CSR as a nursery for empathetic learning and inclusive innovations

CSR reforms for augmenting inclusive innovation movement are overdue. So far, a very few corporations (foundations apart) have really devoted their Corporate social responsibility (CSR) investment strategy towards augmenting innovations. If we exclude, the contributions of public sector corporations towards CSR, the total contribution for CSR is very low by the rest of the thousands of the corporations.

Why should companies pay attention to CSR not as a social obligation imposed by the government but for more important strategic reason. One of the important reasons is that by engaging with socially disadvantaged regions, the corporations can learn to be empathetic. Without empathy, no good corporation can ever become great.

What are the ways in which the journey from good to greatness can be mediated by CSR? One way is to learn the systematic way in which certain social needs remain unmet for a very long time. Second is the inspirational value. One has to recognize that there are always a few people at grassroots level who do not adjust and adapt with the problems or challenges. These  solution providers or  odd balls can be a great source of inspiration. The third reason is to learn the heuristics or metaphors or gestalt of frugality from these grassroots innovators. Which corporation doesn’t want to learn the art of frugality. It is not just low cost, that is important part of the frugal innovations but also circular economic dimensions which make many of these more sustainable than the rest. Fourth reason is to realize the value of forging connections between communities and corporation may be guided by not just utilitarian business interest but also for a larger value laden purpose. More and more companies are realizing is that purpose and not just profit drives the great corporations. Fifth treason is that social connect augments social capital of the corporations which many young customers  put a lot of weight on.

Sixth reason is very practical. By engaging with frugal innovators and many entrepreneurs, start-ups, a culture of intra-preneurship may emerge in the companies. This will be most strategic gain for a corporation which most corporations have not yet realized.

Seventh is learning to cooperate among corporations to supplement the unmet needs of the society in a synergistic manner. Just by doing more of the same will not help. How does society learn to be more efficient by having creativity and innovation labs in rural and urban slums and government schools. The CSR funds can be used to announce awards for challenge awards at state and district level. Each collector will announce the wicked problems which will be backed up under CSR funds. Even national challenges for social and rural development can be supported by the CSR funds/people.

Eight: CSR funds can be used for acquiring innovative technologies for social good to make them open source or be available at low cost to small entrepreneurs. Innovators can be supported for protecting their IPRs pro bono. Such costs are allowed to be part of CSR spends.

Nine: ISR (individual social responsibility is no small part of the  CSR culture. Why should not staff, managers and leaders voluntary contribute some of their skills, time and resources for creating social good. They will not only become better mangers but also better human being.

Tenth: testbed for co-creation: CSR should encourage co-creation of new extremely affordable products and services addressing unmet social needs, particularly in disadvantaged regions and for unreached communities

Eleven: CSR Funds should be used to Map and Tap unmet needs and put these on  national portal as being planned by LBSNAA so that future managers and  leaders of administration also start feeling responsible for mobilizing local and national CSR resources for addressing unmet district needs. Such an attempt  should definitely prioritize poorest hundred districts first. CSR investments in such areas  can be given added credits to motivate corporations not to just make in-the-backyard investment. The neighborhood investments should be part of corporate regional responsibility anyway, for having drawn water, air and other resources from that region.

There are many other reasons which may guide the CSR strategies of the corporation to be a better corporate citizen of the society. It is hoped that a new empathetic logic will evolve which will shape the new social contract of the business entities.

After all, the are so many common and public goods which need to be sustained and rejuvenated for larger viability of the entire socio-ecological fabric of our society.



Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place