What are the main focus areas Thermax’s CSR initiatives?
Our CSR is managed by the Foundation we created a few years ago. We focus on quality primary education for the under privileged. I believe writing a cheque is relatively easy and we have to go beyond that to ensure sustained impact. Hence our goal is to go beyond providing financial support.
Giving money without ascertaining the impact it creates is at times not very helpful. The two NGOs our CSR mainly supports are Akanksha and Teach for India. Fortunately, my daughter Meher and I are on both the Boards and are very aware of the impact and the outcome of these activities. We also select NGOs which have good governance, a long-term vision and aligned mission. Our work with Akanksha is an example of what I am trying to convey. We have entered into a public-private partnership with a Pune based Foundation which is responsible for recruiting teachers, social workers and school leaders.
Thermax Foundation runs in-service training program for teachers of municipal English Medium Schools in Pune. Though the program is only for 17 days it is very effective in changing the mindset of the teachers.
Would you like to make some suggestions for making CSR spends by corporates more impactful?
For deeper and meaningful impact, CSR activities need to focus on long terms initiatives. It helps if a Company decides a focus area and does not spread itself very thin. If the resources of various Companies could be pooled together in partnership with Government and creditable NGOs the impact could be manifold. NGOs and Corporates can bring in quality but scale is possible only with the involvement of Government.
Let me give you an example of an effective partnership in Pune. A few corporates have got together and along with the Pune Municipal Corporate and NGOs we have taken up the challenging task of improving the quality of over 200 Municipal schools in Pune. Since reaching out to each teacher in every school is difficult we have used the model of training the trainers. We have also created 15 Model Schools to show case what quality education is and over time reversed the trend of children going to private English medium schools. These 15 schools have long school hours and each school has a dedicated social worker.
Another suggestion would be not only to look at short term results but for long term goals which will have a huge impact. In our school, we strive for excellent SSC results but we do not stop there, we define success as a person who has imbibed good values and gives back to the community. At Akanksha, we aspire to one day follow the womb to work approach which means we support and influence the parents when the child is very young and hand hold the student till she completes her studies and joins the work force. We want to lift the students from poverty. There are some areas where it is difficult to see results in the short run, and giving to those causes is a matter of faith. For example, if the cause is initiated in Human Rights the results may not be seen here and now.
Thermax has been committed to CSR activities for years. What insights can you share with companies who are just getting started?
I do believe that CSR should be by choice but now that it is mandatory we should stop debating and take it up seriously and make the most of it. Each Company should decide the area in which they want to see a change and focus on one or two areas rather than spreading their funds very thin. It would help if small organizations pool together their finances, find a common cause of interest and focus on it.
I also feel that just because CSR is mandatory, it does not mean that professionals or owners of businesses should stop giving from their personal funds. India has several problems and needs help from CSR and from personal giving.
My last request would be not to take up CSR as a compulsory necessity or for looking good in the eyes of the public and to win awards but an activity to make a social impact. The reason for taking up CSR should be to make an impact in the social world. Corporates need to remember that business cannot survive in a society that fails.
In conversation, Ms. Anu Aga, Chair of CSR, Thermax Ltd.(Posted here)