OneWorld South Asia: What lessons do Indian companies need to learn from the Companies Act, 2013?
Shaifalika Panda: Indian industries had an idea about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) long before the introduction of Companies Act 2013, but today CSR has been brought to the forefront.
The introduction of the Act according to me should be viewed as an opportunity and people should look at the broader concept of responsibility where our actions will create a people-and-planet-friendly environment capable of generating socially responsible profit.
A lot of companies have been working in the field of CSR for some years and now they have an opportunity for partnership with other companies and the government in order to achieve social goals.
OWSA: What kind of vision or direction has the Act given to the industry towards achieving development?
Shaifalika: The CSR Act focuses on activities like education, eradication of hunger and poverty, AIDS programmes, malaria, maternal health and several programmes and interventions required in each of these verticals.
I think this is the time when people will need to come together for collective cause and work together so that they are able to achieve a larger impact.
OWSA: How can companies make CSR activities really meaningful?
Shaifalika: The companies should introspect and evaluate to assess their CSR strategic agenda and realign their strategy according to the present challenges.
No company working alone can achieve the complete CSR agenda, hence, the Companies Act, 2013 gives an opportunity for collaboration.
As you know our government has very good programmes but the real problem is their implementation. If the government and the private sector implement these programmes in collaboration, then the good managerial efficiency of the private sector would enable better implementation of these programmes.
A lot of companies want to do good work but they have no idea about CSR. The new Act provides a framework to understand the process of implementation of CSR more effectively.
OWSA: What will be the negative and positive effect of working within the framework of the new Companies Act?
Shaifalika: In earlier times people used to do charity or philanthropy according to personal will. But now we have so many problems in our country that we require a strategic plan to tackle them.
According to the framework, you will decide what needs to be done followed by the kind of action required to be taken. Nowadays, if the private companies and industry focus on innovation and technology, then they can create a larger impact.
OWSA: Do you think the framework of the new Act will stereotype the CSR activities of the companies?
Shaifalika: No, I don’t agree with this. The activities permissible under the CSR Act cover wide range of issues including AIDS prevention, Malaria, and eradication of poverty.
So it depends on the company to decide how it can contribute or make itself most useful in the area of health. Our company works in five districts of Odisha, where child and maternal health is a big issue. The Infant Mortality Rates and Maternal Mortality Rates are extremely high. So my company has decided to focus more on these two areas.
So, to be efficient in your community there is no-one-size-fits-all formula. You have to work according to your geography and strengths and that will add up to the collective goal but for each individual to reach that collective goal there will be individual goals.
The end goal is same for everyone but there can be ten different ways to achieve that end goal. Every company or sector can have their own vision or direction towards achieving that goal. Therefore, there is no chance of getting stereotyped in the CSR sector.
OWSA: How have CSR activities evolved at your end, especially after the new Act?
Shaifalika: The introduction of the new Act has not made much difference to our company. IMFA has always been committed to working for the community. When our founder Bansidhar panda had started the first plant of IMFA in 1961, it was his wish to come back to his home state and create livelihoods for the people of Odisha.
He focused on one of the remotest towns of Odisha in erstwhile Koraput district. Along with the start of the plant the company also started its community initiatives. Even when there was no concept of CSR in the 1960s, we had given water facilities, sanitation facilities to the community.
Then in 1970s we started to look into education, skill development and as early as 1982 in Rayagada district we started an English medium school and a vocational centre (ITI centre).
The changing landscape of CSR in our country called for strategic interventions and because of this in 2011, we set up the Bansidhar Panda Foundation. All our initiatives are done by this foundation. We focus on 3-4 things in our foundation touching upon issues like water and sanitation, education, skill development, and women and children programmes.