Prashant Kumar is the deputy managing director (human resources) and corporate development officer at the State Bank of India (SBI). Kumar, who also holds the role of chief sustainability officer at the bank, says constant engagement with stakeholders and making mid-course corrections are vital for the success of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. “Sitting in Mumbai, if we want to formulate something without engaging people who are working on the ground, the entire thing will collapse," he says. It is better to bring all stakeholders, especially government agencies, on a common platform to ensure that CSR money is spent effectively, he adds. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Learnings from four years of implementation:CSR is not mandatory for the bank, since we are not governed by the Companies Act. But, as per the Banking Regulation Act, and Reserve Bank of India guidelines, the bank can spend up to 1% of profit on CSR. We felt that we needed to bring professionalism in our CSR work. So we set up a non-profit company, the SBI Foundation, and recruited experts from the market who had previously worked with the social sector. They roped in different NGOs, and looked for projects that could be viable in the long run.
Any need for course correction: This is required because things are changing very fast, and so are the aspirations and requirements of people. The government is coming out with many other support systems, and our goal is to be able bridge the gap.
Social vs sustainable: Everybody is moving towards sustainability. That is the real purpose. Otherwise, CSR would only be for the purpose of optics.
The big picture: The intention is that the entire money meant for CSR should be spent by the SBI Foundation going forward. That’s why last year we took on an ambitious project, a new CSR initiative—SBI Gram Seva—that aims to adopt at least 500 villages over the next three years. Our plan is to spend about 2.5 crore per village over three years. We want to have total development of villages in terms of skill development, financial inclusion, providing them credit for education, healthcare facility and cleanliness. We are mindful of the fact that a bank, as a financial institution, cannot do this alone unless it gets support from government agencies. So, we have involved district administrations. For a village, it would be integrated development so even after three years when we leave, it should be self-sustainable.
Collaboration the way ahead:That is very important. We have involved all our group companies—like SBI Cards, SBI Capital Market etc—that want to spend on CSR. They can put their CSR funds into the SBI foundation as this way their efforts would be channelized and the money would be used in an effective way. Also, once the SBI foundation completes three years of existence, it can also mobilise funds from other agencies. Collaboration between different stakeholders, government, and different companies is very important, especially for companies that don’t have the capacity or expertise to spend money. Through this, instead of giving a one-time donation, companies can collaborate with various foundations so that the money pooled together would be spent in much better way.
Mapping sustainable development goals: We always align (CSR activities) with the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) since, at the bank, CSR and sustainability converge at my level—I am the head of CSR and also the chief sustainability officer. I am always mindful that whatever we do in CSR, we always take care of social, environmental and governance issues. That is how we have converged CSR and SDGs.
Stakeholder feedback: This is very critical. Even for our Gram Seva projects, we are carrying out engagement through different NGOs as they are the ones working on the ground. Our project officers go to all locations, speak to different stakeholders, take feedback and, if needed, we immediately make a course correction.
Should government solicit CSR funds?
The government is definitely in a better position to identify the project which requires this kind of funding. Collaboration between government and companies could definitely be very critical. This collaborative approach would serve society better.