The Companies Act 2013 has presented a unique opportunity for the corporate world to contribute to India’s development through supporting a range of CSR activities. Educational Initiatives, in partnership with Samhita Social Ventures, organized the second National CSR Leadership Conference on ‘Improving Quality of Education – Role of CSR’ on 26th of February 2015 at the MCA Recreation Center in Mumbai.
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 53 participants with representation from 30 leading companies and foundations. Companies present included ANZ Bank, BPCL, Castrol, GE Shipping, HCC, HSBC, IL&FS, Mahindra and Mahindra AFS, P&G, Powerica, Sun Pharma, Thermax etc. There was also considerable participation from foundations and social organizations including Edelgive Foundation, Essar Foundation and RPG Foundation.
There were four sessions hosted by eminent leaders in the CSR and education sectors and two panel discussions that focused on the role of technology in education and implementing CSR. A summary of the key takeaways of the sessions are listed below.
Session 1 – Education Sector Report – The need to shift towards learning outcomes – Read the full report here
Ms Anushree Parekh, Senior Research Manager at Samhita Social Ventures, set the tone for discussion 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 54 of the 78 focused on provision of infrastructure, often in a piecemeal manner; only 40% were working to enhance the demand for education and less than 10% were trying to 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’) the dominant practice of rote learning in schools and the shortcomings of existing government initiatives. He also spoke about how companies can improve the quality of education at scale and the potential for CSR to transform education.
Session 3 – Discussion Panel – ‘Synthesis of Technology and Education – Way forward’
The panel discussion included sector experts, Dr. Huzaifa Khorakiwala, CEO, Wockhardt Foundation, Azad Oommen, Executive Director, Central Square Foundation and Neil D’Souza, CEO, Zaya Learning Labs and was moderated by Pranav Kothari, Educational Initiatives.
The discussion focused on the way in which technology is integrated into the education system in India and the challenges of successful implementation. Panelists outlined problems in rural areas where it was difficult to conduct e-learning classes because of the lack of basic amenities like electricity etc.
Questions put to the panel were focused on 3 major issues: how to integrate technology in the classroom, the cost of bringing technology to remote areas and the language barrier that e-learning can present as most content is developed in English. There was also a discussion on the difficulty of changing the mindsets of people to enable them to use technology effectively. Panelists agreed that capacity building of teachers and principals was an important tool to ensure that technology is being used effectively and not just as a gimmick.
The panel ended with the question of whether technology can replace teachers – it was noted that it could supplement the quality of teaching and enable teachers to redefine their roles but could not replace them entirely.
Session 4 – Effective use of Technology in Education
Pranav Kothari, 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.
Session 5 – Discussion Panel CSR in Education – Making it Work’
The second panel of the day was focused on implementation and the issues faced while supporting programs in education. The session included Luis Miranda, Director, Samhita Social Ventures, Aloka Majumdar, Head of Group Corporate Sustainability, HSBC, Paresh Parasnis, Head, Piramal Foundation and was moderated by Krishnan Neelakantan, Samhita Social Ventures.
Issues discussed by the panelists included addressing gaps in the curriculum, how to capture impact, how NGOs should approach corporate funders and the need to be open to risk when investing in education programs. Panelists felt that it was important to bring in the risk-taking ability that managers used in business to funding programs in the CSR sector. One should not expect that outcomes would be realized just because companies are bringing in a corporate approach to investing in the education of children.
Another pertinent issue talked about was how to scale education programs and the need to involve the government while implementing nation-wide programs. In order to build effective and scalable interventions it is important to involve the government and build partnerships with them in order to sustain education outcomes.
Session 6 – Question and Answer session
This session was moderated by Madhvi Pahwa, Global Talent Director of Maxus and the MC for the event. During the course of the day, participants had posted their questions and comments on the conference and these were read out and discussed. This was a useful session as participants got to hear the perspectives of different people engaged in CSR – from the head of HSBC and how they approach funding programs, to the challenges faced by Ericsson as well as current trends in the CSR sector and the multilateral approach to funding programs that companies and foundations are moving towards.
This conference served as an enabling and encouraging platform for companies to take the path less traveled to support CSR in education, understand the risks and contribute to education in a meaningful way in the future.