New Delhi: Bharti Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises and implements corporate social responsibility or CSR activities for the group.

Vijay Chadda, who is the chief executive officer of the foundation, says that when the foundation started our it was more about corporate philanthropy, with very little to do with CSR. Today the Satya Bharti School programme, which runs 254 schools in rural areas with the aim of imparting quality education to underprivileged children, is the foundation’s flagship programme and in its 10th year.

Chadda believes there is a lot more to do in education. He says the foundation made a few changes last year following the introduction of new CSR rules under the Companies Act, 2013, but has kept its focus unchanged. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Any change in the last year in the way the foundation functions since the new CSR rules have come into play?

We knew that companies would probably have to spend more than what they were doing because of the 2% stipulation. We had to think when those funds come, how will we utilize them? Can the current projects use all the money? Maybe not. So, obviously we had to get ready with new ideas. Secondly, CSR spend belongs to a company, so there is a corporate part, a social part and a responsibility part. We are adjunct as far as the social part is concerned only.

It has only been a year and I believe things will evolve as we go along. Some amendments will be made, changes will happen (to the CSR rules). This regulation has brought a lot of fundamental changes in terms of how a corporate approaches CSR. Earlier they could just write a cheque and forget it. Now they must have a committee and we are answerable to them.

The reporting that we have to do now for the board is more extensive and has to be more engaging.

We have to now sell our business to them. We have to explain, “This is our project, this is what you are funding, this is what you will get."

Another change for us was when Sunil (Bharti Mittal, chairman and Group CEO of Bharti Enterprises) committed 100crore to Swachh Bharat. Now we had to build toilets.

So that was out of your area of expertise? The Bharti Foundation’s core expertise area is education, is it not?

This was a completely new area since we had not worked in hygiene and sanitation. We had built toilets in our schools. Fortunately, we had a clear demarcation that we will build toilets in 918 villages of Ludhiana (district of Punjab) and provide a household toilet to every home that did not have one, plus in every government school that did not have one. In 7-8 months, we have built 7,000 toilets in 210 villages.

Was it tough to find implementation partners especially for Swachh Bharat projects since this was not your domain of expertise?

The minute people hear Sunil Bharti Mittal say 100 crore for toilets, they (toilet makers) find you. The challenge is to identify the right person who can do the job. We have processes in place to find contractors and implementation partners and we know how to work with these partners.

Do you think it helps to have external members on CSR boards?

Of course. They ask you difficult questions. They keep you on your toes. We think we are great but they tighten you more.

We have to now understand their needs and make them believe that the company is getting value for money. I think conceptually this is good.

If you as a company are serious about CSR, more and more inputs will come in and that will benefit the programmes you choose.

In Schedule VII (list of activities allowed under CSR), is there any activity that you wish a board will look at? Any more that should be added?

I think for a start what is there is great. We will see more alignment between pure social aspects and the sustainability related ones later.

That is equally important. I am not likely to suggest other areas of activities to any board because our core competency is education and we would like to stay with that for now.

Maybe we might look at higher education or vocational training. I don’t believe we have cracked education fully as yet.

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