A company needs to monitor its CSR activities closely
Ajoyendra Mukherjee of TCS believes right selection of non-profits and investing in capacity building is part of CSR
Ajoyendra Mukherjee is the Kolkata-based executive vice president and global head of human resources at TCS. In his 38-year tenure in TCS, Mukherjee has worked in diverse roles and currently also heads the corporate social responsibility function of the organisation and is on the board of the TCS Foundation. As a dyed-in-wool Tata Group employee he subscribes to the JRD Tata philosophy which believes in giving back to the community. “At TCS we have been focusing on building necessary capacity for people rather than pure grant making. Our involvement in CSR is much deeper. We try to get into the root cause of an issue and ensure that we can create capacity on the ground so that people can have a sustainable approach to dealing with the issue. We want to create impact in a way that we also empower communities,” he says. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Learnings from four years of implementation: The learning has been to select NGOs with whom you partner very cautiously. The company also has to be willing to spend time with the NGOs so that it can constantly work together and monitor the progress, he says. It has to be a strong initiative with a strong involvement from the organisation. NGO can be counted on their reach and their ability to influence people at ground level, and their execution but whether the programme is achieving end results or not needs constant involvement and monitoring from the company. Also, we have learnt that engagements (in CSR) have to be long term.
Any need for course correction: No matter what you do, you need to have proper systems in place to measure the outcome and find out if over a longer period of time the life of the beneficiaries is getting impacted positively, says Mukherjee. It is difficult to measure this but as a company we have to help non profits to design surveys in a way that this data can be captured in order to evaluate and course correct the programmes.
I think we need more alignment of CSR programmes with what the business does.
Social vs sustainable: We always think about programmes in a way that identify with the needs of society and also help the business. For example, we chose to work with STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) as a stream outside of India and even in India because this is related to business in way. The main asset in our business is talent and we must ensure that people who come out of institutes in India and outside are ready for the industry. This approach does not directly create profit for the business but it does create capacity and a pool of talent for the nation to draw on in the longer run.
The big picture: For the industry, it is a must that social welfare of the area where they operate out of is taken care of. Businesses, of course, exist to generate profit because without that being in business does not make sense but while you are doing business be aware of the community around and work for its well-being too, says Mukherjee. At the same time, (protecting the) environment and sustainability is important too. For us, even though we are an IT company, we know we are creating carbon since we run large data centres which consume a lot of power. That’s why we decided to reduce our carbon footprint. Most of our initiatives are mapped to SDGs. Among our programs dealing with eradication of poverty is one called Bridge IT with two partners. We aim to help the Dalit and SC/ST individuals who have some level of high school or college education through this. There are many people who are not getting jobs, or those who want to continue to live in and around certain villages. We give these youth laptops and teach them how to set up their own kiosks so that they can in turn help their community and help us with adult literacy programs around where they stay. They also end up creating their own revenue streams through this by becoming agents for banks etc. We handhold these students for two years, give them stipend etc in order to help them develop a sustainable livelihoods. This program created quite a few role models.
Basically we are also looking at areas in healthcare where technology can help because that is our focus.
Stakeholder feedback: In most programs, even the Bridge IT program, we stay in touch with our partner non-profits and the people who will be involved. When the first batch started we met some of the people in Kolkata and they had a lot of questions, they wanted to know how will this plan work etc. We have learned that unless you spend time in selecting the right people for these programs, they will not be successful. We also learned that everyone may not succeed, some may lose interest over a period. We took this as a learning and asked ourselves what could we have done better while selecting people.
Focus CSR speaks to CSR heads to find out how the space has evolved and what the next big steps could be.