How Indian companies approach CSR

September 05, 2018

Shankar Venkateswaran, Chief of Tata Sustainability Group, speaks to IDR about corporate giving in India. He shares little-known nuances of how companies approach CSR and what nonprofits can learn about the corporate mindset.

Understanding the most prevalent CSR models today

The rapid growth of the nonprofit sector that we’re seeing is a new phenomenon. In the 1980s, or even the early 1990s, if you wanted to work with disadvantaged communities, finding suitable grassroots-based nonprofit organisations was a challenge.

And so Indian companies that were so inclined had to set up their own implementing foundations or trusts. This was the route that the Tatas, Godrejs and many others took. Only in the past 25-30 years has this picture started changing.

I used to work with ActionAid, which was set up in the 1970s. It was only after a decade of operating as an implementing organisation that we could evolve into a grant-making institution. Before then, there just weren’t enough nonprofits to support.

For companies setting up CSR units today to comply with The Companies Act, 2013, giving grants is the preferred and often most feasible choice. Especially given their small team size, limited expertise in implementing their own programmes and the large number of potential nonprofit partners.

The CSR models we see today are, therefore, either wholly self-implementing (especially true for companies that have been doing this for decades) or focused entirely on giving grants (more true for companies new to CSR), and in some cases a mix of both.