About a month ago the Muthoot Group, last week Sony India Pvt. Ltd and on Wednesday Tata Capital Housing Finance Ltd, a subsidiary of Tata Capital Ltd, signed up with WWF India, a not-for-profit working with endangered species and conservation, under their corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate to protect wildlife species that are under threat in India.
Tata Capital Housing will start by giving ₹ 40 lakh to WWF India in the first year (2014-2015), and thereafter contribute a total of ₹ 3 crore over the next three years until 2018, supporting projects to conserve the Great Indian bustard (desert national park in Jaisalmer and Barmer, Rajasthan), red panda (in the community-owned forests of western Arunachal Pradesh) and one-horned rhinoceros (Laokhowa-Borachapori wildlife sanctuary, Assam).
The Muthoot Group has committed to work with elephant projects in six states for a year and will donate about ₹ 50 lakh under CSR for this activity.
Animal welfare did not figure in the Companies Act of 2013, which mandated that firms devote at least 2% of their three-year average profit towards CSR. But in February 2014, the ministry of corporate affairs included animal welfare in its revised policy after receiving feedback from stakeholders such as animal welfare organizations.
“For us, supporting elephants is natural fitment with our brand since our logo is also an elephant. We wanted to reduce the elephant-man conflict and the damage that follows. Our funds will go towards getting electric and solar fencing, radio satellite collars, etc.," says Abhinav Iyer, assistant general manager, corporate strategies, and executive assistant to the Muthoot Group chairman.
Both companies support other CSR projects as well.
The great Indian bustard is a critically endangered species, of which only around 250 remain in India. Less than 4,000 greater one-horned rhinoceroses survive in the wild, while the population of the red panda is under 10,000.
Experts cite the reported success with tiger numbers in India, with considerable sums of money spent on tiger conservation-related philanthropy.
“The tiger is now an international iconic cause. There are monies available for tiger projects. But it’s not easy to find funds for other species so easily under CSR," said Sachin Gupta, director, conservation alliances, WWF India.
“Besides, companies do tend to relate to human issues—girl child, toilets, education—more. Also, geographies play an important part. You can’t always find an endangered animal where a company traditionally operates out of. Funding under CSR for wildlife is still a mixed bag as companies are grappling with the provisions under the Act, and taking time to understand what works for them. We hope to see higher funding under CSR in 2015-16 though," he added.
For R. Vaithianathan, managing director, Tata Capital Housing Finance, aside from the environmental positives, the idea behind supporting these initiatives is also to strengthen the company’s interaction with local communities.
“We want that our support should help bring awareness and action towards the protection of these animal species, and hence maintain the ecological balance and preserve of India’s natural resources. But we also hope to be present at discussions and meetings with the local communities along with WWF India to show our solidarity with them and increase our engagement. Ultimately, projects like these help us to explore and understand what people in different geographies want and how we can best engage with them for our business at a later point," Vaithianathan said.
Eventually, the company hopes to involve employees, raise more funds for such projects through crowd-funding initiatives, and encourage volunteering in areas that WWF India deem fit for the project.
“We find it easier to raise money for wild animals than for domestic animals," said Pradeep Nath, founder and chief executive officer of the Visakha Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, a Vishakapatnam-based animal welfare group that works for the welfare of both domestic and exotic animals such as sea turtles. “When I put an appeal for sea turtle protection, the response we get is spontaneous—the project cost gets covered. But for domestic animals, the response is very slow," he added.
One reason for this, said Gupta, could be that conservation of wildlife and its environment is a priority issue abroad. “Global partnerships are always a big considerations for the Indian arm of MNCs (multinational corporations) who naturally gravitate towards such projects," he said, adding that at present even though a lot of large corporations want to do CSR on their own or scale up the work through their own foundations, MNCs, companies in financial services and some information technology companies prefer to go through a third party such as his group for CSR initiatives. “Normally, we look for three-five year partnerships, but we are not saying no if a company wants to commit for a year to start with under CSR," Gupta said.
According to Sanjay Bhatnagar, national head, corporate human resources, Sony India, “Globally, we have partnered with WWF. In India, we decided to undertake activities that can have an impact on the community as well as the environment. Apart from supporting WWF India commercially, we will be providing Sony’s technical equipment and know-how such as cameras, lenses, projectors and related products which will be used for creating the films and raising awareness." Sony India will support the conservation of red pandas and snow leopards in Arunachal Pradesh and tiger conservation through documentation and dissemination.
Arundhati Ramanathan contributed to this story.