Assistant Executive Director and Group Head CSR, Dalmia Bharat
Dalmia Bharat Cement, established in the pre-independence era 70 years ago, strongly believes in the principles of trusteeship and giving back to the society. It is one of the first few cement companies to become a part of the Cement Sustainability Initiative. The company has gone far beyond its fence to lend a helping hand to communities surrounding its plants. Spending around Rs 4-5 crore on such initiatives, much more than the 2 per cent required by the regulations, the company has achieved a fine balance between business sustainability and CSR. Vishal Bhardwaj, Assistant Executive Director and Group Head, CSR, at Dalmia Bharat, spoke with ICR about the contributions made by Dalmia Bharat Foundation and how the company has been realigning its focus to understand and meet the needs of the society. Excerpts from the interview.
In what way are corporates defining their social responsibilities?
Corporate Social Responsibility in a broader sense refers to the economic, environmental, social and overall governance practices of business. From the last decade, we all have witnessed that the approach towards addressing broader issues of CSR is gaining momentum. We believe that companies have to clearly link their corporate social responsibility initiatives with their business to ensure sustainability. At the same time, within the internal environment, it is also critical to address this paradigm shift of CSR for its wider acceptance. Role of top leadership is very crucial to see CSR as a mainstream business agenda.
CSR has a wider spectrum, and through its well planned interventions may not only contribute to overall socio-economic development of the community, but can also identify opportunities for cost savings through operational efficiencies and improve energy and resource utilisation efficiency. Business can relate to physical risks like climate change, water scarcity, lack of trained manpower, can build revenue sharing models for common resources, follow ethical material and supply chain practices, etc., the scope is endless. The recent mandate from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs through it´s notification of the New Companies Bill with specific reference to Section 135 (Schedule VII) may be seen as an attempt in this direction.
At Dalmia, we have already started designing our programs strategically and have identified critical issues relevant to communities and to our business such as water, energy and skill development.
To sum it up, the philosophy of linking of business needs with corporate social responsibility objectives is getting popular, but yes, there is a strong need to convert the thoughts into reality and develop such models in India.
Tell us about the involvement of your staff in the CSR initiatives.
Whenever we share our experience in conducting CSR activities internally with our colleagues through newsletters, case studies, etc., we receive tremendous feedback. This shows the willingness of our colleagues to go beyond their regular work and participate in our ongoing CSR activities. Their interest prompted us to develop some programs like ´Joy of Giving´ week where in all employees contribute individually/collectively to address some of the basic needs of the underprivileged sections of the society.
The employees participate in blood donation camps, plantation activities, and also contribute their skills/knowledge in CSR programs like civil engineer(s) delivering lectures on construction under mason training programme for rural youths, etc. A very recent example is of our colleagues volunteering financially towards re-construction of three government schools damaged during the Uttrakhand flood disaster.
Now, in coordination with the HR team, we are all set to launch a very structured employee volunteer programme wherein we are committing two volunteer days per employee in a year. As a first step, we will move forward in this direction from our Head Office and gradually spread it across our plants.
Tell us more your CSR activities.
We implement CSR programs through ´Dalmia Bharat Group Foundation´ (DBGF), which is a registered not for profit entity. The foundation began its journey in 2009 to carry forward the seven decade long legacy of our group based on the principle of Gandhian trusteeship. We have set up schools, established ITIs and contributed towards various social causes. Besides this, we have addressed issues of health and sanitation, education, rural infrastructure and women empowerment, all which were developed along the lines with UN Millennium Development Goals.
Presently, the foundation is working in 6 states, viz., Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh, in more than 100 villages. We had re-aligned our CSR approach in 2013-14 based on a baseline line and need assessment study done by an independent development agency ´Hand in Hand.´ The study highlighted the issues pertaining to water scarcity, erratic power supply, unemployment amongst rural youths and basic rural infrastructure needs. We realised that these issues are equally relevant to our group´s businesses as much as to the communities around our facilities. So we started with an elaborate program in areas of soil and water conservation, energy conservation, climate change mitigation, skill development with efforts focused on creation of shared values for all stakeholders.
Soil and water conservation
The unchecked withdrawal of water for agriculture, coupled with its poor management, was depleting this critical resource around most of our plants. There was an immediate need to address the challenge frontally and that´s exactly what we did. With a large number of farm-ponds, check-dams and other water harvesting structures created, we substantially increased the water harvesting capacity in our villages. Instead of resting on our laurels, we expanded our focus to include water management too. Promotion and extension of drip irrigation method was a concrete step in this direction.
Depending on the need, we have set up reverse osmosis plants in some villages to provide clean drinking water. We have joined hands with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) for the implementation of a large watershed management project in Tamil Nadu and have started developing around 2500 hectares of land on watershed basis.
Energy conservation and climate change mitigation
We also took a note of the energy related challenges faced by the communities around us. There is shortage of fuel-wood for cooking. The electric power supply to the villages is erratic. Children are most affected as their studies are severely hampered. We offered energy solutions in the form of fuel efficient stoves, helped in development of dung based bio gas plants, promoted solar street lights, solar study lamps, solar lanterns and solar home lighting systems. We partnered with New and Renewable Energy Development Corporation of Andhra Pradesh Limited (NREDCAP), to implement family based bio gas plants in the Kadapa district.
Livelihood skill training
Our focus on skill building for enhanced livelihood opportunities has now started to yield results. We have set-up vocational training and skill building programmes to let the youth enhance their skills and bridge the employability gap. We have collaborated with National Academy of Construction (NAC) to upgrade the skills of unskilled/semi-skilled construction workers. They were trained in masonry, bar bending, painting and whitewashing, domestic electrical wiring, etc. We are also a certified training provider for construction related skills.
Development Council of NSDC
To improve the livelihoods of rural households and farmers, we are focusing on activities like dairy development, securing small business micro credit, helping farmers to get livestock insurance, training them in best animal husbandry practices, etc. To empower women, we have formed more than 200 self help groups (with a corpus of Rs 23,00,000) and have set up a training-cum-production centre, for weaving articles out of dried palm leaves. We are also supporting a garment business unit, for the trained women tailors.
We are continuously supporting social development by addressing health and sanitation issues by promoting basic and primary health care services through health check-up cum awareness camps, pre- and post-natal care, by running immunisation program for children and by promoting low cost toilets. The company is also taking efforts to provide quality education in terms of remedial education centres, teachers´ training sessions, distribution of learning materials for teachers, implementing the building as learning aid (BALA) concept which has resulted into zero dropout rate of children in our program.
What are your priorities while framing a CSR plan? On what basis do you select these activities?
Recently our programme focus was realigned based on our learnings about the critical areas where we could make a better and larger impact on the society. We, through an elaborate engagement with stakeholders, identified the issues that are closer to our group´s businesses as well as to the communities around our facilities. To be precise, we did a need base assessment of our program through an independent development agency. The inputs were used to pinpoint the needs of the community and to identify how our programmes could be modified to address them in an even better way. We believe in our group´s concept of shared values and in that direction our foundation has started expanding its network of partners. We have initiated partnership projects with NABARD, NREDACP and with various state government agencies. We will continue to evaluate the impact of our CSR programs and will carry forward the key learnings to make our efforts more meaningful and sustainable.
Apart from doing good to the society, CSR helps the contributing organisation too in several ways. Please list some of the benefits that you have realised.
I would like to give you few examples where a positive impact was made directly or indirectly on the organisation. The efforts on water conservation and management have resulted into availability of water for farmers and to a certain extent have reduced our water consumption footprint too. This has cemented our relationships with the communities. Energy conservation efforts have resulted in reduction of CO2 emissions beyond the fence and the efforts put into skill development shall provide skilled manpower not only to us, as and when required, but also to the other neighbouring industries.
Internally, employees feel a sense of pride when they relate themselves to our CSR programs.
Managing with a meagre 500 mm rainfall is a big challenge for Nagaraj Suresh, a farmer of Hastinapur village at Kadappa in Andhra Pradesh. While farmers elsewhere cultivate two to three crops a year, he struggles to get full yield even from a single crop that he grows. With scanty water and soaring temperature, the soil loses the moisture quickly, thereby adversely affecting the crops. Deciding not to take the nature´s challenge lying down, Suresh sought DBGFs´ assistance in digging a small pond in his farm for water harvesting. He successfully laboured to dig a pond of 1.2 lakh litres capacity with the funding assistance from DBGF as well as his own share. It was nature´s way of blessing him with rain soon after the completion of his work, which filled the pond with water. With water now available for irrigation and also for retaining the soil´s moisture, Suresh and his family look forward to a bumper harvest of cotton that he has cultivated on his farm.
Aishwarya, a 15-year old girl, stays in a mud house with no electricity at the Kallakud village in Tamil Nadu. Her parents are daily wage earners, who struggle each day to win the bread for the family and find it difficult to support her. Since childhood, she had been trying hard to sustain her studies through scholarships. Each day, it was difficult for her to study in dim light, using a kerosene wick lamp. She used to struggle hard to read in murky yellow light. The black soot produced by kerosene wick lamp used to strain her eyes.
Our CSR team came to know about Aishwarya while identifying those students, who do not have access to electricity at their homes and are dependent on kerosene lamps or streetlights for their studies. While observing ´Joy of Giving´ week in Oct 2013, DBGF supported her with a solar study lamp. This helped her study better and longer while she was preparing for class 10th exams. Solar study lamp also helped the family save significant amount of money, which they now use for other important needs. She scored good marks and was promoted to class 11th in May 2014. She is very passionate about studying and aspires to become a police officer and support her parents.
Fuel-efficient cooking stove
Energy and money had always been a challenge for Pullamma, a 58-year old agricultural labourer of Peddakomerla village in Andhra Pradesh. When it came to cooking food, her meagre earnings were barely enough to purchase fuel-wood for her kitchen. Neither would she have enough time and energy left after the day´s hard work to go out and collect it from the adjoining forest. She was distressed and that had started to affect her work and therefore on her earnings too. The situation continued until she learnt of the fuel-efficient stoves distributed by the team of DBGF. Now with the fuel-efficient stove she not only saves about half the wood she used to burn each day, her cooking time too has been cut to about half, giving her a breather from the grind that she used to go through each day.