CSR plan must focus on effectiveness, quality: Deepak Kapoor

CSR can be a brand-building opportunity and an internal talent retention tool, says PwC India chairman Deepak Kapoor


Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

We believe in being catalysts of change by using the skills of our people and the power of the PwC network to influence activities that make a difference,” said Deepak Kapoor, chairman, PwC India and PwC India Foundation. As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Rules enters its third year, the message from him is “plan, partner and engage to bring about serial change which can lead to a material, viable and lasting impact transforming the communities we operate in”.

Deepak Kapoor, 57Kapoor has worked with PwC India for more than 35 years. He became a partner in 1991 and was managing director from 2007 till 2011. He was named chairman in January 2011. A member of PwC’s global 21-member leadership team, he is also a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) and Institute of Company Secretaries of India.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Is it important for companies to be looking at activities outside of their business mandate?

Whether it’s important or not, I’ll leave it to your readers to gauge, but for PwC India, it certainly is because it is a part of who we are. The PwC Purpose, which is applicable globally to all PwC entities, is to build trust in society and solve important problems. I see CSR as the perfect brand-building opportunity for any organization—not only to help it attract and retain talent, but also to position itself as a serious driver of change. With the right CSR strategy in place, it can lend prestige to the brand and, more importantly, motivate its talent and encourage loyalty. For instance, we did a survey at a global level, including in India, and learnt that more than 80% millennials want to be working for an organization which a) has a purpose and b) is involved in bringing about societal change.

How should a company develop its CSR strategy?

CSR initiatives shouldn’t be measured by the money spent or by the percentage of work being done. The focus must be on the programme’s effectiveness, the quality and the change it promotes as well as its ability to accomplish the mission.

It is important to partner with organizations working on the ground. Otherwise, you tend to spread it too wide where the intended benefits to the community and society may not necessarily come.

When undertaking CSR projects, companies must do a start-to-end analysis of what is the benefit they will deliver to their targeted communities and not execute it just to tick a box.

What are the challenges firms face when they undertake not-for-profit activities?

When we formalized our CSR initiatives through the PwC India Foundation in 2008, the real challenge was to stay relevant over a period of time because what you think CSR is may not necessarily benefit its main stakeholders, which is the community. Take this story, for instance. We sent a team of people to paint a children’s school in a slum area. Our people bought expensive paint and brushes and made a big deal about the exercise and spent an entire day at the place. But the lady who was in charge of the school was unhappy—because they ended up creating a mess by splashing paint all over. As a result, the lady had to incur costs to clean up the mess. This instance reinforced my belief that when it comes to meaningful contribution to a cause, we should do only what we are best equipped to do. Constant monitoring and evaluation of projects by a third party will help companies understand the pitfalls and provide course correction.

I have seen a lot of instances where CSR starts as a kind of employee engagement activity, without necessarily having a set of objectives or a holistic view on what is to be achieved. I consider this as a short-sighted approach.

Is having legislated CSR a good idea?

I think it is a good beginning as it almost forces people and corporates to think and assess how they can transform the spaces they operate in. Having said that, personally I believe that it is difficult to force mandatory corporate responsibility on firms. It is a helpful law but you really need to have a calling from within to be able to have any impact on the communities or make any kind of difference. Also, the government should incorporate a mechanism of external audit to make sure funds are used for sustainability of the projects.

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