By Richa Bajpai
Corporations across the world agree on the fact that business objectives and social responsibilities are not watertight compartments, and in fact, the later has a significant impact on the former. The relationship between the two can only be strengthened to benefit all stakeholders by leveraging the power of technology.
Many companies are not aware of the potential of technology in strategizing, planning, managing and reporting their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, thereby propelling their journey towards greater impact.
Companies find it difficult to strategize the usage of their funds and efforts since there is a dearth of data-driven intelligence. The existence of comprehensive and relevant data points about a CSR program is extremely crucial to draw any actionable insights.
Poor planning leads to the development of weak programs that do not achieve the envisioned impact. Many stakeholders of the ecosystem – not only companies but NGOs too – struggle to break this vicious circle. To undo this vicious cycle, relying on technology is inevitable. Building an ecosystem with technology at the bottom of the foundation will help improve efficiency, accountability and transparency in the CSR ecosystem.
Before we see how data and technology will be instrumental in delivering impact at speed and scale, it is important to map the critical aspects of a company’s CSR journey.
- Good companies (those who have been successful in breaking the vicious cycle) have a strategic CSR plan based on their previous learning and data analytics. This plan has the rationale for choosing the causes to support, beneficiaries and locations to focus on and modalities of monitoring and reporting
- With this robust plan, their program execution is smooth with few or no unforeseen and unwanted surprises.
- All the stakeholders are in line with the larger program goals and hence function in harmony in a transparent manner. This is evident through their comprehensive monitoring frameworks and their on-ground partners’ ability to follow reporting best practices.
- With strong processes and aligned stakeholders, these companies draw meaningful and actionable insights from the program data. These insights feed into a good strategy for the next phase of planning.
Now, let us explore how data and technology can catalyse a company’s efforts to achieve the desired impact from its CSR programs.
Technology can help in prioritising CSR expenditure by aligning them with the needs on the ground and helping choose the right partners. The technology platforms for program management can bring greater transparency in implementation by bringing all the relevant stakeholders together, thus ironing out any potential risks.
At the planning stage of CSR programs, technology platforms can be leveraged to agree on monitoring frameworks across NGO partners irrespective of their geographical location. Tech-based monitoring of CSR programs provides direct access to last mile beneficiaries which is impossible through paper-based monitoring. Once the frameworks have been crystallized, the NGO partners can feed data in real-time from ground zero for donors/companies to refer to at any point in time. Standardization of the monitoring structures and frameworks helps reduce uncertainty and thereby wastage of invaluable resources.
Reporting is a pivotal activity which if not undertaken can wash away any impact created by the CSR programs. It is important for the donors to understand how their CSR funds are being utilized and if there is a gap in this communication between the company and the NGO partners, there is a strong possibility the program will fail to have an impact. Tech-based program management platforms allow companies to get regular reports from their NGO partners and help in drawing up clear value statements for the board level executives.
Learning comes from data and experiences and technology facilitates intelligent skimming of data to understand what went/is going right and wrong during the tenure of any program.
Apart from prompting any requirement for mid-course corrections, tech platforms help in analysing large data to map trends, issues, successes and failures and any activities requiring urgent attention. These insights act as the building blocks of a strong edifice of community impact.
A good strategy is a direct output of learning based planning. It is very important for companies to learn from the past experiences and support that with data to build a robust CSR strategy for the next phase of the programs.
Technology platforms can help strategize the efforts by chalking out the CSR lifecycle, the various structures and frameworks required for implementing, bringing all the stakeholders on the same page by creating a stage for them to interact and work towards the larger goal sticking to the agreed plan of action.
Richa Bajpai is the Founder of Goodera.