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India Inc boosting employee-driven CSR drive

The Economic Times:  August, 2010

Kolkata: Jayaprakash S, a 34-year-old techie employed with Cognizant, has erratic work hours, just like any other IT professional. In spite of his hectic schedule, the MCA graduate, who is currently in the rank of a manager and based out of Chennai, tries his best to squeeze out time for his one passion — social work.

So, it came as a pleasant surprise to Jayaprakash when his employer announced that it was planning to start a social work scheme, christened ‘Cognizant Outreach’, where employees themselves would volunteer. He promptly joined the programme and since then has become one of its most active volunteers. This was some three years ago.

The likes of Jayaprakash are not alone. Nearly every organisation has employees who want to ‘give back’ to society. India Inc is realising that and working to channelise the energies of such employees within the organisation.

As a result, several companies have started employee-driven corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. And early dividends are encouraging. While some have seen a fall in attrition rate, for others, such activities have helped build team spirit.

At Cognizant, almost 8,000 employees, or 10% of its workforce, are active volunteers for the Outreach programme. The main focus of the initiative is education and today it partners more than 90 schools where employees teach English and computers.

The effort is showing. All the 80 Class XII board students in a government school at Thoraipakkam, near Chennai, scored full marks in their recent final computer practical exam, thanks to the regular classes which the Cognizant volunteers conducted.

“Several employees, including those at the vice-president level, have said they would prefer to stay with Cognizant due to the tangible difference which the programme has made in their life,” says Archana Raghuram, programme manager, Cognizant Outreach.

If employee-driven CSR may have played a role in keeping attrition in check, at LG Electronics India such initiatives have helped to foster team spirit amongst employees.

“We have seen that such activities add to the employees’ planning skills, execution, organisational ability, and the ability to work closely with each other. In turn, we get a much more collaborative work environment,” says LG Electronics India head (HR) Umesh Kumar Dhal. No wonder, the company is happily funding such employee-driven CSR activities.

Around 200 LG India employees, along with their families, recently participated in an initiative, ‘Meri Dilli, Meri Yamuna’, where they cleaned the Yamuna river in New Delhi and staged a street play to sensitise the public about water pollution.

Electronics major Philips India too recently organised an employee CSR initiative to spread awareness among students about ‘health and well-being’. The volunteers reached out to 800 schoolchildren as part of the initiative and also installed lights on the school premises.

For some of the employees, such social initiatives are a great stress-buster. As Philips India’s general manager Girish Ahuja says: “It is a satisfying experience.”

A fact endorsed by medicos

Says Dr Rachna Singh, lifestyle management and holistic consultant at Gurgaon’s leading hospital, Artemis Health Institute: “Such activities allow employees to interact with the outside world, which is otherwise limited in a monotonous office environment. Such creative pursuits give a fresher perspective to life and thereby helps to reduce stress.”

Auto major Mahindra & Mahindra has gone one step further by incentivising CSR initiatives. The company has started the ‘employee social option’, whereby any contribution to such CSR work is added to an employee’s total work hours. Almost half the employees participate in the company’s CSR activities now.

“Such a scheme has created a value proposition for the employees. We have seen this improves their overall productivity. Research has shown that when employees participate in social work, their connect with the business and the company grows,” says M&M’s executive vice president (human capital), automotive & farm division, Augustin Prince.

Conclusion: Goals may be different, but employee-driven CSR is surely not going to be a small-time phenomena in Corporate India.