School of Business Environment

The driver of CSR related functions in IICA is the School of Business Environment (SBE). The School focuses on environments - economic, social, financial and technology - in which businesses operate. As globalization plays a key role in shaping the business environment in India, the School also focuses on the effect of global forces on Indian business environments. Some crucial activities of the School are, to study and analyze emerging business environments, trends and future scenarios so as to facilitate the Government and corporates to align their policy frameworks and administrative systems. Moreover, the School also promotes debate on developing appropriate strategies and structures to enable the Government and corporates to respond in creative ways to the everchanging operating business environments.

As businesses are nested within the local context, the School is particularly interested in studying the impact of business activities on the socio-economic milieu of the place, region and the nation. This also bring in the important role of CSR to uplift socio-economic condition of areas/regions. The School also looks at the business operations from the environment lens and aims to provide a basic understanding of issues connected to sustainable economic growth and climate change and give appropriate strategic and policy advice to the Government and corporates. Within this overarching framework, the mandate of the School is to-

Act as a one-stop-shop and provide End-to-End (E2E) CSR Advisory services to corporates;

Organize capacity building of all actors in the CSR eco-system - Government, corporates, implementing agencies, NGOs/CSOs and others;

Conduct action research and give policy inputs to Government and the corporates;

Deal with all aspects of Business and Human Rights (BHR); and

Guide Centre-specific functions.

Figure 1: Functions of SBE

The three basic CSR functions are interrelated as well as separate and the best way to represent them is in the form of a Venn Diagram given in Figure 1. Overlapping areas require multidisciplinary actions on the part of the SBE. For example, policy making for a company may also involve capacity building of the board and managers. Similarly, data coming out of the baseline surveys is a good source for action research. Thus, the SBE has teams with diverse skill sets having competencies in survey methods, knowledge of development economics and project implementation practices. The detailed activities in the three broad functions are given below -

Advisory Services: This function consists of the following activities -

CSR policy making of companies and reviewing their existing policies. This depends on the philosophy and vision of the company and also takes into account national priorities and needs. What is important is that the company promoters and other stakeholders should have an emotional connect with the policy and the projects flowing from their policies;

Baseline surveys and need assessment. The needs are of the local households and people, therefore, contextually grounded in place and time. The needs are determined through household surveys, focus group discussions, desk review and so on. Establishing relevant indicators is an important part of needs assessment;

Connecting micro level needs to projects within the overarching policy framework of the company. This is also called designing of projects and includes benchmarking on set indicators. This will form the base for expected outcomes (e.g. SDGs). This process of projectivization (or project scoping) is the most challenging task for a researcher/practitioner because it requires cross-disciplinary knowledge. Proper project scoping will meet needs of the local people, ensure project implementation within the set timelines and ensure financial and social sustainability of the project. What is required is a deep understanding of what works and what does not in the local context and then replicating or adapting successful practices (e.g. best and next practices) used in other situations;

Real-time monitoring and evaluation of projects during implementation. This requires preparing activity- timeline charts for all projects (Gantt chart), listing out the assumptions and periodically reviewing if they are failing, using digital technology to ensure accountability and transparency, making mid-course corrections based on feedback signals (e.g. findings from real time evaluation) and ensuring that all activities lead to best quality outcomes at a minimum cost;

Impact assessment after completion of projects. Once the project is completed, a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches is used for impact assessment. Impact is assessed against the baseline and benchmarks set earlier and also includes the unintended effects arising from the project.

Capacity building: This function includes training of directors, executives, managers, implementing agencies and other professionals connected to the CSR eco-system. The trainings are diverse, requiring several varieties of training methods. For example, face-to-face training for 1-3 days will be imparted to executives and managers. Another popular variant is a mix of digital and face-to-face/only digital training for budding CSR professionals and NGOs/CSOs. This also includes some form of internship with companies and implementing agencies. Finally, more in-depth training is required for specialization in policy-making, monitoring, evaluation, etc.

Research: The research function consists of the following set of activities. First, quantitative work using the rich data obtained from household surveys (e.g. need assessment, baseline and impact assessment). Second, sophisticated statistical analysis based on the rich source of information given by companies as part of their compliance obligations to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Third, using learning from impact evaluation studies to feed forward into policy making at the company level and more generally into design/revision of Government policies. Fourth, creating a repertoire of successful micro-level company projects to act as exemplars for other corporates and development administrators.

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