Corporate social responsibility is practiced with the intent of giving back to communities and creating positive and enduring socio-economic value for them. It also can be described as the responsibility of the corporate sector towards society at large.

A large part of corporate players makes sure to allocate a separate budget for CSR activities. Over the decades, Corporate Social Responsibility in India is not just for the namesake but is a demand of our times. Through its sincerity in CSR initiatives, corporate players have also proven that their business goes beyond and can contribute towards a better tomorrow in these uncertain times. Today CSR is one of the potent measures for corporate players to build their organization brand’s image. It has also become an integral part of the business model for many corporate players.

According to India Briefing, India is the first country in the world to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandatory, following an amendment to the Companies Act, 2013, in April 2014.

The domain of CSR is fairly wide. Corporate players can invest their profits or revenues in education, towards fostering gender equity, in building healthcare and sanitation infrastructure, towards alleviating hunger and malnutrition, by contributing to the growth of a sustainable culture through building infrastructure for generating renewable energy, developing infrastructure for affordable and clean energy among many other welfare causes. One can say a robust culture of corporate social responsibility is one of the key factors to build a genuinely self-reliant India.

According to the United Nations, sustainable development goals are the blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the monstrous global challenges of poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, ensuring peace and justice amongst others. Neglecting sustainable development could hamper the earth’s ecology resulting in a vulnerable situation for a million population across the world.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 2012. The objective was to produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our world,” as observed by UNDP on its website. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are also known as Global Goals. They were adopted by all member states of the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life on Land, Peace Justice and Strong Institutions, and Partnerships for the Goals.

The 17 SDGs are integrated, goals which are active in one area will influence outcomes in others. Taken together they present a scenario of comprehensive development in a real sense which not only entails socio-economic progress but environmental sustainability.

Alleviation of Poverty

Especially during COVID-19 inflicted times, the goal of alleviation of poverty assumes even greater importance. Corporates that were/are engaged in donating essential food items to the economically distressed individuals/families during the pandemic have extended their support towards the sustainable development goal of eliminating poverty. Engaging a proportion of the workforce from economically marginalized sections of the society in fruitful work can also be a praiseworthy CSR initiative towards poverty alleviation.

To generate more employment, organizations should focus on employing local people. Voicing “Vocal for Local” like the use of local materials during construction or buying daily essentials from the nearby store will further eradicate poverty.

Quality Education

Providing quality education is another sustainable development goal, as put forward by the United Nations where quality education is provided with minimal or no cost to the students. This measure can make quality education accessible to huge numbers of children from underprivileged and marginalized sections.

Corporates operating in India should focus on opening schools in rural areas or in those areas where there is a paucity of quality educational institutions for primary education. Better still if they support the education with mid-day meal facilities, which can significantly arrest the alarming drop-out rates in rural India (especially among the girl children).

However, for a holistic CSR exercise, opening schools for underprivileged and marginalized students is only part of the solution.

Gender sensitization and environmental protection should be practiced as part of the education process of the schools built and sponsored by corporates. It is especially important in the Indian context, as the values of gender sensitization and environmental consciousness are not that much inherent to the modern and post-modern Indian society.

The immeasurable value of tree plantation, information about waste management and segregation, awareness about the usage of renewable energy, the crucial role of education for women, etc. can be disseminated to these students as part of CSR activities through organizing camps and workshops from time to time.

Organizing a tree plantation drive on the World Environment Day and distributing free sanitary napkins to underprivileged women on International Women’s Day are a few of the wonderful CSR initiatives worth emulating by corporates in India as part of their CSR culture.

Education however is a broad term. It shouldn’t be counted as only formal education which in India is sadly used by the majority for only getting employment. Educating the women about birth control and personal and menstrual hygiene is no less education for our vast swathes of the unaware population. For them, the corporate players can organize such pragmatic day-to-day education as part of their CSR activities.

Corporates can make their CSR program more holistic by providing opportunities for girls and boys in their schools to take part in vocational courses. After completion of the courses, corporates can hire them too. For example, if a particular corporate player is engaged in the hospitality industry with hotels within its ambit, then a vocational course in housekeeping can be very much helpful in making these students employable with the corporate in question.

Green Initiatives

In these schools itself, eco-friendly toilets with energy recycling facilities, installation of waste management systems, solar energy generation infrastructure, LED lighting, etc. can be introduced as part of the CSR activities. These environmental friendly initiatives would be part of another UN directed sustainable development goal of Affordable and Clean Energy.

So we can see that with some pragmatic vision, from a given infrastructure, CSR activities can be channelized through several sustainable development goals.

If solar energy is the need of the hour, the world is desperately looking for alternative renewable energy sources to substitute the fast depleting non-renewable reservoirs of energy. Rainwater harvesting infrastructures are steps in the right direction to adapt to climate change. It helps us to tackle droughts better.

As part of their CSR activities, if every big corporate player of India with deep pockets installs rainwater harvesting facilities in ten Indian villages each, then also a lot of our drought-prone villages could get the much-needed relief.

Similarly, awareness building exercises on stopping the usage of plastics as part of CSR activities can contribute towards preventing the erratic climate change, which the world is already facing.

These are only some of the commendable ways by which corporates operating in India can channelize their CSR activities in line with the UN’s Global Goals and thereby contribute towards the betterment of our people and our planet. While achieving these objectives, corporate players operating in India can also contribute to building a self-reliant India.