For any corporate social responsibility initiative to succeed, it must be embedded in the operation of the company. Rajashree Birla believes that execution and monitoring processes should be as well defined for CSR as in any other business activity.
When GD Birla founded what has today become the Aditya Birla Group, he espoused the trusteeship concept of management. He believed that the purpose of industry was as much the advancement of social well-being as the production of wealth. This entailed, ploughing back part of the profits into welfare-driven initiatives that made a qualitative difference to society. As a result, corporate social responsibility is embedded in the company’s DNA.
Today, GD Birla’s original vision remains integral to what we do. It is based on some simple principles. We do not believe in cheque book philanthropy, for example. We believe that doling out money perpetuates a culture of dependence. We are interested in bringing about societal transformation by making people self-sufficient. Hence we make sure that all the projects we take up will be sustainable by the community. We continue to provide support until the beneficiaries can take over and become self sufficient. But once the project reaches the sustainable stage, we move out. Based on our learning, we then seek to replicate the work in other villages. So we are able to expand our footprint.
Today, we work in 3,700 villages and reach out to approximately two million people every year. Of these, more than 60 per cent live below the poverty line. Their first need is to have access to water. Their second need is for agriculture and other means of sustainable livelihood; third, is health; and lastly, education. These have, therefore, become the areas we focus on. We have instituted children’s schools all over Uttar Pradesh, as well as hundreds of pre-schools, crèches, and adult learning centres across our plants. Annually, we spend approximately Rs650 million (£8.4 million) on our social projects. This includes the running of 33 schools in the Indian interior and 16 hospitals.
Nine years ago, when Kumar Mangalam Birla became company chairman, he said that success must be measured by how well we fulfil our economic, environmental and social responsibility. He made sure that a social vision formed part of the business vision of our companies. This elevated our community projects to the status of business projects. Kumar propagated triple bottom-line accountability; we are accountable to shareholders, employees and the local communities in which we operate.
Today, this lies at the heart of our group, embracing the interests of all of our stakeholders – shareholders, customers, employees and the community at large.