Pearl Tiwari, Joint President (CSR), Director, Ambuja Cement Foundation
With the deepening realisation of the company's impact on society, more organisations are now crafting their CSR activities carefully, to give of their best to the community. Keen to create a shared value to the stakeholders, Pearl Tiwari, Joint President (CSR), Director, Ambuja Cement Foundation, shares her vision with ICR. Excerpts from the interview.
What is your understanding of CSR and why is it necessary?
In recent years, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is emerging as something meaningful in India. The concept is evolving with time. Earlier, it had a philanthropic thrust and sometimes was as simplistic as planting trees or setting up school infrastructure.
Today, CSR activity is about making an assessment of the impact of a company on people and the environment and addressing the negative impact in a proactive manner, looking for inclusive and sustainable development. Companies have become conscious about global issues such as climate change and impact on environment and human rights issues. They believe that time, resources and talents expended on CSR activity is a good investment as the health and happiness of all stakeholder communities in the vicinity of manufacturing facilities and offices is of utmost importance in their journey forward. This is particularly relevant in India where manufacturing companies can mushroom and progress as islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty.
Tell us about the involvement of your staff, HR team in the CSR initiative.
Employees are our major stakeholder group and with them, we wish to build a mindset of inclusive development. Volunteerism, a programme that allows employees to be part of the company's CSR activity, is a great format to engage employees and sensitise them towards ground level issues that can have an impact on the company and the community around it.
At Ambuja Cements, we have had employees actively engaging in volunteering, participating in activities as diverse as cleaning beaches, painting anganwadis, planting sapling plantations, participation in community projects on health, safety, HIV /AIDS, skill training, being involved in school activities through sessions on self-development, communication skills, computers, spoken English, games and music, and so on.
Ambuja's volunteers have clocked in excess of 26,000 hours so far through their participation in such activities. Over 2,000 employees have willingly participated as volunteers.
Could you tell us about your CSR activities in detail?
Since its inception, Ambuja Cements has thought about social and environmental excellence within its own operations and in its neighbourhood. Our CSR mandate is focused on social performance at our sites and that means connecting with community, engaging with them directly, ensuring that community members progress alongside with the company's progress in the business. This gives us the license to operate and we believe this philosophy has helped us to expand and grow in a short time.
One major thrust is on making available to communities good quality and sufficient water. In many of the places where ACL is present, water shortage is a perennial issue. Also, ACL's presence is mainly in areas where agrarian economy is predominant. Therefore, our work on water assumes importance as communities need water not only for daily use but also for irrigating their farmlands. We have helped set up water harvesting structures, emphasised the judicious use of water and supported projects to provide drinking water.
We have also been involved in enhancing agro-based livelihoods providing training on agriculture, on improving productivity, training demonstration and support.
Skill training is another key area where immense progress has taken place. Today, we have 16 skill training centres which have studied feasibility and marketability of skills in the area where they are based, and courses have been developed. About 15,000 people have been trained on a variety of skills and about 76 per cent of them are gainfully employed and productive members of their families today.
Another thrust area is enhancing the human development index of the area - empowerment of women, better access to healthcare through grass-root workers and supporting education systems.
What are your priorities while framing a CSR plan?
Right from the start, Ambuja has taken into consideration social and environmental excellence in its performance at its sites. This approach has helped us connect with the community that exists in the vicinity of our plants, engage with them directly so that the people around us progress along with the company.
Our mandate with corporate social responsibility is focused on social performance in our operations and in particular at our sites. By that, I mean connecting with our important stakeholders, assessing our impact and addressing relevant needs and concerns. With community members in our neighbourhood, we engage directly, seeking their participation in development projects and ensuring that they progress alongside the progress our business experiences. With workers and truckers, we engage with them, understand their concerns and create a conducive and safe work environment for them where they get a sense of belonging, care and experience an enhanced quality of life.
There is a need to create shared value for all stakeholders. For instance, our work in AFR (Alternative Fuel and Raw Material) where we are obtaining agro residues from farmers, making that waste material a valuable resource to produce energy, has been a shared value for both the community and the company. It is financially beneficial for both.
Apart from doing good to the society, CSR helps the contributing organisation too, in several ways.
Yes, that's true. Our water resources management project has done very well in terms of adding value to our brand. This is primarily because communities around us have seen the value of our work in water projects, how it has benefited them immensely. At the same time, it has made us a water-positive company. Through our initiative of enhancing livelihoods, we have actually directly contributed to the economic well-being of the communities around us.
A happy community around us is very important to allow us to carry on expansions and geographical spread in the manner that Ambuja has done.
By engaging with the community and seeking their active participation, we are building capacity, too. We are training community members all the time with better planning and managerial skills so that they are able to manage projects on their own over a period. We have been setting up people's institutions, committees, farmers' groups, producer companies and many such community based organisations. These efforts ensure sustainability.
Our AFR project has lent value to Ambuja as well as the community that is involved in it. It has had a positive impact on our company's bottomline, too.