Working diligently to fulfill the CSR commitment of Corporates

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Charities Aid Foundation India (CAF) India has been working in the realm of transformative development for more than two decades in India. As a registered not-for-profit organisation established in 1998, it has consistently worked with diverse stakeholders on encouraging the notion of giving in the Indian context. Meenakshi Batra, CEO, CAF India, shares details of their operational activities, projects and plans in an exclusive with Corporate Saints. Excerpts.

Priyanka Saxena and Arushi Bajaj

Tell us something about the inception of CAF and the motive with vision
Over the years, we have transcended from strategic to sustainable philanthropy with a core objective to transform lives and empower the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in the country. We are a part of CAF Global Alliance that is spread across in UK, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Russia, South Africa and the United States of America. Our overall vision is
to work on those programmatic interventions and on innovative solutions that will enable us to
achieve an equitable and sustainable society.
Please share with us details of the projects that CAF is working on at the moment
NGO Registration Platform: We have recently launched NGO Registration Platform for NGOs. CAF India's vision is to build a strong network of credible and vibrant non-profit organisations that constructively contribute towards our national development. Our free NGO registration service is an important step in realising this vision, which would enable us reach out
and help NGOs in every single District of India by 2020. As a part of database, the NGO would be able to enjoy numerous benefits once it gets registered with us. Any NGO can visit our website  and get registered with a basic information the organisation, in less than 5 mins!!
Give4Good: In order to take workplace giving to the next stage, we have launched an online giving platform called Give4Good. This platform enables employees to give at their convenience to CAF India validated NGO partners. With the help of this online giving tool, payroll donors can now view their contribution and subsequent impact at the click of a button. The platform has the capacity to allow workplace donors to manage their giving in one place, provide analytics/data to take informed giving decisions, donate the NGO of your choice and see the impact online and participate in volunteering activities/campaigns.

In the current scenario, where contribution towards welfare of community has become a compulsion, how serious in your opinion are the various corporates regarding their CSR activities?
We have been working with our responsible business partners much before the advent of mandatory Section 135, New Companies Act 2013, instituted in the country. Even though we use diverse taxonomies such as responsible business, corporate philanthropy, CSR, we need to acknowledge the fact that the private sector has shown tremendous inclination to be an integral
part on the development process across the globe and in India. In our experience, corporates have been conducting diverse responsible business activities, in partnership with CAF India and our civil society partners, before the 2% mandatory spend. In fact, CAF India has been working on diverse aspects with our private sector on sustainability strategic issues too, this entails moving beyond compliance and expanding the scope of responsible business interventions. The landscape of CSR is also evolving and we would like to state that India has set an exemplary example to the world, by instituting the mandatory CSR Law which has brought other companies, medium and small scale to participate in the development progress of the country through effective partnerships models. This transformative thinking, awareness and commitment is definitely being strengthened by the private sector leaders as responsible corporate citizens.

There are many foundations, both public and private, working towards community causes, how is CAF different from them?
One of the most significant identity of CAF India is its functional orientation – focused on both cause universality and cause neutrality, this is extremely significant in the contemporary context of sustainable development. Our unique functional orientation has enabled us to align all our diverse programmatic expertise and experience with the global processes such as the 17 Global Goals/SDGs or rather the global challenges being witnessed by the world. Our work for more than a decade has been towards creating solutions to address the diverse issues, development priorities and challenges within the country. This is being uniquely addressed by us, with our network of more than 600 civil society organisations spread across remote parts of pan India in 23 states that has enabled us to work with the most diversified sections of population in the country. As a grant differentiator, we work with diverse civil society personnel on one hand, and diverse forms and scale of stakeholders such as private sector, civil society and academia on the other hand. This has been possible through our unique specialised team of multi-disciplinary experts that comprise our knowledge advisory and consultative research unit. This has leveraged
our positioning and enabled us to form unique partnerships with stakeholders that is beyond the purview of programme management and implementation but on a 360-degree approach of sustainable and social responsibility.

What are the future projects that CAF India is working on?
The vision and mission of SDGs and CAF India are synonymous i.e. to Transform Lives and to Empower communities across the country. CAF India has been working on diverse causes which are in sync with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our extensive work on health, WASH, gender, water, education constitute as some of the imperative causes that CAF India has been
largely engaged in through its corporate and NGO partners. We have initiated first of its kind SDGs Drivers Forum that aims to instil national engagement of private stakeholders in the SDGs processes. With an action oriented meeting, with key business leaders, we aim to address the most imperative SDGs that are vital for India’s development. We are also working on drafting the guidance and reference standards on social responsibility for companies in India. This is the first time in the globe and in the country that a typology of such a standard is in the process of formulation. CAF India is the convenor for P-6which has been conferred by the Bureau of Indian Standards, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India with a significant
responsibilityto draft Indian standards on ‘CSR-Requirements’. Our extensive work in the development space and our unique  Advisory functional unit is extensively involved in this substantial task of formulating these standards with senior members of the wider panel instituted by BIS.

What according to you is the major concern plaguing society today which the corporates or NGOs need to address on an urgent basis?  
There are some universal contours which pose as struggles for both corporates and civil society. Firstly, development priorities are not being mapped, companies need to align responsible business initiatives with their core business strategy. We need to also direct our attention to those civil society organisations that have done extensive and exemplary work in the sphere of sustainable development. On my recent visit to Gujarat, where I have also done extensive field work, I had the opportunity to meet inspiring grassroot leaders and organisations that have managed to bring in real time impact with very limited resources. Our endeavour is to collate such significant local and regional initiatives on a universal and common platform. We strongly
believe that such practices need to be disseminated and accelerated with full momentum. This also asserts the principle that regional, state priorities should be at the core of any sustainable development agenda and has been largely ignored while devising a strategic CSR plan. The priorities of the company need to be aligned in a systemic manner addressing all the
sustainability elements, there is a need to move beyond CSR and adopt a holistic sustainable system thinking approach.
The above is only possible when we instil a neutral and close collaborative communicative spaces for both business and civil society to interact, partner and implement action. CAF India through its Civil 2020, SDGs Drivers Forum and Regional hubs is working to inculcate a systemic form of engagement that will bring to advance effective advisory, strategic peer learning and research on the diverse sustainable practices operating across national and global levels for long term and impact oriented collaborations.

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