CSR, corporate social innovation, social entrepreneurship: Three paths to becoming an impact champion

This valuable guidebook is packed with frameworks, examples, and tips on how to champion social change via business. Read, lead, transform!
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A comprehensive overview of social change pathways is offered in the book, Being an Impact Champion: Enacting Corporate Social Consciousness by Priya Nair Rajeev and Simy Joy. 

Priya Nair Rajeev is an Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour and Head, Centre of Excellence for Social Innovation (CESI), IIM Kozhikode. Simy Joy is a faculty fellow at CESI.

The book is packed with frameworks, tables, and case studies of social impact initiatives of businesses in India. The material is thoroughly referenced. However, a glossary of terms/acronyms and an index at the end of the book would have been welcome additions.

Here are my key takeaways from the 220-page book, summarised in the table below. See also my reviews of the related books Social Entrepreneurship in India, The Business of Change, Lean Impact, The Hybrid Domain, A World of Three Zeroes, Do Good, Grassroots Innovation, The Prosperity Paradox, and Entrepreneurship in Developing and Emerging Economies.

Foundations

Impact champions bring about social value creation and advancement for organisations and society, the authors begin. Today’s challenges include climate change, pollution, environmental destruction, socio-economic divides, digital gaps, inadequate healthcare, poverty, and social polarisation. 

The need of the hour is social consciousness, collaboration, and action aligned with business strategy. Consumers today are also more active in demanding business commitment to issues like sustainability, which social entrepreneurs and the impact intrapreneurs can bring about.

“Five core values form the mindset of a socially conscious organisation: acting with care, being truthful, honest, using discretion, and not operating out of greed,” the authors emphasise. 

Impact champions need to be idea champions, change agents, and coalition builders. Frameworks like the United Nations’ SDGs are useful as a guide to economic, social, and environmental agendas.

Initiatives with social impact in India include MGNREGA, mid-day meal programme, RTE, Startup India, and National Solar Mission. More progress is needed to tackle issues of peace, justice, sanitation, and anti-corruption. 

I. Corporate Social Responsibility

The authors trace corporate giving in India back to 1892, with the launch of the JN Tata Endowment Fund. Later models included trusteeship, public sector initiatives, National Voluntary Guidelines, and mandatory CSR (two percent of net profits). 

Principles of safety, wellness, respect for human rights, and inclusive growth have been emphasised for Indian businesses. Under corporate law, large Indian firms now are required to have CSR boards, committees, policies, projects, reporting, and disclosure.

The authors describe four paths to CSR project implementation — internally, via a foundation, or a corporate/NGO partner. They cite research that shows CSR investments in India have grown significantly in education, healthcare, and rural development. 

The nature and timeline of impact assessment (eg. halfway, completion, and long-term) are important considerations, the authors emphasise. The focus should not be on token activities for PR but strategies and learnings for long-term impact at micro and meso-levels. 

For example, educational metrics could include donation amounts to schools, coaching volunteers, school bus support, scholarships, infrastructure, teacher upskilling, and admin capacity. Some of them can be measured at the individual, family, institutional, community, and society levels.

Metrics should cover economic, social, and environmental impacts. Assessment can be done by third parties, for example, Gray Matters India. For instance, educational outcomes can be the number of students who received scholarships, while the impact would be an increase in employment and family standard of living.

A valuable table in the book summarises CSR activities for the 17 SDGs, with information on companies, projects, and impacts. They cover affirmative action, combating malnutrition, digital inclusion, tribal empowerment, skills training, waste-water recycling, and habitat conservation.

As case studies, the authors cite Cognizant’s Outreach initiative for education, which began with volunteers, reportedly impacting over 700,000 lives, and also led to employee pride in the company.

SBI Foundation runs initiatives like Youth for India, with fellowships for people from several companies to work across India on issues like rural livelihood. Selco Foundation supports rural entrepreneurs with tech and finance for solar-powered sewing machines. 

II. Corporate Social Innovation

Stakeholder capitalism is a better framework than shareholder capitalism, the authors observe. Standards for a circular economy are being adopted in many countries, and corporate carbon footprint goals now include using renewable energy and reducing plastic. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests foundational principles, including designing out waste and pollution, reuse/repair/recycling of products, and regeneration of natural systems.

For corporate social intrapreneurs, the authors advise approaches like effective framing of the problem statement, forming a coalition of early converts, and developing workable prototypes.

For example, FIA Technology Services addressed gendered impacts of the pandemic, including limited mobility for women workers, by targeting loans for women. The open-source movement, as compared to the free software movement, focused on practical benefits rather than moral arguments.

Other examples of corporate social innovation for rural and women communities include ITC e-Choupal and Amazon Saheli. HUL and Reliance are collaborating on waste management by collecting plastic waste, while Rhino Machines converts waste into usable bricks.

III. Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs combine profit generation with social value creation. They typically address problems resulting from market failure or market exclusion and co-create an ecosystem to develop and promote solutions.

Funding is available via R&D grants and competitions and support from incubators, accelerators, angels, and crowdfunding. Venture funds of varying deal sizes and exit periods are available from the likes of Aavishkaar, Social Alpha, Villgro, Caspian, Unitus, Acumen, and Lok Capital.

Other names for impact investing are value-based investing, patient capital, mission-driven funding, and blended value, the authors describe. The Impact Investors Council is strengthening the industry, and social venture funds have been formed too.

Notable examples include Aravind Eye Hospital (in-house lens manufacturing, affluent patients cross-subsidise the cost for poor patients), Bare Necessities (zero waste solutions), Meghshala (teacher upskilling), and Mirakle Couriers (hiring deaf employees).

Others cited are Kamal Kisan (affordable farm equipment), SELCO (low-smoke biomass stoves), CultYvate (agritech), Innaumation Medical Devices (low-cost speaking device for laryngectomy patients), Ameliorate Biotech (tester for mosquito-borne diseases), and Aarna Biomedical (breast prosthesis).

The book ends with an inspiring ‘Impact Champion’s Pledge’. An impact champion is conscious, considerate in usage, and creative in finding solutions, the authors sum up.

YourStory has also published the pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups’ as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).

Edited by Suman Singh

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