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The link between business and community is as old as civilization. Take a look at some of India’s biggest companies and conglomerates and you will find that their strong reputations are closely linked with the fact that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been at the heart of their businesses. With the Indian Companies Act coming into effect from 2014 in India, mandating companies to spend at least 2% of their profits on CSR, there has been a significant shift in the way India Inc. looks at CSR. Moreover, with technology empowering consumers to voice their opinions, a brand’s purpose beyond profit has become a clear differentiator. This then begs the question – how can CSR be leveraged by companies to build brands?

An Accenture study released this year reveals that 82% of Indian consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs, and are ditching those that don’t. Companies that stand for something bigger than what they sell are more likely to attract consumers and influence purchasing decisions which improves competitiveness. Ronita Mitra, Founder, Brand Eagle Consulting, points out that CSR is not about immediate sales acquisition or business gain. “There are hard and soft metrics that drive a business, and CSR is definitely amongst the soft metrics,” she explains. “CSR needs to be long term and strategic. It delivers long term metrics in terms of reputation and drives goodwill for a brand. This is important because at the end of the day, a brand may continue to acquire customers but a business really grows when it has a robust reputation. Long term customer loyalty comes from trust and reputation, which come from walking the talk,” she adds, pointing out that it is imperative for CSR to be strategic in nature.

One of the Indian brands that has effortlessly made CSR a part of its identity and DNA is the Tata Group, and that is seen in the work done across all of its subsidiaries and companies. Mitra refers to the Tata Group as an excellent example of building reputation through community outreach. “In many cases, consumers actually buy Tata products, not only because they are evaluating the quality at a rational level, but because of their absolute trust and faith in what the Tata name stands for. I don’t think any organization in India comes close to that,” she says. A case in point would be Tata Motors, which runs a programme with its dealers who train school dropouts to become technicians. Vinod Kulkarni, CSR Head, Tata Motors, points out that CSR is not a brand-building platform in itself, but that CSR projects should perhaps be linked to the business. “At Tata Motors, we believe in encouraging projects that are aligned to the business. Such projects can have a positive rub-off effect on the brand. For example, we have a programme for school dropouts to get trained on becoming technicians for a year or so and thereafter, the trained technician may choose to join our dealership or he can join elsewhere. About 15% of those young people have joined our dealers while the rest have joined elsewhere and that is completely okay. The important thing is they will also tell others that they have been trained by Tata Motors and that’s a plus for us,” he remarks.

Another brand that has led corporate India’s social responsibility efforts for several decades is the Mahindra Group. The company also puts the focus on several issues such as environmental damage and education for women, through some of their award winning campaigns such as #LadkiHaathSeNikalJayegi. Rajeev Dubey, Group President (HR & Corporate Services) & CEO (After-Market Sector), Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd says that the company has gone beyond the legal or statutory requirements when it comes to investing in the community. “With the belief that education is the only route to addressing India’s social challenges, the Group’s main portfolio for CSR was within the domain of education. Over the years, we have also invested in health and supporting the environment. From April 1, 2014, in line with the new Companies Act 2013, the company has been spending over 2% of the average net profits made during the three immediately preceding financial years, specifically towards CSR initiatives,” Dubey explains.

Companies across domains and sectors are today contributing towards disaster relief, educational and healthcare initiatives. As Manashi Kumar, Chief People Officer, BARC India explains, corporate India has a moral responsibility to work towards the community’s advancement. “It is our moral duty to contribute towards the betterment of the community. We have partnered with various NGOs and organizations in the past for multiple initiatives and will continue to do so,” Kumar says.

From a brand value standpoint, marketers find themselves in the face of a dilemma because if they view CSR from a business standpoint, it could get tricky. If CSR has to be meaningful, corporates need to have a well-planned and well-funded strategy. Consumers can see through tokenism, which is what makes authenticity and intent important. “Honest work builds brands. That is the simple truth. When a brand takes a step to help society, the authenticity of intent and action is what counts. Brand-building is a result of this. Not necessarily the objective. The objective of doing good should be to do good,” point out Kainaz Karmakar and Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Chief Creative Officers, Ogilvy India (West) who were the creative minds behind the recent ‘Start A Little Good’ campaign for Hindustan Unilever.

Another important reason why brands are taking up CSR in a big way, aside from the legal mandate, is its potential to be a differentiator. “Unlike several decades ago, everyone can assemble a car today or design an excellent phone, which is why brands have to work extra hard to create differentiation. The consumers of tomorrow will make it almost mandatory for companies to be answerable about how they are making their lives better. This means organisations have to be thinking a lot more about giving back to the community and finding a way to make their work in the CSR space a lot more visible,” remarks Amit Kekre, National Strategy Head, DDB Mudra Group.

Child Relief and You (CRY), an NGO for children’s rights and welfare, has worked extensively on several initiatives and campaigns with brands such as Procter & Gamble, Marico and HDFC Bank Credit Cards. Kreeanne Rabadi, Regional Director, West, CRY, explains that businesses today are looking at corporate citizenship as something intrinsic to business, making their projects more robust and sustainable. “Corporate CSR strategies and the composition and structure of the CSR teams driving these are still evolving today. While the thrust seems to be on ensuring compliance to the law in many cases, there are some corporates that are now looking at it from a business perspective as well,” Rabadi remarks.

If CSR has to be meaningful, the corporates have to take a longterm view and have a well-planned and well-funded strategy that will achieve its social objectives besides showing tangible impact on areas beyond where it works. However, CSR activities need to be in sync with the company’s basic values, insists Dilip Cherian, Founding Partner & Group Chairman, Perfect Relations. “CSR may stem from the desire to do good and the satisfaction from discharging a societal obligation of business. However, unless the CSR initiatives are in sync with their basic values and business, it does not quite work. So, while corporates are increasingly involved in CSR, if there is a mismatch between their projection and reality, it is seen as an attempt to just get brownie points. Not a lasting benefit,” notes Cherian.


The culture of giving is one that definitely draws young talent. Therefore, aside from attracting and maintaining loyal consumers, companies must also look at it from the perspective of attracting potential employees. Financial services company Edelweiss set up the Edelgive Foundation not just with the premise of giving back, but also to mobilise the workforce. Vidya Shah, CEO, EdelGive Foundation, explains, “The idea was to build a culture of giving and that’s how we set up Edelgive Foundation. That is the culture that we want to see trickling down across different levels and mobilising the workforce. Therefore, we have one of the most sophisticated employee engagement programmes today. About 72% of our employees are involved in Edelgive’s various initiatives through financial and non-financial giving.” Across the world, therefore, the sentiment has moved beyond just mere creation of wealth and jobs to making an impact in communities and the broader stake-holders. An example of this is environmental friendliness, Shah adds. Apart from Edelgive, various companies across sectors have sought to rally employees for a larger cause. Huria adds that Viacom 18 too encourages its workforce to choose the cause they want to support through their association with Project Heena. “This is better than taking the top-down approach where you tell employees what they should be concerned about. There may be employees who want to help with a project that is different, and why shouldn’t they do what they are passionate about?” Huria says.

In the context of CSR, I want to go back to what our founder said which is still so true and valid after 100 years. He said in a free enterprise, the community is not just another stake-holder in business, but in fact the very purpose of its existence. And the entire ethos of the Tata Group over the last 150 years has been centred and built around this concept. Brand value doesn’t exist in an island. It exists because everybody sees it as a valuable brand – stake-holders, society, consumers, investors and the employees. Society then views it as a brand that cares and protects. Once you establish that kind of trust and treat your consumers with utmost respect, you naturally build value for your brand.

Executive Chairman, Tata Business Excellence Group & Head Sustainability, Tata Sons Pvt. Ltd

The network’s Feed the Future Now campaign in association with the Akshay Patra Foundation aims to provide 5 billion meals by the year 2020, so that no child is deprived of quality education due to malnutrition. Its ‘Donate a mile’ initiative encourages employees to run once a month with Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18, in support of Akanksha Foundation, an NGO for underprivileged children. The network also does a great deal of work in the arts and culture space and in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

The Times Group
The Times Group has rolled out several initiatives in the area of CSR spanning across education, women’s empowerment, environment, health and disaster relief. In recent times, the brand’s award-winning Sindoor Khela campaign during Durga Puja in Kolkata championed the cause of those on the fringes of social acceptance such as widows, divorcees and transgenders.

Dainik Bhaskar Group
Divya Bhaskar initiated a campaign which encourages people to use the term ‘Jal Shree Krishna’ instead of ‘Jai Shree Krishna’ while meeting someone, greeting someone or when somebody is seen wasting water. The Group, over the past 15 years, has also been organising blood donation camps on several occasions. Additionally the company also runs drives for eco-friendly Ganesh idols and environmental conservation.

Madison World
Madison has started a Madison Resource Foundation (MRF) two years ago. MRF has taken up the cause of making all visually impaired computer literate by adopting Tanya Computer Centre in Mumbai. Through the centre, MRF works to train visually challenged people between 20 and 70 years of age. MRF has now expanded Tanya Computer Centre to other geographies, with four centres coming up in Gujarat in the next month.

Essence has a specific program to encourage the teams to give back to society called the Global Citizenship Program. The project encourages employees to work with NGOs on relevant causes to their heart. The agency also provide resources to the teams as well as give them time off on working days to pursue this.

Sakal Media Group
Sakal Media Group, through its 70-year-old Sakal Social Foundation (SSF), works on several key programmes across the state of Maharashtra. The foundation’s initiatives range from assistance during natural calamities to supporting farmers in the agriculture-dependent economy, education, women’s issues and activities initiated to address urban concerns. SSF also has the benefit of three networks – Tanishka, which is a peer to peer women’s network, AGROWON, an educative and informative agriculture based platform and EDUCON, a network of thought leaders and university heads to address the issues in India’s current educational system.

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