Amongst various things our employees ran a successful fundraising golf event and raised a few lakh rupees that helps with the ongoing expenses at the Sparsha home,” says Sanjeev Gulati, Executive Vice-President at the company. Sanjeev guides the employees of Infinite as far as their CSR focus is concerned and serves as the bridge between them and the senior management when needed.

Vasudeva Sharma of CRT also shares the valid concern that there is a big buzz that companies are coming forward to support NGO initiatives, pointing out that, “Companies invest with expectations. They look for tangible ways in a way they can touch and feel the impact. If there is a piece-meal approach there is the possibility that NGOs and their communities will become mute recipients without 'participation' and end up being dis-empowered”. The path to CSR that Infinite is taking is breaking this mold showing that they are in it for the long haul. They believe that their employees owning the CSR goals and equal participation by the NGO partners are integral to their corporate social responsibility success – an approach worth emulating by those companies still finding their way into the CSR world!

(Venkatesh Raghavendra, currently Senior Director at The American India Foundation, has been in the philanthropy space for three decades)

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