Dr Sarika Kulkarni is the head of CSR at India Infoline she joined them recently and the company is in the process of setting up its own foundation. She also founded Raah Foundation and is very passionate about her work with women and youth in tribal villages of Maharashtra providing entrepreneurial training to them to produce and market products such as bags, soaps, food items etc. Prior to this she was a successful entrepreneur having built her own BPO business Suyash Software Pvt Ltd which was sold to CBay systems in 2011.
I feel there are challenges within the CSR legislation...there should be more flexibility in the CSR act itself as the scope for CSR is huge but the act tries to define it in just a few points. There have also been changes in the guidelines which lead to confusion. Initially for example the concept of funding social business ventures was not given in the guidelines but then it was changed to include funding of technology incubators on education campuses. I feel there are still many grey areas which need clarification and the act will probably keep evolving as more and more companies start reporting on their work and projects.
In terms of setting up our policy... our main area of work will be in livelihood education and adoption of villages where we want to take a 5 year timeframe for planning activities. Our Chairman has been instrumental in driving the policy and set up of the Board and he has been involved in every meeting over the last 2 years.
When we assess or evaluate a project...We look at broad areas such as what the organization has done in the past but more importantly what we expect them to do in future. We try to determine if they have the bandwidth in terms of skills and manpower to expand their work in their geographical area and do they have a bigger picture in mind. We need to know their motivation level and whether they are looking at challenges holistically.
It is important for us to work with organizations that... can build capacity or whom we can help to build since in the longer run it will not be feasible for us to work with hundreds of small NGOs or rather I should say we can work with a few small ones that we are hoping can grow large. We want to be present in as many locations as we have offices but predominantly 80% of our work will be in large cities where we have large branches such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Jaipur.
Our strategy is...we have in place a grant template and we look at the organizations last 3 years balance sheets and accounts. Since 3 years is the minimum requirement under the CSR act we do not look at new NGO’s. We do not always give 100% of the project funds required, it is usually about a 70/30 ratio and we look at how the organization has been funded in the past in particular foreign donations.
One trend we have observed is ... many NGOs are very weak at writing grant proposals often because grants that come through a funding agency have different requirements, the expectation for reporting is not the same as CSR funding where more involvement is required. There may often be a misunderstanding as to what constitutes involvement as opposed to interference, and founders of non profits need to be sensitized to working more openly with corporates on particular projects. The DNA of an NGO is different to a corporate and an NGO is driven by passion not profit whereas CSR has to be a professionally run social development activity with reporting requirements set under the Companies act.
Our most successful work to date...has been in women’s empowerment in the tribal belt where we have taught over 500 women to make various products and the nuances of micro business. We realized it has to be an end-to-end training from designing products, manufacturing, quality control and marketing and sales. We therefore initially do surveys of the village to determine what products are required and accordingly we find that manufacturing soap or growing mogra or goat and poultry farming are useful. In some places close to highways it has been more useful to train women to make idlis, dosa and other food products that can be sold on a highway stall. The women we have worked with have typically been totally illiterate and we get them trained and also help them set up bank accounts. Next year we hope to set up 55 watershed development programmes as this is the biggest problem in villages and collecting water takes up a disproportionate amount of time that can be better used.
We are very happy... to say that we are seeing a lot of engagement by our employees as volunteers and we now have a category of CSR champions in the firm. We account for their time spent which normally takes place on two Saturdays of each month that are non working days.
(from our column How I Got Here featuring Founders & CEOs who have come a long way - CAP's quarterly newsmagazine 'Philanthropy' Q1 April - Jun 2015 )