Three paths to becoming an impact champion
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A comprehensive overview of pathways to social change is offered in the book, Be an impact champion: Embrace corporate social awareness by Priya Nair Rajeev and Simy Joy.
Priya Nair Rajeev is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Director of the Center of Excellence for Social Innovation (CESI), IIM Kozhikode. Simy Joy is a member of the CESI faculty.
The book is filled with frameworks, tables and case studies corporate social impact initiatives in India. The material is well referenced. However, a glossary of terms/acronyms and an index at the end of the book would have been welcome additions.
Here are my main takeaways from the 220-page book, summarized in the table below. See also my reviews on related books Social entrepreneurship in India, The business of change lean impact, The Hybrid Estate, A world of three zeros, Do good, Core innovation, The paradox of prosperity and Entrepreneurship in Developing and Emerging Economies.
Impact champions bring social value creation and advancement to organizations and society, the authors begin. Today’s challenges include climate change, pollution, environmental destruction, socio-economic divides, digital gaps, inadequate health care, poverty and social polarization.
The need of the hour is social awareness, collaboration and action aligned with business strategy. Today’s consumers are also more active in demanding business commitment to issues like sustainability, which social entrepreneurs can bring, and the impact that intrapreneurs can bring.
“Five core values form the mindset of a socially conscious organization: to act with care, to be honest, to exercise discretion, and not to act out of greed,” the authors point out.
Impact champions must be idea champions, change agents and coalition builders. Frameworks like the United Nations SDGs are useful as a guide for economic, social and environmental programs.
initiatives with social impact in India include MGNREGA, midday meal program, RTE, Startup India and National Solar Mission. Further progress is needed to address issues of peace, justice, sanitation and the fight against 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 guardianship, public sector initiatives, national voluntary guidelines and Mandatory CSR (two percent of net profits).
The principles of safety, well-being, respect for human rights and inclusive growth have been put forward for Indian companies. Under company law, large Indian companies are now required to have Boards, CSR committees, policies, projects, reports and disclosure.
The authors outline four paths to implementing a CSR project — internally, via a foundation, or a partner company/NGO. They cite research that shows that CSR investments in India have increased significantly in education, health and rural development.
The nature and timing of the impact assessment (e.g., mid-term, at completion, and long-term) are important considerations, the authors point out. The focus should not be on token public relations activities, but on strategies and learnings for long-term impact at micro and meso levels.
For example, educational metrics could include amounts for school donations, volunteer mentoring, school bus support, scholarships, infrastructure, teacher development and administrative capacity. Some of them can be measured at individual, family, institutional, community and societal levels.
Measures should cover economic, social and environmental impacts. The assessment may be carried out by third parties, for example, Gray Matters India. For example, school results perhaps the number of students who received scholarships, while the impact would be an increase in employment and family living standards.
A valuable table in the book summarizes CSR activities for the 17 SDGs, with information on companies, projects and impacts. They cover affirmative action, fighting malnutrition, digital inclusion, tribal empowerment, job training, wastewater recycling and habitat conservation.
As case studies, the authors cite Cognizant’s outreach initiative for education, which began with volunteers, is said to have impacted more than 700,000 lives, and also led to employee pride in the business.
SBI Foundation runs initiatives such as Youth for India, with scholarships for people from multiple companies to work across India on issues such as rural livelihoods. Selco Foundation supports rural entrepreneurs with technology and funding for solar-powered sewing machines.
II. Corporate Social Innovation
Shareholder 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 targets now include using renewable energy and reducing plastic.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation offers fundamentals including designing waste and pollution, reusing/repairing/recycling products, and regenerating natural systems.
For corporate social intrapreneurs, the authors advise approaches such as effectively framing the problem statement, forming a coalition of early converts, and developing workable prototypes.
For example, FIA Technology Services addressed the gendered impacts of the pandemic, including the limited mobility of female workers, targeting loans for women. the open source movement, compared to the free software movement, which focused on practical benefits rather than moral arguments.
Other examples of corporate social innovation for rural and women’s communities include ITC e-Choupal and Sahelian Amazon. HUL and Reliance collaborate on waste management by collecting plastic waste, while rhino machines turns waste into usable bricks.
III. Social entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurs combine profit generation with the creation of social value. They usually deal with problems resulting from market failure or exclusion from the market and co-create an ecosystem to develop and promote solutions.
Funding is available through R&D grants and competitions and support from incubators, accelerators, angel investors and crowdfunding. Venture capital funds of different deal sizes and exit periods are available from 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, describe the authors. The Impact Investor Council is strengthen the industry, and social venture capital funds have also been formed.
Notable examples include Aravind Eye Hospital (manufacture of lenses in-house, wealthy patients subsidize the cost for poor patients), Strictly necessary (zero waste solutions), Meghshala (teacher development) and Mirakle Couriers (hiring deaf employees).
Other cities are Kamal Kisan (affordable agricultural equipment), SELCO (low smoke biomass stoves), CultYvate (agritech), Automation Medical Devices (inexpensive speaking device for laryngectomee patients), Improving biotechnology (mosquito-borne disease tester), and Aarna Biomedical (breast prosthesis).
The book ends with an inspiring ‘Impact Champion’s Pledge’. An impact champion is conscious, considerate in use, and Creative to find solutions, sum up the authors.
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