With corporate social responsibility being made mandatory, will students in the social service sector stand to gain?

Are businesses all about making profits or does contributing to social good fit into the picture?

Whatever the stance of corporates, the new Companies Act 2013 urges them to actively take up social causes, by making corporate social responsibility (CSR) statutory.

The new act stipulates that at least two per cent of average net profits in three immediately preceding financial years must be spent annually on CSR.

This is applicable to companies with net worth of Rs. 500 crore or turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or net profit more than Rs. 5 crore in any financial year. They are also required by law to form a CSR committee to frame and implement policy.

If companies are to kickstart new or augment existing CSR activities seriously, career opportunities for those in the social sector are bound to open up, sooner than later.

While a centre affiliated to the Mysore University has recently launched an MBA in CSR, students of Human Resource Management, Master of Social Work (MSW) and even those with a background in rural or environment development may stand to gain.

A social commitment to the community where the company operates from, can help maintain smooth industrial relations says S. Baskaran, director, DEE-HR fusion lab, Puducherry.

“With companies choosing to outsource clerical HR work today, HR managers may get to focus more on relationship building, which includes CSR,” he says.

While human resources as a specialisation is offered in most social work postgraduate courses, students who take up community development, child welfare or clinical development may also be roped in by companies, depending on the activities businesses choose to undertake, according to Godwin Premsingh, associate professor, Bishop Heber College, Tiruchi.

“The practical exposure and continuous involvement of students in community development projects throughout the course gives them an edge over management students,” he adds.

Training in policy making

Hitherto, some corporates have had dedicated CSR wings to carry out initiatives, but it has not been uncommon for others to pass off employee benefits such as educational aid for children as CSR.

“If CSR activities are to be planned and executed professionally, there is a definite scope for employment opportunities for students of social work,” admits Nalini, head, department of social work, Pondicherry University.

But the scope of career growth in the arena would be determined by how a majority of companies would treat CSR — as a core function requiring dedicated staff or a periphery function with additional roles assigned to corporate communications or HR personnel or consultants, she admits.

“Institutions must now focus on training students in not merely implementing CSR activities, but in framing policies and initiating new activities,” emphasises Nalini.

Agreeing with her, Deepa Mala, head, development initiatives, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Southern Region, says that students and social work interns must be encouraged to come up with ideas and innovative policies in line with business strategies. “CSR is more or less industrial social work, where corporates are being motivated to be part of nation building activities. It is not just about conducting events or signing cheques,” she stresses.

“Innovations are the need of the hour as we are looking at how businesses can provide innovative solutions to issues being faced by cities, like solid waste management, as part of CSR.” Students who look for opportunities in this field should also be aware of best practices in European nations.

The CII has been arranging webinars and conferences to educate corporates on the new act.

If the act is implemented, an estimated Rs.18,000 crore may be pumped in through CSR in India.

“A mid-size corporate may be required to spend Rs. 50 lakh on CSR, which requires careful planning,” adds Deepa. While there is a possibility of NGOs being roped in to carry out projects at the grassroots, social work and HR personnel are integral to planning, monitoring, evaluating, assessing and sustaining the initiatives.

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