One of the significant indicators of social progress is education, which also plays a decisive role for a society to achieve self-sustainable and equal development. Universal Primary Education is identified among the eight most important aspects that concern human development in the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations. An explicit standard of educational goals symbolizes a global recognition of education as a part of human rights and international development.
Education has a very important role to play in the development paradigm of any country. Beyond growth and other macroeconomic factors, it is education that is the foundation of society, its values, culture and progress. It is the most sustainable strategy to uplift individuals and communities from poverty, enabling an overall improvement in the quality of life. Moreover, it is the intellectual dimension of poverty. According to Global Partnership for Education, if all students in low income countries acquired just basic reading skills, it would uplift 171 million people out of poverty. Clearly, it is the single most potent tool to empower children and adults alike to participate actively in societal transformation.
In India, the education system is in a pitiable state and the widening knowledge gap is alarming. While initiatives such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan (SSA) and the Right to Education (RTE) have been India’s response to this; considerable issues regarding quality of education, lack of learning, teacher quality, lack of accountability, irrelevant curriculum and pedagogy remain. Furthermore, educational opportunities for marginalized groups are still limited giving rise to discrimination. It is about time we give unfailing attention to address these challenges and attempt to eliminate all barriers for the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups- such as the poor and the disabled. Otherwise these issues will inarguably have serious consequences on the growth and development potential of the country.
In due recognition of the critical role of education in the development of any country, UNESCO has recommended that governments should spend 20 percent of their budget on education and that 20 percent of Official Development Assistance should go towards education initiatives. Globally, around 5% of the GDP is being spent on the education. However, despite education and development being consistently accorded a high priority in the five year plans in India, the estimated public expenditure on education has been a little above 3% of the GDP in the recent years. Compared to BRICS nations, India’s literacy rate is only 74% while that of these economies is equivalent to that of the developed world.
It has been well understood by now that government alone will not be able to succeed in achieving the objective of uplifting the downtrodden society through empowerment. Globalization has driven the business world towards more responsibility for the sustainable development of society as well as other functions which have been traditionally held by governments and political institutions. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), particularly, has gathered prominence and become an important activity to businesses nationally and internationally. Involvement of companies, through structured and strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs is the need of the hour as small changes in the way CSR budgets are spent can have a huge effect on the education sector and benefit millions.
One of the few countries in the world with a law for mandatory spend on CSR is India. The passing of Companies Act, 2013 in India provides the right opportunity for Indian companies to play an important role in the cause of quality education. It not only points out a way for companies to contribute to the well-being of the society but also gives them the opportunity to create a true competitive advantage and positive reputation for the business world. With a legal framework backing it, CSR in India has gone beyond charity and donations and has now become an integral part of the corporate strategy. Companies now have CSR teams that devise specific policies, strategies and goals for their CSR programs and set aside budgets to support them. These programs are based on clearly defined social philosophy and can range from an overall development of a community to supporting specific causes including the promotion of education and employment-enhancing vocational skills.
Several organizations in the profit domain are already working for the advancement of marginalized sections of the society through initiatives in education. The pioneer of CSR activities in the education field undertaken by the private companies are the Tatas. Tata Steel, for instance, spends nearly 5-7 percent of its net profits to work on its sustainability model of empowerment of community. It has influenced the integration of the tribals in the economy by propping up the education of tribal children and the youth of various ages at different stages in their academic career. Some of its distinguished programs include Project Akansha targeted at getting children from primitive tribal group mainstream children to formal schools; Project Sagyog targeted at assisting corporates to help tribal students develop their self-esteem and plan their future; Sakshar Samaj Program for functional literacy in adults; and Moodie Endowment for financial assistance to students pursuing professional courses. Tata Steel actively works towards promoting excellence in the schools by extending the Tata Business Excellence Model to create the Education Excellence Model.
Some of the other notable projects undertaken by Indian companies in the education sector include Project Unnati, Nanhi Kali and ADAPT program by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), Reliance Power’s activities targeted at PAFs (Project Affected Families), Project Shiksha by Microsoft, Satya Bharti School Program by the Bharti Foundation and Future First by HSBC. Companies are not only focused at the increasing the pot available to education, but also improving the way the current pot is spent, so that social impact is maximized. The global education challenge demands an innovative approach, and corporations are getting adept at selecting and backing projects with new and experimental approaches.
CSR & EDUCATION IN INDIA- INITIATIVES & STRATEGIES
CSR in Education so far in India has mostly involved steps to promote education among local communities or society at large by building schools (built by a company free of cost or at a minimal cost to the company or society), scholarships (offered to underprivileged/meritorious students at various levels of education, for primary or higher studies), sponsorships (helping schools run efficiently by providing teaching aids, books, uniform, shoes, and bags), increasing access to education (supporting/building secondary schools in localities that do not have one; encouraging children to go to school by spreading awareness, helping or training teachers, providing infrastructure for the school; free transport facility), and higher education (setting up or supporting higher or technical education institutes like vocational training centers, engineering colleges, schools offering training in other fields such as management).
Other CSR practices for the education sector that are increasingly gaining popularity among specific industries include the promotion of computer illiteracy, establishment of gender equity by targeting girls from economically disadvantaged families for quality education, provision of toilets and maintenance of a clean and hygienic school environment, customization of programs designed to provide educational support to children with disabilities, provision of nourishment to students, psychological support to underprivileged students by providing motivational talks on leadership development, personality development, establishment of training institute for teachers, libraries for rural school education of slum children and night schools for uneducated adults for empowerment of illiterate public in surrounding villages, tribal areas.
Awareness programs have been a significant part of CSR initiatives by companies with programs organized to spread awareness among the communities and the society at large about the importance of education and critical issues such as child labor, girl child, etc which hinder access to education. Taking this a step further, programs can target quality education as well as holistic development of underprivileged children in the rural parts of the country, designed to empower students to explore, question, reason and communicate effectively. Moreover, companies can actively get involved in providing academic support to the public education system, specially govt. schools as the role of academic support is extremely crucial in the development of curriculum and materials, training of teachers, research based knowledge generation, assessment and evaluation, academic monitoring of schools. One way to do this will be to adopt govt. schools as has been done by a private company recently in the Gautam Budh Nagar district of Noida, Uttar Pradesh. So far, 54 out of 470 schools in the district have been adopted by companies a part of their corporate social responsibility portfolio with the objective to provide quality education to the destitute children. The administration has had a critical role to play in this with the District Magistrate, N.P. Singh personally visiting several villages in the district to identify the problems and inviting corporate houses to adopt the schools and undertake initiatives to improve services accordingly. With 80% of India’s children studying in government schools, this is a commendable move towards ensuring quality education that can be replicated in other districts under the CSR mandate.
The virtualization of education in India, furthermore, has immense capacity to improve access to education of the down trodden people based at their hutments and enroll vast number of students. In a developing country like India marked by internal asymmetries, the potential of a digital India to spread education at all levels and to connect the people of different communities with diverse socio-cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic background is enormous. Several companies can work on this together as this would entail massive investments and structured changes at various levels. Technology innovations can make it easy to distribute education contents to remote population, empowering them with knowledge that might change their life. Teachers can be trained in computers who can further educate students across the country to bridge the digital divide and supplement the overall development objectives
CSR can also be used to address the looming skill gaps in the country with nearly 90 million persons joining the workforce, but most of them lacking the requisite skills and the mindset for productive employment, or for generating incomes through self employment. Companies can make skill development a priority and train students in vocational schools to help them emerge as employable citizens and contribute towards community development.
As evident, companies can play a prominent role in innovating at the grass root level as such projects involve complicated administration and implementation which the corporate players are believed to be at a better position to understand through their high expertise in managerial processes. Shortage of financial support has always been a bottleneck for ensuring consistent access to education. However, mere involvement from a financial perspective to strengthen the education system in underprivileged areas is not enough. For instance, a corporate funding the setting up of a school in a village is not translating itself automatically into a CSR product; unless teachers are recruited, adequate infrastructure is provided and literary improves. Setting up a special purpose vehicle, a corporate foundation, instead to explore alternative social sector agenda can offer better opportunities for product and process innovations. Working in education sector requires specific skills and knowledge. Companies can share its most valuable resources by involving their top management to provide the operation know-how in such projects. Community volunteering, thus, can be one of the most sincere forms of CSR whereby companies can encourage its employee through internal communications to actively participate in their initiatives and contribute their skills. This will help inculcate corporate philanthropy. At the same time, students, schools and the general public will benefit from the experience and expertise that corporations bring to the table..
CSR Models for the Education Sector
There are three models that have been adopted by different corporates time and again to carry out CSR activities in the field of education whereby the corporate has chosen to be a programme owner or a fund provider or an implementation partner:
- Corporates have conceptualized the initiative as well as implemented it on their own if not with a partner entity like a NGO
- Corporates have provided financial or material support to development initiatives in education run by NGOs, Govt. Institutions or other corporates
- Corporates have helped in designing and implementing development initiatives of third party initiatives of third party entities such as govt., other corporates and multilateral organizations.
The core strategy in all three models involves the following steps:
- Identification of the area of intervention/involvement and the scope of work
- Identification of the beneficiaries[Demographic Profile – location, sex, category, age, type of school supported)
- Identification of the sources of fund to create a sustainable model (internal, external, donor engagement model)
- Designing of an appropriate/dedicated team with the right organizational structure to run the initiative [Finalize organizational structure, Recruit key personnel, Recruit Local people/volunteers]
- Identification of Key Stakeholders for the programs
- Formulation of a strategic plan for the initiative [ Defining objectives, Resource Mapping, Awareness Programmers, Trainings for internal/external/NGO members]
- Mechanism for Monitoring & Tracking Success [Financial Monitoring, Identification of KPOs, Impact Assessment at regular intervals, Internal Mechanisms to measure/report utilization of funds to the donors, Mechanisms/frequency of reporting to the donors involved, mechanisms for taking feedback from donors, Identification of templates/tools to be used to record report on initiatives]
- Ensuring sustainability and replicability of model
For any of the abovementioned models to be successful, defining the program strategy prior to the implementation, clearly stating the objectives and the steps that need to be taken to achieve them, is of utmost importance. Advocacy, Sensitisation, Implementation and Monitoring and Evaluation of progress should form an integral and indispensable part of this overall strategy that will help the initiative gain acceptance from all stakeholders, ensuring a structured approach towards implementation. In the second model, particularly, identification of the right initiatives to support is crucial. This would require a thorough process of shortlisting select initiatives run by NGOs/Govt./Corporate running programmes having synergy with company’s CSR objectives, requiring select institutions to submit proposals, validating their credentials, speaking to references, visiting the program venue, shortlisting programmes to support, finalizing the level of involvement with the programme & finalizing the appropriate T & C.
An NGO-Corporate partnership is ideal as NGOs are more flexible in absorbing and utilizing resources internationally and process more up-to-date knowledge, credibility and human resources that are important for the operation of education-related projects. However, while NGOs have more information than companies, they lack the operational capacity, especially the financial resource, that can be supplemented by the companies. Companies have to be advised on what area would create the best synergy between the company resources and the needs for education, to significantly optimize the overall CSR achievement. A stringent monitoring and tracking process can help such initiatives achieve large scale.
Challenges to implementing CSR in education primarily include integrating CSR with organizational values and practices, and lack of time and financial resources to follow CSR practices with CSR being viewed more as a means to manage regulatory impacts, reduce risks, and respond to stakeholder concerns. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to first establish a business case for CSR for the companies to commit and allocate resources to these practices. The key drivers for such as business case could essentially revolve progressive self-interest, social involvement, transparency, trust and increased public expectations of the business. It works to the advantage of the situation that companies are now discovering the importance of corporate image, corporate identity, corporate reputation and the use of CSR as a reputation and advantage building strategy.
Other challenges may include the difficulty and risk in implementing systemic initiatives mainly because of the lack of recognized implementation partners and technical experts, the difficulties associated with indirect impact, the long gestation period and time take to realize changes, and the misconception that these interventions are expensive. These complexities can be handled strategically by having dedicated teams looking after each and every aspect of the project implementation.
Companies can achieve more by acting in partnership with each other and with governments, NGOs and multilateral agencies such as the UN. To establish the ideal condition, different socially responsible companies can cooperate for the operation of educational CSR projects ensuring several players in a specific market instead of only a small number of companies. Moreover, the education community can be asked to intervene to articulate how innovations would be able to help them and align itself with companies’ interests. Companies can spend more, but without focusing on the impact of this spending, it is unlikely that several million more children will be able to pursue schooling for the first time. Their role should extend beyond direct provisioning to supporting innovation, providing technical assistance, and supporting governments in developing effective assessment systems.
The challenges in addressing the skill gaps are multi-dimensional and require cooperative efforts by all stakeholders. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for providing the foundation for manpower development, for India’s emerging knowledge economy, must indisputably lie with the government. Governments such as the Maharashtra Govt. have now introduced dedicated policies for the implementation of CSR initiatives associated with the school education. Setting up a ‘single window’ approach to facilitate and streamline the proposed CSR activities from the corporate sector at Mantralaya is one of the key provisions of such a policy, which has been notified by the government. Furthermore, as part of the policy, a state-level CSR committee, having secretary, school education and sports department, as its chairman, is proposed to be formed. Creating a framework for management and facilitation of school-related CSR activities, evaluating and approving requests for CSR activities by reviewing the need/issues as well as proposing plan, timelines and projected outcomes, and other relevant enablers in the School Education System and sharing best practices of successful CSR initiatives from within and outside of the state are some of the major roles the state-level committee is expected to carry out. In addition to a state-level committee, a CSR committee at the level of commissionerate and divisional authorities is also expected to facilitate and monitor the effective implementation of the policy. The CSR activities to be supported by the CSR Cell and various committees are broadly divided into three categories – infrastructure and school development institutes; student development and capability building of teachers; and school management and state institutes. The policy is expected to help in the desired implementation of the novel innovative ideas that the corporate houses have come out with for CSR activities in the field of education sector. Gujarat Government, on the other hand, has asked all its Public Sector Units (PSUs) to start atleast two modern schools matching education quality with top private schools in the backward areas of the state as their corporate social responsibility. The state education department is also willing to give a land for the school to the PSU in case it doesn’t have one and to also take the help of the newly formed CSR authority in the pursuance of the same.
CSR has never been more prominent on the corporate agenda than it is today. With Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013 making spending on CSR mandatory for qualifying companies, there is ample potential for the corporate sector to address the missing gaps in the education system. This is an opportunity for India Corp. to restructure the education system at all levels, i.e., elementary secondary and higher education. Furthermore, the considerable resources and pool of experience that the corporates bring to the table can go a long way in the effective implementation of the statutory right to education. What is required is strategic thinking from the companies, combined with a balanced approach wherein companies create a portfolio of CSR initiatives that balances high-risk, high-returns social programmes with low-risk, low-returns programmes. Moreover, the requirement for mandatory disclosure of CSR initiatives and expenditures ensures the company’s accountability to the society. All such disclosure, financial or otherwise can only improve corporate behavior.
A positive is that given the country’s young population and weak education system, a key focus area for CSR at about 75% of the companies is education. Companies in India are already spending substantial part of their sustainability budgets on education. According to a report published by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with the UNESCO, eight Indian companies in the Fortune Global 500 spent $81 million a year on CSR activities, out of which $ 15 million a year or 18 percent of the total expenditure was spent on education. A vast majority of education related CSR spend went to primary education 39 per cent, followed by secondary education 29 per cent, vocational education 14 per cent and spending on infrastructure 14 per cent. The promotion of education and employment-enhancing vocational skills were the two key focus areas for Indian companies, especially at the primary and secondary levels. The intent was both to improve access to education and improve quality of education.
While the company law lists multiple areas for social investment, companies should prioritize their CSR funds for education to address systemic barriers to education quality as investing in education promotes economic growth, leads to more stable societies, fosters healthy communities, and makes it easier to do business- all critical to India’s sustainable development. As long as businesses address the right needs, they have the ability to make a tremendous impact. While I do not believe that there are any best practices for CSR, it is still worth looking at the successful initiatives already being run by the Corporates in the education sector that can be emulated to some extent if in conformity to the overall business strategy. Furthermore, policymakers could reward and incentivize corporate involvement at national as well as regional levels to, further, encourage such actions.
While CSR in India is still in a very nascent stage, with the spend slated to increase manifold, there is immense potential of corporates role in ensuring universal access to education. There is a scope for Indian businesses to create several pioneering models in CSR, driving innovation and productivity growth in the economy. The law on CSR in India has the potential to bring a revolution in the development of the economy provided the expenditures get a direction. Given that the educational needs are so urgent, it is more important than ever to ensure that we make better use of resources available as a consequence of this mandate.
Philanthropy should thus, be more strategically integrated into business models, ensuring that CSR activity is aligned with real needs in the education sector.
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