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‘CSR in Education:’ Education landscape in India, highlighting needs and interventions for CSR

The education sector in India has developed substantially since Independence. With the advent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), significant attention has been given to achieving the goal of Universal Primary Education, at the center of which lies Universal Primary Enrollment. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) and the Right to Education Act (RTE) were India’s responses to this commitment. While these interventions have encouraged increased enrolment rates, considerable issues concerning the quality of education, competency, lack of accountability, irrelevant curriculum and pedagogy have risen, and these challenges have serious consequences on the growth and development potential of our country. Learning outcomes are evidently dispersed between high and low-income schools, leading to massive inequity in the education sector. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has shown that learning outcomes in rural India have declined even after the implementation of the Right to Education Act. The magnitude and scale of these challenges, therefore, require intensive efforts and funds from varied sources, other than the government of India.

Samhita Social Ventures helps people and organizations “do good better” by creating symbiotic relationships between those who are bringing about change on the ground and those who have the means and resources to enable that change. The Companies Act 2013 opens doors to a wide range of sectors for the companies to divert their CSR funds into; education is one of them. Identifying this potential, Samhita Social Ventures, in collaboration with Department for International Development (DFID) and Central Square Foundation, organized a conference ‘CSR in Education – Ensuring Impact’, in Mumbai on February 20, 2014. The objective of the event was to assist companies in understanding the education landscape in India, thus play a larger role in socially relevant education interventions.

Eighteen people from 17 leading companies such as Tata Communications, HDFC Life, Capgemini, Maersk Line India Pvt. Lts, Accenture Development Partnerships, Blue Star, ICICI Securities attended the conference. There was also considerable participation from 24 foundations and aid organizations such as Swades Foundation, Intervida, Omidyar, United States Agency for International Development, Akanksha , SNEHA, and EdelGive.

The conference comprised of three panel sessions at large and an interactive case study workshop. In the opening presentations, Mr. N. Krishnan, Managing Director of Samhita Social Ventures, Ms. Bidisha Pillai, Head of Strategy, Results and Communications Team at Department for International Development, and Ms. Vidya Shah, CEO, of EdelGive Foundation provided a bird’s eye view of the education sector, broadly explained the revamped Companies Act, and stressed on the need for companies’ intervention in the field of education, thus setting context for the conference.

The keynote speech was delivered by Mr. Luis Miranda, Director, Samhita Social Ventures, who helped companies and social organizations understand the education landscape, across India, through gripping personal anecdotes and insightful experiences. Mr. Miranda emphasized on community-driven efforts and partnerships with organizations to enhance the effectiveness of the existing education infrastructure in the country.

The first panel discussion focused on school transformation models, exploring the various forms that public-private partnerships can take to improve critical aspects of schooling such as school leadership, teacher training and strengthening community-school relationships. The discussion also shed light on challenges to scale up or replicate interventions across states. The panel was moderated by Ms. Ramya Venkataraman, Leader of McKinsey’s Education Practice in India. The series of presentations in this panel began with Ms. Vandana Goyal, CEO of The Akanksha Foundation, Mr. M.N. Sanyal, Head of CSR at Thermax, Ms. Elizabeth Mehta, Founder of Muktangan, and Mr. Manmohan Singh, Program Director of Piramal Foundation for Educational Leadership.

The second panel discussion explored initiatives in remedial education, comparing and contrasting various remedial models, such as classroom-based academic support as delivered by Pratham or formal education through night schools as implemented by Masoom, further discussing critical advantages and gaps. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Mallika Singh, responsible for Omidyar Network’s investments in education in India. A series of presentations were conducted by speakers such as Ms. Usha Rane, Director Content and Training at Pratham, Ms. Nikita Ketkar, Founder and CEO at Masoom, Mr. Siddharth Ramalingam, Senior Vice President at IDFC Foundation, and Ms. Puja Dave, Head of CSR, L&T Finance Holdings.

Post the second panel discussion, the audience was presented with a broad framework of CSR strategy designed by Samhita Social Ventures. A Samhita representative had the audience working on a hypothetical case study, thereby gaining a hands-on insight on how to approach a CSR issue, choose a cause, arrive at an intervention and drive consensus among different opinions.

The final panel session addressed critical gaps in the current education system and the need to explore innovative solutions that can be scaled up using support from companies through CSR. This session was moderated by Ms. Devika Mahadevan, working with EdelGive Foundation to build their strategy and partnerships. The presentations in the panel were conducted by Ms. Vrishali Pispati, CEO of Mumbai Mobile Creches, Mr. Raj Gilda, Co-founder and President of Lend-A-Hand India, Mr. Pranav Kothari, Educational Initiatives, and Mr. Colin Bangay, Senior Education Advisor at DFID.

The event was a combination of theoretical frameworks, practical case studies, and sharing of personal experiences by the speakers. Every member in the audience left equipped with a better understanding of the educational space, its core needs and a robust framework to approach the issue. The event also served as a great networking platform for both individual and institutional experts and those who wished to join the bandwagon in the future.

Building up on the lines of the event, Samhita published a concept paper that maps the CSR initiatives in the education sector by top 100 companies. Click here to read the paper.