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CSR as a core competence

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Companies are launching CSR programmes that build on their core competencies to create ventures that empower communities.

BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CSR: Hospitals are offering more than free check-ups; speciality medical camps are the order of the day.
BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CSR: Hospitals are offering more than free check-ups; speciality medical camps are the order of the day.

Archana Venkat

Cisco Systems could have donated liberally to any community building activity. But it chose to partner a project where its business capabilities would be used.

Launched last November, `Lifelines India' provides voice-based services to farmers seeking information on agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture, fisheries, dairy sciences and post-harvest technologies.

About 150 villages across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh are covered under the programme. Joining hands with British Telecom, One World Charity and the Indian Society of Agri-Business Professionals, Cisco contributed equipment, staff and funds to design, build and support this service.

"We also encouraged business partners like Wipro to donate pro-bono work supporting the project and are currently negotiating with potential partners to take Lifelines India to other states," says Adrian Godfrey, Director, Corporate Citizenship, Cisco Systems.

There are others, like Cisco, who are moving away from conventional corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to offer their core business services to the social sector.

In the past, CSR work has been largely restricted to donating towards causes such as children's education, women's upliftment and building basic amenities for communities. But now, many companies are going a step further by using their core business competencies in creating services/ products for sustaining community empowerment.

Corporate social responsibility today

Aditi Technologies chose to do `pro bono' work by partnering Grameen Foundation USA in developing `Mifos', a software that facilitates better management of micro-finance institutions (MFIs). Eighteen months later `Mifos' was built, robust enough to adapt to any MFI across the world. Today, MFIs such as Grameen Koota in Bangalore and Enda in Tunisia implement `Mifos'. Together, they will address over 1.20 lakh clients.

"We took up this project because it required our business capabilities. Having done this, we are confident and open to partnering more such projects," said a spokesperson for the company. Continuing the association, Aditi is now looking at ways to make `Mifos' available on a `software as a service' platform.

When Keggfarms, a New Delhi-based company that is engaged in genetic research, development and breeding of poultry, custom bred a new bird, it decided to share the information with poultry farmers in nearby areas. For, the bird not only gave better yield, but was also cheaper to maintain compared to the backyard chicken. Farmers were given samples of the bird and trained to breed it.

In the last five years, the bird, called `Kuroiler', has increased the income of about seven lakh rural households by about Rs 300 crore. This model of social entrepreneurship was included in the Harvard Business School curriculum this January.

ITC, known for its extensive CSR work related to environment conservation, recently started training farmers in building micro water conservation sheds. It funded only 75 per cent of the project cost for each such initiative, thus encouraging farmers to think of innovative financing options for their projects.

The Mysore-based N.R. Group, makers of the Cycle brand of

agarbathis

, had for long run a school for blind girls in the city. But last year, it chose to use its business expertise to do something more meaningful.

Training tribal women in jobs such as bamboo splitting,

agarbathi

rolling and packing, the company today is able to engage about 25,000 women, who produce about 250 tonnes of raw

agarbathis

a month, which can be bought by any

agarbathi

company. The project plans to cover three lakh women this year and currently spans the Southern states, Gujarat, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

It is common for hospitals to organise free health check-ups, but one rarely hears of speciality medical camps. Fortis Hospital, Noida, not only organises such camps but also offers free consultation and discounts on treatment for ailments in areas such as cardiology, nephrology, orthopaedics, neurology, gastroenterology, paediatrics, gynaecology and internal medicine. Hosted regularly in New Delhi, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahar and Meerut, the company is expanding these camps to other cities.

Not just a rural initiative

The benefits of CSR work often get narrowed down to rural areas. Not so, at Bharat Matrimony. All physically challenged users of the Web site are given 50 - 100 per cent discount on the membership fee.

In 2003, the company held a free matrimony meet for the physically challenged in Mumbai, which would have otherwise cost between Rs 500 and Rs 750 a candidate. Buoyed by the positive response, the company plans to hold a second free meet in New Delhi in June. "Over the years, we have extended these discounts to other underprivileged candidates based on their socio-economic status. About 20,000 candidates have used discounted services," says Uday Zokarkar, Business Head, Bharat Matrimony.

IBM India too has extended support to the physically challenged by setting up a computer centre at the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Mumbai. It has also designed user-friendly software applications for the Internet, including one on the Linux platform. "We want to provide technology access to groups that are conventionally not associated with using technology," says Mamtha Sharma, Manager, Corporate Community Relations.

It was for the same reason that Internet company, Sify Ltd, set up a training centre called `Alambana' to equip school dropouts with basic computer skills. Candidates are taught software such as MS Office, PowerPoint and Excel, besides how to use the Internet, webcam, chat sites, e-mail, scanners and printers. They are also trained in spoken English and personal grooming.

Over 400 such candidates have been groomed and most of them today work for BPO like Citibank Global Services and retail chains like Spencer's Daily . "They earn about Rs 10,000 a month and some even Rs 20,000," says Anandhapriya Raghavan, Senior Executive, Corporate Communications, Sify Ltd.

Adobe too developed a programme for children, but with a difference. The digital multimedia tools provider trained close to 150 students in New Delhi and Bangalore on the use of its software packages such as Photoshop, Premiere and Flash. Students were then given digital cameras and other accessories and asked to create short films/ animation sequences/ digital art of their choice.

Some of these creative works will be showcased at national and international events and the winners would be granted scholarships to pursue higher education. "These children may not become documentary film makers or media professionals in future. But this programme will help them think creatively and express themselves better," said Rashmi Soni, Senior Communications Manager, Adobe India.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 4, 2007)
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