Gayle Peterson, associate fellow at Oxford University’s Said Business School and co-founder of Partners for Change, was in India last month to launch Vodafone Foundation’s World of Difference (WoD) study and participate in a panel discussion on corporate volunteerism. Peterson, who is interested in India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) law, said she is watching closely what impact programmes like WoD (Vodafone Foundation’s flagship initiative enables employees to donate their time, skills and expertise) can have on social change in India. Her findings from the study will feature in the forthcoming Stanford University Press book titled Good, Evil, Wicked: The Art, Science and Business of Giving.

She spoke in an interview about how volunteers from top management can bring social change and why a CSR law is a good first step. Edited excerpts:

Is the current CSR law less about creating shared values and more about responsibility?

This goes back to whether something (like this) should be voluntary or mandatory. I think mandatory is a first step in getting corporations to do the right thing. There will be those who will embrace it and recognize the advantages. Others will draw a line. It’s about putting pressure on the corporations to keep doing the right thing. I don’t think CSR law is a panacea or that it is perfect, but the law forces attention on how companies behave.

Can 100-150 employees volunteering in a year change a company’s culture?

I asked the same question; what’s the tipping point? How does a company’s culture get changed profoundly as a result of this? When programmes include senior-level employees in these projects, they come back changed and this change infiltrates their department.

Does volunteering help initiate more affirmative action by companies?

I think it does. But we must watch this over time. As of now I don’t think there’s enough pressure globally on companies to do the right thing.

Will bringing in technology help sensitize more people in technology companies?

Do you get your hands dirty by just creating an app? Does that make people more empathetic? Is there a greater impact when employees work with (underprivileged) communities and actually understand, for example, how child brides create health issues? I think if you have technology and leadership on the ground, things will change.

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