Nagrik Dialogue

CSR Leadership Series – Nixon Joseph Interview with Nagrik Dialogue

Nixon Joseph
President & COO –
SBI Foundation

What is CSR for you ?

CSR for me as a corporate being is a responsible citizen integrating social , environmental and ethical  aspects into its business operations. The profit earned should be the result of taking care of the interests of all stakeholders. Also SDGs are to be achieved by 2030, therefore corporates should integrate SDG aspects into their operations.

How has it changed post Covid ?

Covid has only brought into focus the need for more and more CSR actions. The pandemic  has reinforced that humanity cannot survive by ignoring the society and environment. It has exposed the inherent inequalities in the society which means more CSR activities are required to address the developmental challenges. During Covid and post Covid the relevance of CSR will only increase.

How do you think your  work is impacting lives ?Please share your flagship initiatives.

When  projects are sanctioned at SBI Foundation, we examine the  qualitative and quantitative changes that would result by these projects . All the projects are aligned with the SDGs, which means that in some way these projects positively impact lives on ground. When CSR projects are  implemented with passion and impact orientation, I am sure we will make a difference in the lives of people. More than one million lives have been positively affected by the programs of SBI Foundation since its inception in 2015.

We have four flagship initiatives :

SBI Youth for India fellowship , SBI Gram Seva , SBI Centre of Excellence for persons with disabilities , Health Care

SBI Youth for India (SBI YFI) is a 12 months  rural development fellowship program which provides a framework for India’s bright young minds to join hands with rural communities, empathize with their struggles and connect with their aspirations.. The initiative provides avenues for the youth to make a difference at the   grass-root level. The fellowship offers them an opportunity to work across many areas of interest viz. health and sanitation, livelihood, education, women empowerment and many more.  It aims at generating interest of the educated youth towards the social sector and encourages a spirit of social entrepreneurship within them. Every year more than 12000 youths apply for the 100 fellowship positions indicating that the fellowship is highly coveted .

SBI Gram Seva, launched in August 2017, is an integrated rural development program bringing socio-economic change in the villages through adoption of villages. The program has broad objectives of achieving: 

•          Digitalisation of Villages

•          Promotion of Quality Education 

•          Improving Primary Health Services 

•          Providing Safe Drinking Water & Sanitation 

•          Livelihood Generation 

•          Convergence of Government Schemes 

•          Empowerment of Rural Women & Youth 

•          Improvement of Rural Infrastructure 

•          Environment Protection 

The program is planned and  implemented with the active involvement of the Gram Panchayat, the partner NGO and local communityso as to ensure participatory and democratic approach. In a nutshell, through Gram Seva, SBI Foundation is working towards building Self-Reliant (AtmaNirbhar) Villages, which would grow sustainably. As on date, 75 villages in 11 States have been adopted by SBI Foundation under the SBI Gram Seva Program.

Centre of Excellence for PwDs (CoE) was conceptualised with a goal to be a centralised support centre for persons with disabilities. CoE, since its inception, believes that persons with disabilities are perfectly capable of making important contributions to the society. They have the requisite drive to succeed in employment, and the skills and talent necessary to deliver on the job.

Centre of Excellence primarily works on Empowering PwDs through skill enhancement to make significant and measurable improvement that enables individuals to enjoy a more productive and satisfying life by optimising their cognitive, physical, social and vocational functioning.

Health care : As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in India and with a view to supplement the effortsof Government, SBI Foundation launched a new flagship programmeon healthcare and undertook both short-term and mid/long-term relief initiatives to combat theCOVID-19 pandemic in India. The prime focus of this program is  on combating the COVID-19 healthcare pandemic in India,providing comprehensive primary healthcare and optimum nutrition to the vulnerablepopulation, promoting innovative finance, as well as promoting innovations andcutting-edge technologies that can overall strengthen health systems of the country.

How do you see future CSR projects unfolding ?

In the upcoming years, there would be significant focus on Health Care, Education and Livelihood as these were challenged by Covid.One of the concerns of CSR donors would be how to  channelize funds to solve social problems in a long-term sustainable approach keeping India’s vast geography in mind. More innovative projects leveraging digital infrastructure would therefore emerge.Social entrepreneurs could attract CSR funds and I foresee  corporates partnering with them either as impact investors, becoming their consumers, suppliers, or playing a role in capacity building.As corporates demand more focus on outcome and impact for their  funds, innovative instruments like pay for success, blended finance, impact bonds etc would become more common.

What will be key theme priorities ?

Healthcare, Education and Livelihood would become the priorities for CSR in the short to medium term as the pandemic has laid bare the developmental challenges in these sectors. The inequalities and weaknesses in these areas have to be addressed for equitable progress and inclusive growth. So CSR would step in to supplement the efforts of the Government as an enabler to scale .

Your top three learnings in the CSR landscape which you would like to share with readers?

Corporates should not consider that the compliance is done by spending 2% of the profit for CSR activities, instead the focus should be to integrate social, ethical and environmental aspects into their business operations. The CSR projects should give importance to understand the impact the projects are creating on ground with communities. People with passion to bring change only should enter the sector.

Key impacts made on ground, 3 top ones share the project, theme impact & geography

Project Gram Seva focused on holistic rural development ,implemented in 75 remote villages in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telengana and Uttarkhand   is a successful program which has made positive difference in the lives of more than 75000 people.

Project  SAMEIP, A highly innovative project enabling career pathways for 500 under-served young people with disabilities in the digitally transformed BFSI sector in India  being implemented in five cities viz. Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad is another successful and impactful program. Apart from training the youths, they are also being placed in various organisations.

Project Waste to Gold ( Waste management )

SBI Foundation implemented a ‘Waste to Gold’ model in partnership with Pro Rural to promote the best practices of solid waste management across the city of Dimapur in Nagaland . The objective of ‘Waste To Gold’ was to develop the skills of vulnerable youth and employ them in building an efficient and sustainable waste management system. This initiative has saved the Lingrijan-Lahorijan river from indiscriminate waste dumping and has positively impacted over 1260 families.The project  has provided livelihood skills to over 500 people and nearly 50% have secured their livelihood.

Suggestions on how the Sector (CSR Ecosystem) can improve :

  1. Collaboration among various funders so as to do programs on a large scale and avoid duplication of efforts.
  2. Baseline and Impact study to be conducted for all projects
  3. Maximum utilization of IT to enhance efficiency and impact.

What are your key learnings from the Covid crisis both from a business and social perspective ?

Collaboration among various stakeholders has helped the fight against Covid. That inspite of the challenges there are so many selfless people out there to help the affected is spreading Hope. The entire globe is interconnected and our prosperity depends on the wellbeing of others as well.

How do you think Covid will impact work on ground?

Life has to go on and therefore the work on ground will continue observing the Covid protocols& Covid appropriate behaviour .

In light of social distancing and remote work, what tools or practices you plan to implement to make sure ground work is smooth and communities are supported well.

We propose to improve the capabilities of the dashboard so that we could capture data regardingall the activities at the ground level. Conducting of more online review meetings would also help in assessing the progress in project implementation.

What kind of NGOs would you prefer to work with?

Of  course, NGOs who comply with all regulations, transparent in their functioning and adhering to timelines.

Is there possible collaborations you look at in future with like minded corporates for more impact,scale avoiding duplication of efforts ?

Collaboration is going to be the key as CSR evolves in India. We do many projects in partnership with other Corporates and would look for more collaborations in future as well.

Your comments on the New CSR amendments.

The recent amendments convey the message that the Govt wants corporates to do CSR in a more involved and meaningful way.More responsibilities given to the Boards on CSR Implementation, Monitoring and Impact  would in the long run make CSR activities more mainstream and sustainable. That CSR policy, annual action plan, details of projects sanctioned, impact reports etc would have to be displayed in the annual reports means more transparency.

Whats the one thing that’s key to your success ?

Being Kind and helping wherever possible.

What’s your leadership style?

Transformational style. Empowering others to achieve the Goals.

What  safety procedures have you put in place due to the pandemic?

As soon as the pandemic started, we allowed our colleagues to work from home. Even when there  were some urgent works we asked only two or three of the team members to attend office. All safety protocols as stipulated by the Government and local authorities were strictly complied with.

Have you laid off team members due to the pandemic?

We are not a fair weather employer. Instead of laying off, we have taken more employees into our fold.

What impact has covid 19 had on CSR landscape and what is the forecast for 2021-22 .

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has posed new challenges to the CSR landscape . Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached India, the focus of CSR funders has been on support to those adversely affected by covid and also strengthening the healthcare infrastructure. The funds flow to traditional activities like skilling, education, women empowerment, child nutrition, environment, etc have taken a back seat. One good outcome of the pandemic has been the increased adoption of digital accessories and apps in the sector even the acceptance has gone up .During 2021-22 also the focus would be more towards the health sector as I do not think majority of the population would get vaccinated before March 2022 and therefore the demands on the health infrastructure would continue.                                          

What are the strategic priorities of the organization and have these changed due to Covid.

As majority of the Indian population lives in the villages and developmental challenges are huge in the  rural areas, rural development has been a priority for us . Our Gram Seva program is on holistic development of villages. This priority continues inspite of Covid.

How does your organization live its organizational purpose? How does this role excite you ?

The purpose of the Organisation has been to bring a positive difference in the lives of the marginalized. All the projects implemented by us have this intrinsic goal. This role excites me because it is challenging to bring change or difference and the satisfaction on seeing the change happening is so immense. I consider it a privilege and fortune that I have a  changemaker’s role as President & Chief Operating Officer of SBI Foundation.

How has Covid-19 affected the business and what are the new strategies ?

Covid-19 has made CSR more relevant and necessary. Consequently our business of implementing CSR projects has only increased as this is the time as an organization we have to work more for supporting those adversely affected by covid and strengthening the health care infrastructure. Our strategy has always been to implement projects which create maximum impact and this would continue. Bringing more technology and innovative financial instruments to the CSR sector would also be explored.

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