In recent years business organisations in India have increased their commitment to social causes by supporting a growing number of development projects in areas ranging from infrastructure, and education to health and skill development. This is particularly so after the government made it mandatory for businesses to part with some of their profits for Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR. Prior to that businesses backed social interventions purely on a voluntary basis.
However, despite increasing CSR spends the overall impact of the business-driven social initiatives on the country’s massive human problems leaves much to be desired. This is often because of glaring mismatches between the social agenda of corporates and the priorities of the state.
Be it education, health or civil infrastructure, the social development domain is marred by a conspicuous absence of standards and norms. Business entities wish to retain full control on their CSR spends and are unwilling in most cases to handover their social purse to state institutions.
Whether voluntary or mandatory, for realising their full impact CSR spends would have to be based on a well-defined methodology of cooperation between governments and business organisations
Employment: Key concern of Indian nation
While the current areas of CSR focus are very relevant to all-round development, a major challenge for both federal and state governments is how to create enough jobs to employ the country’s swelling masses of unemployed people.
The dearth of opportunities for a rising population of young people is leading to a slew of complex social problems including large-scale unrest. Increasing life expectancy is leading to longer work lives and higher levels of automation and productivity are shrinking employment opportunities. India already has over 30 million unemployed people; many more millions are under employed.
Not surprisingly in recent pre-poll opinion polls conducted by several news channels, a majority of Indians have named unemployment as their number one concern. Sure, the domains attracting CSR spends currently can improve living standards and skills. But not enough has been done to motivate business entities to create more jobs.
Given the gravity of the problem, the Government must recognise “employment generation” as the number one CSR priority and encourage business institutions to work specifically on areas, which spawn more work opportunities. Both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives may be tried to encourage business enterprises to create more employment. When rating CSR projects for performance the highest weightage should be given to initiatives that create new jobs.
It is quite possible for businesses to gun for productivity and efficiency without shooting down jobs. Unfortunately, however, far from creating more employment opportunities, most businesses appear bent upon replacing men with machines/robots. The invasion of technologies like artificial intelligence and I Internet of Things is bound to only deepen the crisis. In recent years the booming service sector has generated a huge number of jobs. However, smart new technologies are expected to swamp this sector too and reduce opportunities.
Agriculture and industry are grossly under-leveraged sectors in India. Given how low our consumption levels are of even basic commodities Indian industry can easily register double-digit growth rates for many decades to come, which would translate into millions of new jobs even if people intensity for employment contracts because of new technologies
Time has come for government to redefine and recalibrate its metrics for CSR performance.Employment generation has to be given top billing. It would do well to introduce a new package of employment-linked incentives for business Institutions and throw its weight behind employment-intensive sectors of the economy.
Shortage of people with requisite work skills is also compelling businesses to adopt more automation. Therefore, businesses should be urged to participate more vigorously in skill development and retraining to preserve the relevance of current work-forces in future job markets. Skill development is a great enabler for employment generation and should, therefore, be recognised as an important parameter in future CSR initiatives. A demographically vast and heterogenous society like India has to define its own future priorities and not blindly copy the growth models of other developed societies. Our people make our nation. Let’s, therefore, put our people in the driver’s seat of India’s own growth engine.