Friday, March 13, 2009

And they called ME a Cynic!

The other day, I was in this conference where eminent personalities were discussing whether CSR was a rhetoric or a reality. One executive, who was working in a PSU, was talking about how his company implemented CSR by having a quota for physically challenged people, SC/STs etc. When I asked him how many of those physically challenged people had actually gotten into the upper echelons of his organization, his answer was a diplomatic " We give equal opportunities to everyone", which amounted to saying no one from that category ever went anywhere in the organization except the place they started with. Of course, if I had asked about how the SC/STs fared in his organization, the answer wouldn't have been too different. Another executive, from a private sector giant this time, waxed lyrical about his company's CSR initiatives helping people with "torn clothes" restore some "pride" to their pathetic, meaningless lives(At least, that's how it sounded to me).

The reason I'm harping on this subject is that CSR today seems a lot like the "White Man's burden" to me. These big-shot CEOs and their coterie, commonly known as the executive board, seem to think that they are so flawless, so intrinsically perfect, that God has given them the divine duty of enlightening and uplifting the scrum of the society, transforming their lives for the better, and making sure that they would get the tools necessary to enrich their lives.

What a load of excreta! The problem with this altruistic motive is that they want these people to stay at the bottom of the system, more like byproducts, just surviving thanks to hand-me-downs by these wonderful organizations. They are, in no way, committed to bringing them into the system, making them a part of it so that one day, in the future, one of those people with "torn clothes" might actually become a CEO, or likewise. 

That is exactly the reason they crib about tax raises, find means and ways to avoid it, with CSR being one avenue. Instead, if they did actually pay their taxes properly, the government would do a lot better in helping the under-privileged, with more money spent on education and other general social welfareschemes(Like NREGS). Instead, these corporates use the money allotted for CSR more to harp about their social schemes than in actually implementing them. They use it more as a brand development tool than a sincere attempt to give back to the society that gives them the resources they need and acts as their market. 

Instead, take the scenario where corporates looked upon their CSR as an instrument in empowering certain sections of the society, as well as an investment into their future. For example, go back to the case of the PSU. If this company(which has been in existence for 45 years now) had actually directed its CSR into educating physically handicapped children with a view of recruiting them in the organization some years down the line, it would have reaped the rewards of not having to pick people up to just fill its quota, but rather use it as a means for having a bigger pool to pick their top candidates from. The same case applies for SC/STs too. And if the private sector company had educated children with a similar foresight, it would maybe someday have one of them in its board of executives, and you can be sure that he/she would stay loyal to the organization for life.

The point I'm trying to make here is that CSR need not be a farce. It can turn out to be a powerful tool in bringing about social change while benefiting the organizations that implement it. The problem for companies is that they can't see the long term fruits of investing in such a campaign. The "Me, Here, Now" barrier is stopping them from doing so. If they do come out of this wall that they have built around themselves, they would be able to see that, in the long term, CSR pays.