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Lt. Gen Rajender Singh: Primary Aim Of CSR Should Not Be Brand Building

DLF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of DLF Group has been working towards ‘creating sustainable communities and transforming lives for the better’ for almost a decade. In a conversation on the present and the future of CSR in India, Lt. Gen (Retd) Rajender Singh, CEO DLF Foundation, shares his perspectives with Nidhi Singh, Executive Editor, CSRlive.in

What according to you must form the top priority of CSR initiatives to contribute towards equitable and inclusive socio-economic development of the country?

According to me, the relationship between CSR and business is built around the premise that the latter plays an indispensable role alongside government, civil society and communities to solve complex national development challenges.

The corporations have to create values for the underprivileged sections of the society, for leading a life of dignity. 

So, they need to build capacities and create resources for the marginalized people, even in areas where the company may not have business presence. It is also imperative for corporations to direct their CSR projects towards national development priorities and poverty eradication strategies of the government so as to supplement their efforts. Therefore, a paradigm shift is needed to identify critical development projects of national importance and these can very well be structured under the CSR domains mentioned in the CSR Rules 2014, such as education, skill development, healthcare, sanitation, disaster relief, food security, and environment and so on.

Education is a key driver for ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. How is DLF Foundation working to provide quality education to the poor?

No one can deny the fact that education and poverty have an inverse proportional relationship.

‘Bring education from the front door and poverty disappears from the rear window’. In keeping with this concept, DLF Foundation through its Integrated Nurturing Talent Programme helps thousands of students annually, through its over 60 educational centers and schools. With an objective to provide quality education to the meritorious underprivileged, the programme also aims to pick up the brightest among them and help them pursue their professional dreams. Their personality is further groomed for a bright career through multi-faceted interventions such as regular personalized counselling, mentoring, coaching and soft skills training and preparing them to become leaders. The Nurturing Talent Programme is unique as its builds the capacity of the meritorious underprivileged students to fight against all odds, be it at socio-economic or personal level. We help them to be successful and it is already yielding high impacts.

Positively affecting the lives of nearly 20,000 students, the Program remains the lighthouse which guides the careers and lives of the scholars. Among them, over 1100 most talented and gifted scholars, including the nearly 300 in professional categories, benefit from the scholarship programme. The Foundation has also been supporting promising sports men and women, including children with special needs, for their coaching and participation at national and international sports events. The result was amazing when some of these youngsters won 14 Medals Including 7 Gold at the Special Olympics, at Los Angeles recently.

Talking about the Government’s call for action, like “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” Mission, the Foundation emphasizes on empowering women scholars. Taking this initiative forward, the Foundation has launched the Women Professional Scholarship Programme. The goal is to see their foot prints in the managerial cadre of India.

Since the DLF Foundation leverages strategic partnerships for implementing social and environment projects – with the oft-cited lack of trust with the NGO sector – how does the Foundation identify credible partners?

It is important to have credible NGOs and other institutional partners with track record and impactful models to make the CSR Programs effective.

Hence, we pick up partners after a rigorous selection process in consultation with Industry bodies and use referrals for the same. For the purpose of effectively carrying out our social projects, Foundation has entered into partnerships with local government and NGO’s like Pratham, Mamta, Gunjan Foundation, Shiksha, ISKCON, Arunodya, Bharti Foundation, International Institute of Global Development and many others. The Foundation has also forged partnership with over 20 colleges and schools to nurture the talents of the meritorious underprivileged. The CSR Department is in continuous dialogue with the local governments to partner and participate in their development projects and plans.

The 2 year old CSR mandate seems to be paving the way for a more systematic and strategic CSR. How has DLF adapted itself to the mandate?

I’m aware that, since the new CSR Provisions in the Companies Act 2013 and the CSR Rules that came in to existence in 2014, the perspectives have started changing. With evolution in many companies, where CSR is becoming part of the core business strategy; it is getting more attention and integrated management approach. For example, we see that CSR is moving out of Corporate Affairs, Corporate Communication, HR or Marketing Departments to an exclusive CSR Department being set up or forming own corporate Foundations. This is a healthy sign.

As far DLF is concerned, in the year 2008, DLF Foundation was established to deliver CSR objectives, and contribute to create sustainable communities and transforming lives for the better. One of the major programmes relates to Skill Development which aims to train and help employ 1 Million youths pan India in next 10 years by opening Skill Development Centres to impart job linked training. DLF Foundation is also running and supporting over 60 schools and educational centers for the underprivileged in rural areas of Rajasthan, Haryana. Besides this, the Foundation has also launched a very innovative Nurturing Talent Programme which targets bright slum dwellers and rural under privileged students and handholds them right from 6th standard to professional colleges. In addition, the Foundation also launched a comprehensive community development programme namely Village Cluster Development Programme, which also includes healthcare, educational and other miscellaneous community development initiatives like Swachh Campaign as part of the same. This has proved to be extremely successful and has been very well received.

According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, ‘millennials want to volunteer and feel connected through a shared passion for their company’s cause work.’ How does the Foundation leverage employee volunteering & the growing millennials workforce to further the scope of impact of its operations?

Over the years, our employee volunteering programme has seen immense participation, where employees of the DLF group are Volunteer Mentors, who have been Guides, Friends and Facilitators to the scholars supported under the Nurturing Talent Programme. It was heartening to see 30 employees of the DLF group, who took out time from their busy schedules for not only extending valuable knowledge to these scholars, but also teach them skills. Earning appreciation for their contribution, DLF Sahyog Volunteers are also recognized with Citations and/or Token of Appreciation.

From your experience of working in the welfare & development sector, what are the key lessons and takeaways that you can share with CSR & Sustainability professionals hoping to contribute to sustainable, equitable growth in India?

Before joining DLF Foundation in 2009, I was heading the largest arm of the Indian Army as the Director General of Infantry. I was also the Force Commander of the UN Peace Keeping Forces in Ethiopia & Eritrea from 2004 to 2006. I was involved in undertaking many welfare & development sector initiatives and it became more intense during my tenure at DLF Foundation. At all these assignments, I have, learnt certain key lessons and I would like to give some takeaways for the CSR & Sustainability professionals hoping to contribute to sustainable, equitable growth in India.

  • First of all, sustainability of business is unthinkable without sustainable communities and meaningful engagement has therefore become absolutely necessary.
  • I think some of the major areas that the businesses could contribute are in the fields of national priorities like skill development, education, healthcare, sanitation, drinking water and community development.
  • Businesses should utilize their management expertise and investments in innovation through research and development to address some of these concerns. Then, only will maximum payoffs would be obtained.
  • The Primary aim of CSR should not be Brand Building but focus must be on Nation Building.
  • It is essential for business to realize that corporates need to do even more than the stipulated 2% CSR Expenditure for community development and the welfare of the underprivileged which is in tune with the National Objectives.