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Responsibility: Informative, inspirational & transformational !

Let me confess that  most  ‘large format   books’ - the technical name for coffee table books - especially the ones at  airport lounges  are  hagiographic exercises with  an excellent element of design, art paper and  production. The text is often ‘incidental’ , and the illustrations and mug shots take the centre space.  When  Amit Sachdeva  and Mugdha Arora presented me ‘Responsibility’ after a lovely  conversation at their very charming office in the IT Park Dehradun, I kept it along with my fairly extensive collection. However, because in the course of conversation  Amit and Mugdha had talked about  the correlation of CSR with SDGs ,  ESG  as well as Mahatma’s Constructive programme ,  I decided to flip through the pages . Beginning  with  ‘Aligning CSR with ESG’ by Amit and ‘The Power of CSR Storytelling’ by Mugdha  , before I realised ,  I  was hooked  on to it, not just for the content, but for the setting of the context. Thus, we cannot look at CSR and ESG as separate silos : they are interconnected , just as we learn that  the seventeen SDGs draw from the eighteen cardinal principles laid down by the Mahatma . Although several leading corporates have started sharing their ESG profiles with their stakeholders, Amit makes out a strong case for mandatory reporting of ESGs – this in his view ,will lead to enhanced transparency , besides helping the firm to identify and manage current and potential risks , improve    competitive edge  - both in domestic markets and global circuits and ensure regulatory compliances


Human beings are human because they love to tell , hear and share stories . The more the merrier , and Mugdha tells us that CSR stories help ‘weave narratives that resonate with human experience , thereby making corporates relatable and accessible , besides creating emotional links  that nurture brand loyalty and advocacy.’  CSR has encouraged corporates ‘ to be a Force for  Good’ says Rajashree Birla  who regards the CSR law ‘as the fountain head  from where a deeper responsibility transcending business interests  emanates’. She is proud of the Aditya Birla centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development , which is in many ways built on the Trusteeship model which the Mahatma had always striven for .  Dr Payal Kanodia  of the M3M foundation talks of the  principle of Vasudeva Kutumbhakam  – also the motif of  the very successful G20 initiative – that we  are all one family, and the concept of social responsibility  can be traced back to the scriptures , the Vedas, the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata .


In the Idea of Justice , Amit shares the  very innovative  sentences of Justice Nazmi Waziri of  the Delhi High court in which he issued directives to ‘plant trees and saplings as part of the judgements handed out by his court’ . Thus, court decrees have led to the plantation of over three hundred thousand trees in Delhi since its inception in 2018  in Insaaf Bagh(Garden of Justice ) and Mafi Bagh ( garden of forgiveness )  If more judges were to follow suit , India would soon be able to resurrect its green cover !


In  The Sound of Music, by Dr Pragnya Ram,  we become aware of how  the Aditya Birla group has sponsored thousands  of cochlear implants for children  with hearing disability from birth . ‘Deafness is as severe a handicap as is blindness , perhaps worse. For as Helen Keller observed ‘ while blindness separates people from things , deafness separates people from people’.  


To harness India’s demographic dividend , Sudarshan Suchi, the CEO of  the Bal Raksha Bharat (globally called save the Children) suggests’ transformative partnerships with the youth  from a long-term perspective , as societal changes and development discourses take time to bear fruit. This will involve collaboration amongst various stakeholders, including the government and the private sector, civil society organizations , educational institutions  and youth led initiatives .


Praveen Karn  has a very innovative way of looking at the five stages of CSR in India. Stage 1 was the Garbhavashta (incubation) stage in which  gestation and conceptualisation occurred.  This refers to all the voluntary initiatives taken by companies  before 2013  for they felt that they needed to give back to society, and drew their inspiration from the ideals of the Mahatma in the general, and MDGs in the specific sense . Then came  Stage 2 – the Balyavashta or infancy – this was  the  period from 2013 to 2015.  This was driven by  the enactment of the Companies Act of 2013 – which made this activity compulsory, but many  sceptics regarded it as just another tax.  The baby steps towards the professionalisation of CSR had just about begun.


We then come to the third stage of Kishoravastha or the phase of adolescence . Praveen assigns  the four years of 2015-2019 to this phase  when institutional steps were taken to expand the scale and scope of the operations . ‘ CSR expanded beyond philanthropy to include focus on skill development, education, healthcare, environment, conservation, community empowerment  and many more areas  with reference to  schedule VII of section 135 of the Act.  The fourth phase began with the integration of CSR into the core business strategies of organization . This was the Yuvavastha – or the stage of Adulthood  which  roughly corresponded to the Covid years . The current phase is that of Maturity or Prodavastha – also called the sustainable and strategic stage  for there has been a rise in social innovation ad impact investing in the CSR landscape.


As a former Mission Director of the National Mission on Micro irrigation, Aman Pannu’s  column on water use efficiency in agriculture was absolute music to my ears. As a nation we could save much water and fertilizer even while enhancing production and productivity.  She is dot on when she says ‘ as the nation faces the challenge of climate change and water scarcity , the commitment to conserve water resources must be unwavering. And Climate change is  precisely the issue which  Ashwini Saxena takes up  next  in ‘Social responsibility opportunities in an emerging global order.’ It was heartening to note that the day US moved out of the Paris Agreement, over 1200 federal officials, mayors, businesses, corporate leaders and academics signed the charter ‘we are still in’ showing thereby that the movement to save the planet is not the exclusive preserve of government. Citizens have been , and will be involved in the process.


In addition to these thought-provoking articles,  we have the pictorial display of the SDGs , inputs from UNHCR, ADB ,OECD and IIT Madras , besides   fifty case studies  and social impact profiles from organizations as varied as the ONGC on the one hand to BMGF on the other . Kudos to Liveweek for having brought  out an eminently readable book  which is informative, inspirational and transformational !



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