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Building the CSR Marketplace – effective partnerships between Corporates and social organizations: Samhita Social Ventures and UnLtd Hyderabad

Samhita Social Ventures and UnLtd Hyderabad successfully facilitated a distinctive event focused on Corporate Social Responsibility by engaging social enterprises and corporate organizations on a common platform at HICC Complex, Novotel Hyderabad.

On 20th January, 2014, 17 companies and 20 social enterprises came together to explore opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking and exploring future partnerships and collaborations. Corporate representatives from Microsoft, Infosys, Ramky Group, Qualcomm, Novartis, HCL, IBM and similar companies interacted with individuals from early stage and established social enterprises including Color D Earth, Rewheel, Drama Association of the Deaf, Naandi, YouSee, Nirmaan and others.

Through this partnership, the event addressed the need to foster successful relationships between companies and social enterprises. With the introduction of Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013, the event also served as a knowledge zone highlighting the key requirements, features and provisions of the new CSR Act.

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Key take-aways from the event

Ambiguity on defining and engaging social enterprises

Though Section 135 clearly articulates social businesses as one of the possible causes that a company can support through CSR in Section VII, there is not enough clarity on definition of social businesses or modes of engagement.  It is hoped that the final rules, due to be released by the MCA, will offer clarity and certainty.

Credibility

Credibility of partners implementing initiatives on the ground was at the heart of the discussion, especially from the corporate perspective to ensure accountability, optimum use of funding and maximum social impact. While the companies expressed the need to assess and assure credibility based on legal compliance, past projects, accreditations, awards, ratings etc., this was found to be a difficult ask for young social enterprises that are still in ideation or start up stage. It was also pointed out that assessing ‘the fit’ of the social enterprise with the corporate’s requirements and vision is a pre requisite for successful implementation.

Social impact

There was an overwhelming consensus that the ultimate objective of CSR was to create social impact that resulted in positive change among beneficiaries. However, there were differences in how companies and social enterprises would define and measure impact, especially around qualitative and quantitative measures. Given the direction that Section 135 is urging companies to take with regards to monitoring and evaluation of CSR projects, the importance of undertaking systematic evaluation and impact assessment cannot be understated. One of the solutions proposed at the event centered on co-evolving metrics keeping in mind the corporate’s objectives, SE’s experience of ease and relevance of capturing such metrics and best practices in the sector.

Branding

One of the issues extensively discussed at the event was showcasing CSR activities through branding. The companies were divided in their opinions, with a few adopting conscious strategies to not publicize their social engagements while others placing significant weightage on brand-building. It was widely felt that a balance needs to be struck between creating social impact under CSR and leveraging these activities to create a positive brand name in the most efficient way.

Feedback from participants

Samhita conducted a quick feedback survey among delegates who attended the event. The event received an enthusiastic response as evident from the feedback received from the participants. A large majority of the participants (70%) agreed that the event helped them to gain a better understanding and clarity on the CSR rules and regulations. A similar proportion felt that the content was relevant to their interests and covered a good range of topics. The format, which included presentations, case studies and elevator pitches, was also found to be efficient and interesting. Almost all delegates (94%) comprising of companies and social enterprises felt that the event offered enough opportunities to network with each other and understand each one’s work.