Films, Popcorn, and a Girl Child’s Education

Next time you go to a cinema in India owned by Adlabs, you can contribute to a girl child’s education, thanks to a CSR partnership between Adlabs Cinema and Nanhi Kali, an NGO that focuses on this issue. As Indiantelevision.com reports:

The company has joined hands with Nanhi Kali, an NGO which supports and spreads awareness on the issue of education of the disadvantaged girl child in India. As part of the initiative, Adlabs will introduce a special food combo called the “Classroom Combo” – a certain percentage of the sales of which will be contributed to this cause of nurturing a girl child’s education.

The initiative highlights the role that corporations of any type can play in contributing toward social issues, given a little creativity and the willingness to see a bottom line beyond mere profits. And at the same time, they may even rope in customers that otherwise may not be interested in the product. As someone who rarely buys concessions at the cinema, I might make an exception and consider indulging Rs 120 for a “classroom combo” the next time I find myself in front of a Bollywood film in India. A sucker for well-crafted corporate marketing? The lazy man’s answer to giving back to society? Perhaps. But the point is, I would become a cinema-going customer that now thinks about the girl child’s education. And that twist may lead to other contributions to the issue. Continue reading

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Project Shakti: Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods

A few months ago, I discussed the idea of social intrapreneurs based on a SustainAbility case study that featured Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti. This month, the World Bank Institute’s publication titled Development Outreach focuses on business and poverty, with an article written by those involved with the same project. The authors describe the project not as a CSR initiative, but as “a business initiative with social benefits.”

Initially, the project was created as a response to Unilever’s desire to tap into new markets within India. Unable to reach most small villages due to poor transport and supply chain infrastructure, along with challenges of selling products to a population with little or no disposable income, Unilever saw the need to innovate.

Connecting with existing women’s self-help groups, Project Shakti allows women to start generating a annual income of US$150 after receiving training and a loan to get off the ground.

The company decided to set up a direct-to-consumer retail operation by creating a network of entrepreneurs to sell its products door-to-door, and to produce a range of affordable products in small sizes to meet the needs and pockets of low-income consumers. These are mostly single-use sachets selling for as little as 50 paise (half a rupee) each.

As a female member of a low-income family, imagine earning an amount that would almost double the family’s household income. The impact on the woman as an individual, along with the ripple effect on the family and surrounding community, is probably unmeasurable.

Now, Project Shakti also consists of public awareness programs focusing on health and hygiene, as well as an i-Shakti initiative that allows villagers to access information through kiosks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the authors’ description is their take on lessons and challenges. Managing partnerships and balancing interests lies at the heart of these challenges, and the authors note:

Whatever the primary purpose and objectives of each partner, whether developmental or commercial, creating convergence between different activities is the key to progress. A big part of the solution to development lies in working together and using infrastructure, whether developed by the public or private sector, for the benefit of all.

Clearly, this is no easy undertaking, yet Project Shakti provides a powerful example of a business that profits while improving the livelihoods and quality of life for its customers. Originally driven by the need to diversify their customer base and increase profit, the program now reaches over 3 million households in India. When business and social good align, the collaboration can have a wide-reaching impact.

Aligning Corporate Growth with Environmental Sustainability

In the first CFO survey of its kind, “The Role of Finance in Environmental Sustainability Efforts” has found that “CFOs and other senior finance executives overwhelmingly report that environmental sustainability is an increasingly important issue for their companies, and that a range of significant financial benefits are achievable for companies that can implement strategies that truly reduce their impact on the environment.”Top sustainability objectives include regulatory compliance, improving energy efficiency / reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing the environmental impact of operations.  The survey also found that the greatest barrier to implementation lay in “measuring the effects of sustainability on shareholder value and financial performance.”  According to Lauralee Martin, CFO at Jones Land LaSalle, this potential for sustainable growth remains largely untapped:

“Most CFOs believe sustainability can lead to cost savings, increased revenues, greater customer retention and a competitive advantage, so clearly this is an opportunity that can not be ignored.  The question each of us should ask is whether we are taking an aggressive enough position, given the rapidly approaching tipping point of this issue.”

For the entire article, go here or here.

Tata – Heart of Gold or Steel?

Featured in India’s Business Today is Tata Steel, a company that outperforms other steel players and is not only known for its management acumen, but also its long history of philanthropy. Despite charges last year from the Bhopal disaster survivors that the Tata group of companies has a dismal environmental record due to a complicated deal with Union Carbide (the pesticide factory that leaked poisonous gas), the Business Today article touts Tata Steel’s CSR initiatives as integral to its operations. A boxed section in the article states:

The goal of the CSR team is to empower people and focus their healthcare and hygiene in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where the company has operations or is planning to set up new plans. Apart from building parks, laying pipelines and other civic amenities, the company has undertaken environmental and ecological initiatives to bring down carbon emission and save energy.

Tata Steel’s corporate sustainability website provides a detailed account of its activities, including environment management.

What happens when a company works in part for social innovation, but at the same time, some of its corporate dealings stand against these aims? CSR can ultimately equate only to branding strategies, or in some truly innovative cases, also work hand in hand with the company’s profit-driven objectives. Is this steel behemoth a model or a mask for corporate social responsibility in the Indian setting?