Industry and Academia Have A Variety Of Multifaceted Options To Propel CSR Activities

“Integrate, Innovate and Implement” is the mantra to set cost-intensive social initiatives in motion and fuel unparalleled CSR solutions, to uplift our global society.

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India is at the helm of becoming one of the top global innovators and solution providers with a rich diversity in knowledge, science, creativity, and talent. We are the largest democracy, blessed with wide-diversity, great opportunities, and our unique challenges.  While we frugally built Mangalyaan, stand as the second-largest smartphone market in the world, our staggering 732 million people are still without basic sanitation, over 63 million people lack clean water and our roads claim 17 deaths every hour.  The nation yet has many impediments that need immediate solutions for which we need to blaze a more radical and transformational path towards a better future for all.  Industry-Academia partnerships are one such channel that offers a great potential to furnish effective solutions our nation yearns and create an ecosystem to drive innovation from concept to the masses.  

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a strategic tool that provides a great platform to drive the prosperity of people, societies, and companies through the channels of improvement and innovation. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India has mandated every company, private limited or public limited, which either has a net worth of Rs 500 crore or a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore, to invest 2% of its average net profit for the immediately preceding three financial years on corporate social responsibility activities. The CSR activities should not be undertaken in the normal course of business and must be with respect to any of the activities mentioned in Schedule VII of the 2013 Act.  The activities covered under CSR umbrella include socially relevant areas like preventive health care, promoting education, agriculture, road safety, rural development projects etc. The complete list is available “Improvement” oriented solutions are process driven while “innovation” provides creative solutions. For Avante Garde solutions with the least intensive pathways to address some of the unique challenges, Innovation is the only channel.  Corporates and Academia working together to resolve these riddles is a great step towards addressing these pressing issues and providing a congenial environment to accomplish the changes, but this techno-social-model attracts scant attention.

CSR today redefines the role of the corporates over and above their old philanthropic practices to their unique ability to give back to the society, driving prosperity and creating sustainable solutions. Companies are recognized by the transformation they create, not necessarily the cash they spend. Hence, to create “impactful solutions” good companies drive CSR activities as an integral part of their business strategy with the same passion, focus, and commitment as the commercial side of their businesses. The academic ecosystem has the ability to provide advanced yet frugal technical solutions, products, and technologies for societal improvement. Industry, on the other hand, offers the activation energy and resources to deliver these solutions to beneficiaries at grass root level. CSR collaborations provide a platform to happily marry the solution providing the strength of academia with a transformational capability of industry to create empowering solutions. This quest of societal improvement also brings industry and academia closer to become valued and trusted partners while strengthening a talented and responsive network to serve “innovation-hungry” global marketplace. Jointly executing social projects also help build basic foundations to successfully establish long-term stra­tegic business partnerships.

Industry and academia have a variety of multifaceted options to come together and propel CSR activities, which include collaborations on:

Stimulating Social Improvement Projects: Transferring transformational solutions from laboratories to real beneficiaries is complex and involves contributions from a broad range of actors to reach fruition.

Translational Research Activities: Partnering on a multitude of ongoing and upcoming translational research activities to provide advanced technical solutions to problems such as safe drinking water, preventive and affordable health care, clean sanitation, pollution, environmental sustainability etc. Creating solutions to social problems through translating an evolving idea into technology development while maximizing social and economic benefits of new ideas.

Boosting Innovation Ecosystem: Innovation and Entrepreneurship are the two fundamental pillars towards building a successful socio-economic society. Weak linkages between stakeholders (industry/ academia/ government) and India’s low spending in Industrial R&D are two of the biggest hurdles in boosting our innovation ecosystem. It is discouraging to find that of all avenues covered under allowed CSR activities, technology incubators have by-far attracted the least traction.  Nurturing young talent while catalyzing result-oriented CSR initiatives will help in setting the right stones towards making India an entrepreneurial & innovation hub. 

Ongoing Corporate CSR Programs: Working together on Corporate’s ongoing CSR programs through student CSR Internships & faculty involvement to provide meaningful societal solutions are some options to jointly leverage CSR activities for greater overall impact while imparting invaluable professional and life skills to support our budding leaders.   

Supporting Academic Ecosystem: Corporates utilizing CSR funds towards making the academic ecosystem more conducive towards overall growth of students. This can involve being a part of small-mid size projects to supporting education, various green initiatives, quality housing, technical contests etc.

& Many More…

Our fragmented efforts, lack of dialogue and inefficient knowledge transfer lead to duplication of efforts and inability to realize our true potential against social obstacles. It is critical to creating a framework that interweaves the complementary strengths of academia and corporates to ignite quality and quantity of malleable solutions for the betterment and upliftment of the underprivileged masses all around the world. Quality education, skill development solutions for impaired, affordable healthcare, game-changing rural reforms, road safety, ecological and sustainable sanitation or next groundbreaking technology are all achievable if we are committed to breaking down our silos. Consequential teaming of academia and corporates while learning, monitoring projects and measuring their effectiveness is a great way to multiply the impact on social development at every stage of the CSR project journey and derive a better social return on investment. Strategic deliberations to build platforms where Industry and Academia can collaborate to support important social initiatives would go a long way in creating measurable transformation our society deserves and avoid duplication of effort and resources.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'July 20, 2018' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue Apr-May 2018'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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