Ranjan Kumar Mohapatra is director, human resources, at Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOCL), the country’s largest fuel retailer. A mechanical engineering graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, with a postgraduate diploma in management from the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, Mohapatra leads the public sector company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. He joined IOCL in 1987, and has had varied assignments, including terminal operations, supply-chain management and logistics.

Mohapatra believes that public sector entities are generally at “an advantage" when carrying out CSR activities since they don’t need to obsess over profit. “I don’t have to justify that our CSR has to lead to profit in some way or the other," he asserts. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Learnings from four years of implementation: The rules have given a completely different perspective to CSR, in the sense that it has moved corporate social activity from the fringes to the forefront or boardrooms. There is now a greater understanding that CSR alone is not in a position to replace the government’s welfare activities, nor is it supposed to. Companies are also in a better position to showcase or present good CSR models.

Any course correction needed?As far as IOCL is concerned, we have been doing CSR activities since we came into being (in 1964). For us, it is not a new thing, and that is probably why we didn’t find it necessary to course-correct anything since we had the systems in place. But, yes, at some point we did feel we could have done it better. Sometimes, we may have felt the heat because we have been associated with state governments/agencies on projects. We thought, had we done it a different way or done it ourselves, maybe we would have done it faster and completed it quicker.

Social vs sustainable: The world over, there is a very thin gap between sustainability and CSR. Why so? Because sustainability or sustainable development goals (SDGs) almost encompass everything. Economist John Elkington says sustainability is based on three Ps: people, profit and the planet. If you look at CSR, it is based on people and the planet. So it is really intertwined and we have to look at it that way. I should say, rather, that CSR is a subset of sustainable development.

The big picture:There are lot of initiatives that have yielded dividends as far as our CSR is concerned—especially in healthcare, education and skilling. These are our long-term sustainable initiatives. Since we are public sector, there are also government-driven initiatives like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, under which LPG connections are provided to women from BPL families; we will continue supporting that.

A key area we are trying to focus on is converting waste to energy— this is something we have just started. We have set up three such plants, each with a capacity of processing 5 tons/day, in Varanasi. One more plant is coming up in Faridabad.

Another area we are focusing on in a big way is collaborating with academic institutions for specialized technical education. We tied up with the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai, to open the ICT-IOC campus in Bhubaneswar, where students will be able to pursue integrated MTech courses in chemical engineering, executive MTech, and PhD programmes.

Collaboration the way ahead: Collaboration is the way ahead because you cannot be an expert in everything. Secondly, public sector companies have not done big projects on their own, so we can come together for a big-ticket project. But you have to choose your collaborators suitably—where you require them, or where they require your support—to deliver the best.

CSR and SDG mapping: CSR activities usually link up automatically with the SDGs.

Government role in CSR funds: A public sector utility is, after all, an instrument of the government. It has to meet the aspirations and requirements of government too. I don’t think that is a big hindrance per se. Eventually, the aim of the CSR initiative has to be to help beneficiaries, and, as long as that is being done correctly, the rest should be immaterial.

Focus CSR speaks to CSR heads to find out how the space has evolved and what the next big steps could be.