Why businesses must get corporate social responsibility right

Indian entrepreneur Natasha Mudhar discusses why corporate social responsibility is a crucial part of a brand’s image and what it takes to build an effective CSR strategy


Edited by: Tom Wadlow



The world’s top 500 companies, the Fortune 500, spend between them more than $20 billion on corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. 
 
Many have dedicated departments and reporting procedures, while others have built foundations devoted to social and environmental work, organisations which today employ thousands of people to ensure resources are used as effectively as possible. 
 
India was the first country in the world to make corporate social responsibility mandatory, following an amendment to the Companies Act in April 2014. It mandates large companies to spend a proportion of profits (two percent) for on areas such as education, poverty, gender equality, science and other social programmes. 
 
For Indian entrepreneur Natasha Mudhar, CSR is not only a critical society enabler, but a core part of a brand’s identity.

Mudhar is a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) campaigner and Co-Founder of the social impact enterprise,The World We Want (WWW), an entity dedicated to accelerating progress for action towards the 17 global goals in the lead up to 2030.

She has steered campaigns in support of the United Nations, NGOs, campaigners and thought leaders to tackle major world issues including climate, education, sanitation and gender inequalities. 

Her role as a renowned global business strategist has enabled major corporates and high-profile individuals to be closer aligned to their purpose, often from a social impact lens. Mudhar was also integral to giving the global south a leadership position in achieving the SDGs with the SDGs Impact Summit in Delhi, and was a part of the award winning team behind the gender equality viral hit #WhatIReallyReallyWant.​

Here, she took time out to answer our questions. 


Asia Outlook (AsO): What, for you, is the meaning of corporate social responsibility?

Natasha Mudhar (NM): I think the world which we currently live in is as complex as it has even been in so far as the challenges we face on a humanitarian level. 

Whether it be battling issues related to the climate, the current global health pandemic we are stricken with, issues to do with education , gender and societal inequalities – we are tasked with a huge mission to find strategies to align the world on the right path to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals in just 10 years, by 2030. ​

The inclusion of major businesses, both financially and on a thought leadership level, is crucial if we are to make progress and this is where corporate social responsibility comes into play. Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, has become somewhat of a buzzword in the world of business these days. You will struggle to find a major global business which doesn’t have a head of operations for CSR.  But for some there is still confusion as to what actually comprises a strong strategy. Is it financial donations, building localised infrastructure, employee welfare schemes, philanthropy, community projects, volunteer efforts? ​

The truth is CSR is a broad concept which can take on many forms and doesn’t necessarily mean sticking a donation on the table and being done with it. Yes, raising funds is an effective method for positive impact, but for me CSR is defined by a company’s strategised efforts to make a real impact – whether that be locally, nationally or globally.  It’s setting a goal and using your influence and means to achieve it. Weak outreach efforts to the community should no longer be acceptable and are not measurable against an embedded, well-implemented social impact strategy, focussing on the day-to-day contributions towards engagement as opposed to the occasional donation or charitable event.​

With the decade of delivery now upon us between 2020 and 2030, focussed CSR is going to be absolutely crucial to the achievement or failure of our global goals. With great power comes great responsibility, and now we need to be putting this responsibility to good use. ​

AsO: How important is being a good corporate citizen to a brand’s image in today’s connected world? ​

NM: It’s massive, both on a consumer, investor and employee level. Social image can often be the make or break of a company’s entire ecosystem. We are living in an era where the challenges we face as people and planet are dominating the media, meaning people are so informed and in some cases alarmed by unethical practice. If you were to ask someone the same question 20 years ago, they would have said it was not so important – but now, I simply don’t think its sustainable for a business to not be seen as a sustainable business. ​

Within the past five years various studies have revealed how important a brands social image is to consumer appetite. According to global research firm Nielsen, 64 percent of consumers in the Asia Pacific region will happily pay more for products and services from companies that take the impact they have on society and the environment seriously.

What’s more, studies have revealed that three quarters of millennial workers will take a pay cut for the opportunity to serve a socially responsible company. ​

According to a global study by the SEFORIS project (the world’s largest study of social enterprises to date), companies implementing a social impact strategy are also seeing rapid growth in revenue.​ This is why we say that profits and purpose are mutually beneficial concepts which can work together. You can do well by doing good.

Being a good corporate citizen is crucial across all levels. ​

AsO: What are the key components of a successful CSR strategy? Is it all about money? ​

NM: A good CSR strategy needn’t revolve around mass expenditure and in the same breath it doesn’t necessarily revolve around the money made for a cause. There is more to CSR than money. For me, the key component is the measurable impact. ​

Not every effort will resonate with people and it’s important to try and find that middle ground. Consumers know donations do good in the world, but they also see money as a table-stakes approach to CSR. It’s important to show a more invested strategy to seeing impact through and finding measurable results. For example – how many children did a company introduce into the education system via a mobile education unit they funded and provided volunteers for? How many trees did a company plant to reduce the damage of industrialisation? These are the things that resonate with stakeholders. ​

I also think the key to a good CSR strategy is cross-sector, cross-continental collaboration. With the clock ticking, the onus has never been stronger for global cross-continental coalitions in the corporate sphere – breaking down borders and unlocking the potential for a truly global effort. The abundance of resources that we hold in the global north and global south, respectively, cannot be fully utilised until we explore the true potential of borderless collaboration. ​

We need cooperation from business leaders and CSR wings from companies in Europe, US, Africa, the Middle East and rest of Asia to frequently convene at conclaves to discuss strategy and collaboration – just as global leaders do. The SDGs Impact Summit in New Delhi last year was a fantastic realisation for us that we have the key to our global goals at the tip of our reach – now it’s down to the sustained and increased engagement of corporates from around the world. ​

AsO: Are there any examples from your enterprises or experiences that you are proud of? ​

NM: The World We Want is a global social impact curating impact led collaborations and business strategies to accelerate the pace of progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve represented corporates, consumer brands, charities, celebrities, countries, governments, global thought leaders and private clients to address 21st century challenges and merge purpose with profit. ​

Personally, I’m proud to have worked on some of the world's most cutting edge projects, from being appointed as India Director of filmmaker Richard Curtis's organisation Project Everyone to popularise the SDGs to 1.3 billion Indians, to spearheading breakthrough campaign strategies in Africa for Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, playing a part in the award winning viral hit for female empowerment #WhatIReallyReallywant, working with World Food Programme, UN agencies such as UNESCO, World Food Programme, UNFPA,  the Commonwealth, and various a-list celebrities. In truth it would be unfair to name just one. ​

I think recently I can say I am proud to have co-curated the SDGs Impact Summit which took place in New Delhi last year, convening international delegates, panellists, change makers, activists and influencers rallying to propel the momentum of the SDGs by 2030 – the first such high-level initiative in India. We will be taking this to various countries around the world to help bridge the gaps between the global north and global south to create a whole new level of collaboration. ​

AsO: If you could single out one large Asian company as being a particularly good corporate, who would it be and why? ​

NM: Tata stands out as an exemplary company. The Tata Group’s core purpose is to improve the quality of life for the communities it serves globally, through long term stakeholder value creation based on the principle of leadership with trust. The fundamental to improving one’s quality of life is to provide continuous opportunities for nurturing and empowering communities in a sustained manner. Tata does this to great effect. ​