Mobile telephony : an effective ICT platform for Community Empowerment under CSR by Dr. S. Baskar

Mobile telephony : an effective ICT platform for Community Empowerment under CSR by Dr. S. Baskar

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ABSTRACT

ICT has been playing a vital role in information dissemination, awareness creation and introduction of innovative products utilizing the audio-video digital platform in the field of Agriculture, Banking, Health care, trade, e-commerce etc, and thereby empowering people globally. An attempt has been made in this paper to study the various learning’s & impact of an ICT model for community empowerment conducted under the CSR arm of a corporate in partnership with a NGO in Tamil Nadu & Puducherry during 2011-2013. The case study is based on primary & secondary data collected progressively during the course of implementation of the project.The major findings of the study here is that it would be an effective sustainable CSR model for community empowerment as it helps to address the livelihood security issues of the rural people visibly. Incidentally, this project won the “Best Community Program Award” at the Responsible Business Summit held at Mumbai (June 2012) and termed as a successful partnership project between a corporate and NGO for community empowerment.

BACKGROUND

With the recent passage of the Companies Act 2013, corporate in our country have to spend 2 per cent of net profits towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) as prescribed under section135 of the act. India is perhaps one of the first countries in the world to have mandated this, and it paves the way for the corporate sector to play a big role in shaping communities and improving the national economy. Companies have to identify ways to integrate corporate social responsibility into their business strategies and strengthen the delivery mechanisms to make a genuine social impact, in terms of 10 core areas stipulated in the schedule vii of the act.

The reason being, “the current scenario of CSR spend of the corporate in general barring a few are purely activity-based besides handicapped by dearth of expertise to pursue the core activities. But, the law is now nudging companies to have a more sustainable and long term approach with respect to CSR”.

Further, there is an obvious presumption that public sector undertakings (PSUs) and banks (PSBs) are doing well on CSR front. Abhay Gupta, Senior Director, Deloitte India also critical of CSR spend of PSUs during the year 2013-14, and hold a view that these public sector companies have to allocate the CSR budget to under-funded activities rather than focusing mainly on one sector i.e. education. He attributed lack of dedicated CSR team; active involvement of key stakeholders including the CEOs, identifying apt social projects etc for inadequate piloting of projects in the core areas of CSR such as Hygiene, health care, poverty alleviation, livelihood enhancement, empowering women, capacity building, environment sustainability, rural development projects etc. Then, there is lack of partnerships with NGOs.

To obviate these handicaps, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs attached to Ministry of corporate affairs, the nodal agency for policy prescription and monitoring have suggested that companies should outsource the CSR activities to civil society sector (NGOs) to execute the programme at the ground level,”said at a multi-stakeholder dialogue on corporate social responsibility (CSR) recently (Business Standard dated 27.01.2015).

The points to be remembered here by the companies are shifting the focus from just ‘shareholders’ to ‘stakeholders’ (internal as well as external); focus would be on the aspect of community involvement by employing ‘Shared Value’ concept, and to enhance the prospect of co-operation between business, society and government. These are the challenges to be met by majority of the corporate as discussed.

PREAMBLE

The advent of mobile telephony would be a scientific wonder in the world, and it gets revolutionized completely as an effective ICT platform and amazes the country’s rural transformation process from the current decades of 2000s. It is more pronounced in our country’s National Mission of financial inclusion drive spearheaded by the Prime Minister by launching Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) recently, to ensure access to financial services, namely Bank accounts, Remittances, Credit, Insurance, and Pension in an affordable manner.

According to a report from telecom equipment maker Ericsson, India has emerged as the second largest mobile users globally with 900 million users by making inroads into vast remote villages. It is estimated by BCG that even if 25–30 percent of mobile users have activated GPRS/3G modes, there would be 250 to 300 million customers who would access banking and other services over the mobile more frequently in this decade of 2020.

The future of democratic polity and social harmony of India rests on the premise of rural transformation, a crucial driver for inclusive growth as recognized globally. As such, the philosophical framework to fight financial exclusion has undergone a significant shift from “an obligation perspective to an opportunity perspective”. Indian Corporate will have to accelerate the pace of rural transformation in terms of new CSR Policy, and Mobile telephony would be one of the key tools for achieving this agenda.

With this in view, MARG Karaikal Port P Ltd had implemented a collaborative project conceived by MSSRF, globally renowned NGO based in Chennai under its CSR arm of Parivarthan during 2011 to 2013.The title of the project is “Knowledge Connectivity to empower the rural community through integrated audio advisories to enhance their livelihood through mobiles in Karaikal and Nagappatinam districts”.

OBJECTIVE OF THE PROJECT

To provide need based demand-driven dynamic audio adversaries through mobiles in local language daily @ two per beneficiary to the target group of Fishers, Farmers and women SHGs @ 100 each, in and around Karaikal Port Villages.

To provide capacity building to the target group through various resource partners/experts for effective use of audio based scientific inputs.

To address the livelihood security issues in a participatory communication methods & technologies through the extension theories of lab-to-land; land-to-lab and land-to-land.

PROJECT CONCEPTS, COORDINATION & MONITORING

The project had utilized the tested concepts of Ocean state forecast (OSF) & Potential fishing zone (PFZ) besides other audio-advisories of Agriculture and allied activities developed by MSSRF in collaboration with M/S QUALCOMM & INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services).The Village Resource Centre (VRC) of MSSRF at Nagapattinam was the nodal agency to implement the captioned project.VRC is armed with senior scientists, well trained field officers and necessary IT infrastructures. Project progress was reviewed once in a quarter with the target groups with the stakeholders drawn from MSSRF, Agriculture, Horticulture, Fisheries departments, KVK, Coast guards and Port CSR team for necessary correction or addition if any.

IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS

The project was conceived as a five pronged strategy that includes audio-advisories, helpline-queries, phone in programs, awareness/training programmes & community news papers based on the need assessment and feedback of target groups (refer-process flow)

Phone-in-programme were organised in different thematic areas based on the help line queries, season based advisories, emerging needs etc by the subject specialist on real-time, besides utilising digital video platform & trainings for capacity building.

The community magazine carries relevant information pertaining to their occupation and region was distributed to the target groups, village panchayats and other stake holders.

Web based knowledge management system was utilized to capture all the project activities. Case study method was adopted by collecting feedback in person by the field officers and other scientist of MSSRF from the target groups to assess the impact of project deliverables on their livelihood.

IMPACT OF THE PROJECT ON THE TARGET GROUPS

The impact of the project was deliberated in terms of influence on the livelihood, outreach, challenges and way forward in a meet chaired by Prof MS Swaminathan, Chairman of MSSRF with due participation of GRK Reddy CMD of Karaikal Port, other stake holders and Press people. The gists of project results are :

  • OSF advisories helped to plan the fishing activities thereby mitigating livelihood security risk of fishers significantly.
  • PFZ information disseminated was accurate that helped the fishermen by way of increased income by about 30% in general.
  • Fisheries helpline played crucial role as an emergency response system of contact for fisher folk in saving their life and assets of fishers during cyclone (September 2012), and during their regular fishing operations in the sea.
  • Visible ramifications on the ground were experienced by the farmers for the timely applications of various crop and livestock management techniques on account of season based advisories which enhanced the farm income substantially.
  • Women SHGs were very vocal about advisories relating to re-productive and common health care issues; malnutrition, civic issues of de-alcoholism, pension, children scholarships and various loan schemes; practical training conducted for record maintenance and creating group synergy etc.
  • Overall, the project demonstrated the potential of mobile telephony to outreach large scale neighborhoods relatively spread over 32 villages at an optimal cost through the target audience of 300 people,which is the “nucleus and culture” of rural environment.

The project partners had announced in the meet to launch the second phase of the partnership project from September 2013 to January 2015 with a larger focus on the project deliverables impressed by the results of this novel venture.

LEARNING AND LIMITATIONS

Networking with external stakeholders i.e. specialists of wide range of institutions, Government departments, community leaders etc (who have socially-oriented aims and skills) ensured the effectiveness of the project deliverables besides supplement the project partners with extra energy, support and skills.

There is a general view among the Corporate that direct intervention on CSR by building an exclusive team may work for some areas like education, Health care but not practicable for larger community development & livelihood projects. The reason being field level complexities, creating net work with local leaders, officials and specialists from the Government departments etc to steer the projects require expertise of NGOs on the ground. This practical learning from the project was also echoed by some leading companies on CSR practices in a review titled ‘Making CSR Work’ (Kanika Datta, 2015).

Non-conversion of the skill learned for large scale adoption in the field, i.e. to start/ upscale the existing micro-enterprise was felt by fishers and SHGs for want of financial linkage. Another notable learning was marketing tie-up should be looked into before imparting any micro enterprise training to the target groups, which would facilitate them to pursue or scale up the business actively.

It was also observed that there is huge knowledge gap prevailing in the rural areas even today and also shortage of field officers which needs to be addressed by the Government.

CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATION

It has been empirically proved that mobile telephony would be cost and cause effective sustainable model for community empowerment due to forging strategies such as ‘participatory rural appraisal; dynamic, customized, accurate, season based livelihood audio-advisories; responding Queries quickly with reinforcement thr’ multiple platforms; most liked by illiterates among target groups; and visible impact on mitigation of risks to fisher folk, women and overall enhanced income to the target groups including farmers.

IN SUMMARY

Corporate in our country can replicate this cost effective ICT model for community empowerment under CSR as it encompass the core philosophy of new prescriptions under the companies act, 2013.This project is also suitable to PSUs, PSBs and MSMEs who can partner with NGOs to fulfill their CSR obligations more apparently and sustainably.

But to usher greater socio-economical impact to the society, companies should joint together to pool their efforts & resources on similar programmes thanks to the recent additional provision made in the act permitting partnership between corporate.This will lead to increase the spread, spend and reach exponentially besides bring in more expertise  on the field with shared resources.

References

  1. Subash Bhatnakar and Ankita Dewan of IIM, Ahemadabad and Magui Moreno and Parameeta Kanungo of World Bank (2002) “Empowerment Case Studies : MSSRF Information Village Research Project”, World Wide Web Resources.
  2. Haider Rizvi, S.M. (2010) “Livelihood Solutions through Mobile Technology : An Assessment”, Technical Paper, Institute of Rural Research and Development, Gurgaon, Haryana, October, 2010
  3. Case Study Documents of Karaikal Port Ltd -MSSRF Project (2013) “Knowledge and Skill Building on Integrated Agricultural, Fisheries and Microenterprises in the Dts of Karaikal and Nagapattinam, June, 2013
  4. Abhay Gupte, “PSUs & CSR”, CSR &Competitiveness, Vol.02, Issue 05 November, 2014
  5. Kanika Datta (2015), “Making CSR Work”, Business Standard, January 5th, 2015

Author

Dr. S. Baskar
(Bsc (Ag), MBA, MPhil, PhD)
CSR Advisor – MARG Karaikal Port Private Ltd.
Corporate Office : Near AVM Marriage Hall, MYLAPORE, Chennai-600 004
Mail ID : baskar.s@karaikalport.com
Mob. : 9840792462