CSR and the art of giving

Sometime in early June, this journalist had dropped by the office that belonged to one of the city’s animal welfare NGOs. The agenda was simple, and centred on planning a few weekend fun sessions for kids, to familiarise themselves with the city’s strays.

As one waited to chart out the schedule, a couple of bright professionals from one of the world’s biggest banks were engaged in deep discussion with one of the founder members. “We’d like for our workforce to spend time in a good cause like yours…we see this as a terrific avenue where we can help bolster a noble, lesser-known cause,” one of them elaborated.

As the conversation entered its second half, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the young emissaries from the big bank were eager to help support a cause, beyond plainspeak. Elaborate plans were shared, dates were fixed and the smug duo left the office after having created a window to initiate an itinerary around the three golden words — Corporate Social Responsibility.

Somewhere down the line, it was heartwarming to note that this was a refreshing departure from the usual spiel that has grown to occupy common space in the CSR clause in the corporate world. However, what one has noticed, over the years, is that the lines between philanthropy and CSR seem to have gotten skewed.

While philanthropy doesn’t expect or demand returns of any kind, sans the publicity (sometimes, unabashed), CSR is a more focused form of philanthropy. Indian companies who engage in hardcore CSR initiatives are found setting/promoting/ supporting schools, hospitals, community development, women empowerment, environment, and art and culture initiatives. This kind of philanthropy might not exactly merge with their core area of business and requires serious planning as far as sustainability is concerned. We’ll save the probabilities and possibilities of its long arm for another time.

But what is interesting to note is that like the big, multinational bank that was keen to get their its white-collared executives to walk strays or clean kennels on their weekends, more and more companies are looking at this brand of philanthropy as a healthy way to show that they “care”.

Recently, one also chanced upon a similar occurrence where a highbrow investment bank supported an LGBT festival in the city. Small steps. But in these times, where the genuine intent for a CSR initiative gets blurred or assumes profit-oriented role play, somewhere, somehow, these efforts, however rare, deserve to be lauded.

Another well-known, over a decade-old NGO that has been championing the rights of education for the lesser privileged in the city received a shot in the arm with mileage and corporate backing for their very own in-house store that is now home to a range of delightful, hand made products, crafted by these gifted students. Stories such as these make for small drops of good karma in money-mad Mumbai.

At the other extreme of this philanthropy-CSR debate is the annual Mumbai Marathon. While support from the corporate world for most city and national-level NGOs is overwhelming, one wonders how much of this translates into sustainable, action-oriented initiatives in the long run. Literally, we mean.

Until then, we’ll savour the sunshine.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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