Mandatory CSR spending, introduced under Section 135 of Companies Act 2013, has presented a unique opportunity for Corporate India to participate and contribute to the nation’s development. Educational Initiatives, in partnership with Samhita Social Ventures, organized a one day National CSR Leadership Conference on ‘Improving Quality of Education – Role of CSR’ on 29th January 2015 at the Westin, Gurgaon.
The objectives of the conference were to –
- Help companies understand the gaps in the education sector that could be addressed through CSR initiatives
- Bring together voices from organizations working on addressing social issues related to education – companies, donors as well as NGOs – to deliberate on ways to foster partnerships among stakeholders and create effective engagement in the sector
- Discuss innovations, especially around technology in education, and frameworks for assessing impact
The event was attended by senior management from leading companies such as Cairn India, Coca Cola, Tata Group, IDFC, Arvind Mills, Jindal Group, SRF Foundation etc. There was also considerable participation from foundations and social organizations such as Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, NIIT Foundation, Kaivalya, Porticus, Dasra etc.
The conference made for some very insightful and actionable discussions, the key messages from which are captured below.
Session 1 – Education Sector Report – The need to shift towards learning outcomes
Ms Anushree Parekh, Senior Research Manager at Samhita Social Ventures, set the tone for discussions by presenting key findings from a recent research report that maps the CSR interventions in education of the top 100 companies with the highest CSR budgets in India. The report disaggregated CSR in education into various categories such as infrastructure, pedagogy, capacity building, early education, scholarships etc. It highlighted the skew towards education, vis-a-vis other causes, in companies’ CSR efforts – 78 of the 100 companies surveyed had some interventions in education. However, it also brought out the fact that most initiatives were oriented towards supply-side interventions, with a focus on provision of infrastructure, rather than working to enhance the demand for education and bring about systemic change.
Session 2 – Opportunities in the education sector, focus on quality & learning outcomes
Sridhar Rajagopalan, Director & Co-Founder Educational Initiatives, offered a bird’s eye view of the crisis facing the Indian education system, a diagnosis on why the system seems to be failing our children and a few potential solutions through CSR. He outlined the key reasons for the learning crisis in our country as follows: a focus on inputs rather than outcomes, a lack of attention to the technical aspects of learning (i.e. ‘the science of learning’) and the dominant practice of rote learning in schools. He highlighted eight specific action points that could turn the tide, many of which could fall within the purview of CSR and could be easily supported by companies.
Session 3 – Impact Assessment of grants
Prachi Windlass of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation shared some insightful learning from the Foundation’s experience in the education sector. She emphasized the need for a paradigm shift from ‘giving’ to ‘investing’, which brings in greater focus on ensuring returns on spending, assessing and measuring impact and formulating an exit plan. She presented a comprehensive framework to evaluate CSR programs in education.
Session 4 – Panel discussion on ‘CSR in Education – Enablers and Barriers’
The panel was made up of highly experience and esteemed participants – Aditya Natraj of Kaivalya Education Foundation, Ms. Neelima Khetan, Director CSR & Sustainability, Coca Cola and Shankar Venkateswaran, Chief, Tata Sustainability Group and was moderated by Krishnan Neelakantan, Managing Director at Samhita Social Ventures.
The discussion focused on three aspects of CSR – reasons why companies tend to support simple, low-risk interventions such as infrastructure, the need for close collaboration between NGOs, government and companies for effective implementation and the need to balance quantitative and qualitative impact measurement and communication. The discussion benefitted from the unique situation wherein all the members had effectively straddled the corporate and not-for-profit space, thus offering a balanced view on each aspect.
Session 5 – Grant making in India; perspectives of what to consider in CSR
Nathan Koblintz of Porticus, a family foundation based in Netherlands, explored the role of foundations vis a vis companies supporting education in India. He highlighted the interesting journey of the foundation that identified high impact programs in the education sector by adopting a three dimensional view – from the eyes of a teacher, a businessman and a philanthropist. He emphasized the need to cross-fertilize research and learning, rather than reinvent the wheel.
Session 6 – Effective use of Technology in Education
Pranav Kothari of Education Initiatives revisited the old debate on technology vs. teachers in education and systematically busted a few myths around it. He presented a successful model implemented by EI using technology that has showed proven results in bridging the gaps in mass education.
This conference served as an enabling and encouraging platform for companies to take the path less traveled to support CSR in education. If you would like to read Samhita’s report on mapping the education initiatives of companies with the highest CSR budgets, click here.