Roma Balwani, Group President, Sustainability, CSR & Communications at Vedanta Resources plc.
1. Comments on the Mandatory 2% contribution to CSR (The new law passed in India)
Indian corporates are practicing Corporate Social Responsibility for decades, but the requisite 2% contribution to CSR, is an enabler for more funds to reach the country’s needy. With this new act, there will be an opportunity for many corporates who come under the purview to contribute significantly to alleviate poverty into the country.
At Vedanta, which is a global diversified natural resources company, we have a responsibility towards the community where our facilities are located. The company focuses on ensuring that the community gets the benefit and provision of being in proximity to our location. It also creates an interdependency, as we work closely with the community and the local government and provide employment opportunity with our units. We have a shared destiny approach, which will benefit the community, boost economy and give us a license to operate. As our operations are in remote locations, we believe that corporates are a part of the communities and not isolated entities and neither should their growth be.
The 2% policy provides clarity and direction on the CSR spends of the company which has been a reform to alleviate poverty. Vedanta probably in some of the locations is spending more than 2% as it is important to sustain and provide for these communities who are located in the interiors of the country.
2. Sustainable Development the concept and practice: Your comments please
Sustainable development demands a change in processes, policies and products of a company: is this an opportunity or a threat for Indian corporates?
Sustainability is a journey of continuous improvement. The value of building solid relationships with local communities for a sustainable and successful future, both for them and for our business should be recognized.
As Corporates have to address many customers, engaging in dialogues that build advocacy for the brand will drive action towards building a trustworthy image,so today, companies must learn to collaborate with all stakeholders.
To determine the best collaborative approach to address everyone’s needs, we, at Vedanta, always consult with local communities on the initiation or expansion of our operations, and not do anything without their consent.This can mean that programmes may take longer to develop. However, community-initiated and owned programmes are stronger and more sustainable in the long-run.
3. The next generation of leaders will be more socially concerned and committed asemployers, consumers and investors: Your comments please
Today, we see the importance of gaining a ‘License to operate’, through understanding social, economic and environmental performance that is linked to community consent. The focus now is on proactively building trust in the business, and the practice of engaging with stakeholders will further, through the next generation of leaders.
An inspiration is our Chairman, Mr. Anil Agarwal who has pledged 75% of his personal wealth with a focus on child welfare and women empowerment initiatives. He say’s; “What we earn must be returned for the greater good of society. You can’t retain anything beyond your need.” His wealth will be channeled in a Foundation which will work alongside governments and multilateral agencies.
As a tradition, all leaders in the Indian context have been socially concerned as employers, consumers and investors, however the next generation of leaders are in a world which sees many challenges and are more socially aware about the dynamics of working in a business environment and be socially responsible. Infact, more young leaders are looking at creating social enterprises that will benefit the society and create wealth to grow the economy.
4. What opportunities do you see for education institutes in the growing field of CSR andSustainability?
Educating the future generation is imperative for the growth of the nation. While the local governments do provide educational platforms at all levels, it is programmes that offer skill development and employability which can be the focus of educational institutes in the field of CSR. Corporates, aiming to maximize their efforts in the development of their host communities, could address the educational field to boost jobs and provide local employment and in turn create a supportive social environment. Optimizing educational conditions will, aside from contributing to the economic growth, create a certain level of awareness which will facilitate social advancements.
5. “Companies that create employee-driven CSR programs, help employees feel asense of greater purpose; helps attract and retain top talent; and provide strongplatforms for employee leadership and development. Your opinion on this.
A morally strong reputation of the corporate can capture loyalty and in turn affect balance sheets, reduces commercial risk and insulates the company in a crisis. Being a part of the team that builds the reputation, makes employees the best brand ambassadors, and as community development volunteers, engages them in a team building atmosphere that promotes unity as well as gives a sense of connect to the community and a sense of fulfillment of a higher order. These socially relevant activities, undertaken by potential leaders gives them an insight on the issues that the community faces and have empathy which enables them to become successful as well as socially responsible citizens.
6. Given that CASI is widely recognized as the Global certification Body, What is theopportunity for CASI in India?
A global certification with a credible reputation which has been benchmarked by corporates will certainly be well received in the Indian context. While this is an area that may not be on high priority in terms of certification but to measure up with international companies, this certification will be very relevant in today’s context. Certification will also build awareness on the importance of CSR & sustainable development as a key enabler of fair business practices. It will also build in rigor in the processes and measurable outcomes that is important to a socially responsible organization.
7. Please describe a CSR activity you have been personally involved in
Let me instead, share the views of a beneficiary of Janani, a Reproductive and Child Health project undertaken under PPP mode by Vedanta’s aluminum operations in Lanjigarh, Odisha, implemented across 13 health sub-centers covering 76 villages. Government Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers, District welfare officers along with the NGO, ORRISIS, reached the rural areas of Odisha where they formed 130 Balika Mandals. Together, we are making a difference…
“The day is warm and it is a school holiday, so we spread the mats and sit cross legged in the lawn of the village school. I am surrounded by a dozen teenage girls, laughing over village gossip until I order them to be silent. ‘What is the meaning of Adolescent?’ I ask, as I look around and see the indifferent faces of teenagers.
‘Do you know the difference between HIV and AIDS? Do you know that an abortion can be unsafe?’ I have provoked concerns and my questions are met with a shy curiosity as I lecture adolescent girls on the myths and misconception about the health of adolescent and newly-wed women. My name is Mukatanjali Bhoi, and I live in the Keldamal village in Jhasuguda, Odisha in India. I had never imagined that I could lead a group of girls and lecture them about the adolescence phase of our lives. In my village, such information is considered to be very sensitive and very private.
Village girls get married early, and a majority of them are not aware of the consequences of early marriage, the overall health and nutritional requirement of our body, personal hygiene and how to prevent the common diseases we are very likely to encounter. I didn’t know as well, until the Balika Mandal (Adolescent girls club) was formed in my village and I started attending their lectures.
It was only in these lectures that I first heard the words ‘hemoglobin and iron deficiency’. Many of my friends were unaware that they are suffering from various Reproductive Tract Infections. After attending Balika Mandal’s monthly meetings, they understood the gravity of the situation and received treatment. I knew then, how important this information is and volunteered to pass on my knowledge to the next generation.
We volunteers have reached 1500 girls since 2010, in Jharsuguda with the objective of educating adolescent girls about all health and nutritional issues that they are very likely to encounter. We are surprised to see that all girls of our Balika Mandal are voluntarily contributing to the cause and sharing their knowledge with their friends.”
Such worthy projects which empower women in Jharsuguda and Lanjigarh, in Odisha are some of the initiatives run with the help of women self-help groups. Having visited and participated in these projects, spending time with the beneficiaries and engaging with NGOs in a workshop conducted recently, has given me insights and feedback on the outcomes of our CSR live projects. Through the improvements we bring to the projects by leveraging innovative methodologies, technologies and providing platforms for market linkages, I have seen the empowerment of women who earlier were living in dependency now emerge as independent, empowered individuals who can hold their own in society.
8. Please share Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability activities of your firm.
The Vedanta group was initiated in India, in 1976 and is today a globally diversified natural resources group, and I must say, a truly caring organisation. The group has always contributed towards the economic and social development of our communities around the world. Our key programmes are the ones in which we have supported the local governments in achieving their millennium goals, such as;
Our Copper Business at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, has a program called ‘Health on Wheels’ a mobile health care Van with Medical staff that reaches out to about 15000 villagers every month.
Our company, Hindustan Zinc has introduced computer education programmes in rural government schools, in 682 schools in Rajasthan benefitting about 80,000 students.
In Lanjigarh, the Vedanta hospital along with the Odisha government district medical unit has reached out to 37 villages under the ‘Zero-Malaria’ campaign. The Lanjigarh block, which earlier reported a high death rate by malaria has remained free of deaths by malaria for two consecutive years.
The Jharsuguda business unit of the Vedanta group, in Odisha reaches out to 109 villages with a total population of 113,000 people. One of the key programmes is the ‘Jan Jeevika Yojana’project in Jharsuguda which currently steers the largest women co-operative in the region, ‘Subhalaxmi Bahumukhee Mahila Samabaya Samiti Limited’ with 2,695 members covering 52 villages. It has successfully established 1,905 rural ‘Micro Entrepreneurs’ in 53 trades through capacity building and livelihood promotion activities.
Under the ‘Jeevan Amrit’ project, in Rajasthan, Vedanta’s subsidiary and Indian energy major, Cairn India’s has installed water ATMs which are kiosks with reverse osmosis (RO) plants, providing safe drinking water to 22,000 people. Cairn India funds the cost of the RO plants, while the Rajasthan government’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) provides the premises and the source water connection and a 15-member village water committee, formed under the panchayat, is responsible for operation and maintenance of the kiosks. Dhara, the local NGO partner for this project, spreads awareness about safe drinking water among locals and hand-holds the water committee for better success.
We have a headstart on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sanitation initiative for household toilets in rural areas. In 2013, Cairn India supported construction of one toilet and one bathroom at an individual household level for 3 Gram Panchayats with a plan to cover 100% households in 31 villages.So far 2200 toilets with attached Bathrooms have been built out of 4500 households. Cairn India is now also constructing 20,000 household level toilets in the Baitu block of Barmer and 150 school level toilets to support the Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya campaign, with a tripartite MOU signed by the Zilla Parishad, the NGO, ‘Rural Development Organisation’(RDO) and Cairn India Limited.
Our business unit in Tuticorin, Sterlite Copper entirely sponsored the building of 200 toilets at a cost of Rs. 1 crore for Below Poverty Line families in two villages of Tamil Nadu. Our Lanjigarh business unit signed an MOU with the District Water Sanitation Mission, Kalahandi, in Odisha for the construction of 4000 toilets in 40 villages.
Hindustan Zinc signed an MoU with the State Government of Rajasthan to build 30,000 rural toilets for Below Poverty Line families. In 3 years, 80 rural and tribal villages in Rajasthan will be ‘Open Defecation Free’. HZL would be spending Rs. 8.6 crore towards construction of these 30,000 toilets.
In the financial year 2014, Vedanta has spent approximately Rs. 300 crores ($49 million) for building hospitals, schools and infrastructure and providing employment and community programs which has improved the health, education and livelihood of over 4.1 million people. This is a significant amount spent by an Indian corporate on CSR.
9. Please describe how your company or a company you are closely aware, uses theconcept of sustainable development to create better products or services
Vedanta is a diversified natural resources company and the processing of our metals enable in the manufacture of the final product.
Vedanta’s programmes are aligned with international standards such as IFC and ICMM and we work closely with local and global NGOs, academic institutions and the local governmentsin a Public Private Partnership model to help ensure that our programmes benefit as many people as possible in the communities where we operate.
Our Sustainability Model is comprised of three pillars: Responsible Stewardship,
Building Strong Relationships and Adding and Sharing Value, that capture the steps we must take to ensure a long-term, successful future for our business – meeting our strategic goals of growth, long-term value and sustainable development.
Our community engagement process, includes monitoring and evaluation tools, reviewed at both business unit and group level by senior management teams. Each Group company has conducted a gap analysis of our existing management systems (ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 and some to SA 8000 certification) with respect to the Vedanta Sustainability Framework (VSF), and subsequently put in place action plans to enable compliance.
We have the Vedanta Sustainability Assurance Program (VSAP) to monitor the effectiveness of sustainability framework implementation at a group level. Implemented across the operations this year, VSAP is our sustainability risk assurance tool which we use to assess the compliance of all our businesses with the Framework, identify where gaps exist and address them. The successes are also identified, highlighted and cross-learning opportunities are created.
10. Any word of advice for Management Students (especially on why should studentsacross all fields should have an understanding of CSR / Sustainability)
Today, the world is looking closely at business responsibility and organizations will have to collaborate and understand community needs that impacts their progress. For an organization to build and sustain its reputation, it should integrate CSR & Sustainable development in every facet of their business. In today’s context, ‘People, Planet & Profit’, a triple bottom line approach is the way, forward looking organizations function. This will ensure that the company effectively manages perceptions by stakeholders engagement along with their business needs.