Sanjeev Kotnala: Model Village approach; the need of Rural CSR

28 Sep,2016

By Sanjeev Kotnala


If one was to believe the rural masses and the message that comes loud and clear, then there is nothing called Corporate Social Responsibility. There are NGOs and charities but no CSR.


The rural masses are clear that the need of CSR is seen as the failure of GSR or Government Social Responsibility. Truly so, as the government sees CSR as an efficient low-cost alternative towards an inclusive growth.


If a company takes care of its employee or resource catchment area, the rural masses see it as a leveraging tool for the company final growth objectives and not as a social responsibility initiative.


For a moment, let us distance ourselves from this point of view and try seeing CSR as a Corporate Action in Interest of Society. These CSR acts are guided by the responsibility an organisation feels towards the society. This arises from the impact of its operations on employees, community and environment. Most of the activities can be justified under this banner. However, when you add the filter of ‘Going Beyond Obligation’ and ‘Voluntary Action’, quite a few initiatives by government and private enterprise fail the test.


Rural population is equally smart in understanding the initiatives with commercial slant and differentiating them from the one driven by passion. Not surprising that every company branded initiative is questioned. For example, If there is a dental brand which is populating oral care and hygiene in the villages, it is seen with a clear interest, and the population questioning the transparency and validity of the initiative. They are rightly able to see these as the brand’s way to push the sales of their products.


Lacking deep understanding of the real rural area and is needs, most of CSR initiatives are fragmentally focused and restricted to the areas of health, education and environment. There are projects in infrastructure, skill enhancement with a socio-economic tint, nevertheless, hardly anything on sustainability of processes, efforts and results.


The CSR efforts are shallow, patchy, fragmented, and obligatory. Many a time, it is just a formality. People working in these forums and organisations are not sure of the funds, Manpower, commitment and other resources. There is hardly any assurance of initiative longevity, forget about sustainability. No doubt, it faces acute talent shortage.


The CSR still is an HR baby. Very few organisations have CSR departments and most try working through remote control. Some of them will be better off by buying into an NGO’s initiative in the area of their choice, funding and monitoring it.


Rampant irrational mushrooming of CSR is giving birth to another problem, something that the organisations and government is yet to take cognizance of. The town-ward migration of the CSR influenced population. The current set of CSR programmes are built without any thought of how it impacts migration (the right word will be fleeing) from the rural area and economy. Currently, the prevalent education initiatives just facilitate migration. There is no understanding of ‘reverse migration’ which can be created by concentrating on employment and viable livelihood based on the resources available in the area.


There are hardly any initiatives that completely focus on amplifying, archiving, preserving and transfer of rich rural heritage, geographical knowledge, region-specific skillsets and amplification of natural resources. The kids in the rural area are busy aping the towns with a ‘A for Apple’ approach.


On top of that there is a fragmented sector development approach. The rural mass is subjected to lopsided treatment under the CSR umbrella. So depending upon the corporate initiative and the current fad, the village finds itself driven through the path of education, women empowerment, vaccination, swatch Bharat or such schemes. Yes, they call it scheme. It is here today and gone tomorrow.


I am of a strong point of view that it is useless to work in just one or few areas. It requires an all-round push? Proper coordinated efforts are required. A model village approach is desirable. It is a complex ecosystem there. Here, it is essential that multipoint collaborative initiative by Government, Private ( read corporate), village and NGO should work in sync.


There is a need for the CSR implementer to take the beneficiary in complete confidence while attempting to create sustainable socio-economic initiatives. These should be moulded and approved basis the need-gap analysis and not just transplantation of a successful project at some other point. The impact effect must be honestly tested with rigor at a pilot level before they are replicated. Hopefully, this can ensure positive transformation.


It is true that the CSR initiatives by corporate are far more systematic, organised and monitored than that by the government. However, they are neither leak-proof pipeline for funds, nor something that is immune to target and impact manipulations.


The rural India today needs efforts in all sectors. It means that all areas are tackled simultaneously as in a ‘Model village’ approach. Maybe there is a need for a central body that collates all the inputs and contribution and allocates them in a focused geographical area to create desired impact. The template is then used to amplify, catalyses the whole process with regional tweaking. It may be good to collate the CSR funds from corporates and divest them in a more organised fashion under a completely independent autonomous body.


I know the mere thinking in this direction is a problem. If someone even smells of this idea reeking of huge fund deployment possibilities, the corrupts will start honing on the


I think there is a strong need for Four-point action.

1. Work with Model village approach and a central nodal body (explained above). Model village approach requires a simultaneous tackling of multiple areas with sustainability and self-reliance in focus. Work needs to happen across identified areas like Education, health, infrastructure, cattle welfare, farm mechanisation, local skill, localisation. Sustainable livelihood, watershed management, etc.
2. laws to stop mushrooming crop of NGOs need to be framed. Currently, it is too easy to create a NGOs or a Not-for-profit organization. Check organisation, which are just on paper.
3. Corporate should only be allowed to engage a pre-approved set of NGOs, which have passed certain scrutiny and have proven themselves in the field. Organisations like ‘Deepalya’, ‘Nudge’ and ‘Aid-et-action’ can really help drive CSR initiatives more effectively in the area of education, woman empowerment, skill empowerment and health.
4. Create robust monitoring and audit process / regulation for CSR activity. Currently, CSR field visits are more of CSR tourism. The stakeholders are taken through the luxurious window of staged impressions.
5. A corporate must choose a limited set of areas based on its strength and capabilities. This may help create focus, and avoid dilution of efforts.


It may sound counterproductive as large organisations like Tata, GAIL, Bharat Petroleum, Infosys and Mahindra may be able and willing to act on multiple fronts in rural areas. These should be allowed to adopt an area for all round interventions without the need of a nodal body.


CSR in a rural perspective is new to me. And what I above is pieced together from alumni of Agriculture Engineer colleges and IIM Agriculture Business Management as well as few NGO. The area of feedback is more centrally located and hence cannot be considered national sample. However, knowing the way success is duplicated and failure is avoided within corporate, rural and the Government ecosystem, one can with a fair degree of surety can extrapolate this for the country.


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