The Missing Heart of CSR

We at SoCHE Foundation recently returned from the first formal skill-development training in two far off villages of Rajasthan, bordering Pakistan. 15 village women were explained how to use their embroidery as a means of livelihood, preserve their ethnic heritage, yet make innovative products, understanding the market pricing and demand.

As soon as the training was over, the women demonstrated what we trained them on. Next day, we got a call from the elected woman leader in one of the villages, asking us to train more women and leave behind more resource material for them to use. They were all already dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.25.57 pmMy earlier post Meet Nemat Bano, dated January 14th (see here) gave a background on how we are working tirelessly under Project Maati Milaap to identify handicrafts in the interiors of the country that are either forgotten, dying or unidentified; connecting it to not just livelihood options with market linked trainings, but also ensuring environment conservation in the process.  These two villages also formed part of the same journey.Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.26.10 pm

We have returned now – immensely satisfied – as the work there is gaining momentum. The women are combining their local culture, heritage and skills into beautiful handmade products for further sale. It’s the birth of a new economy at village level.

**

SoCHE is a young organisation, in sixth month of its operations, that I founded. When I quit my comfortable corporate job in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in August 2015 (where I was leading the environment vertical of a global tyre manufacturing company), I knew it would be extremely challenging. Though in CSR I did work at grass root level – from the unkind transport hubs to humble villages around manufacturing plants – from swachhta to biodiversity enhancement; the comfort of corporate extravaganza in the form of pre paid hotels, taxis and intermittent dialogue with accompanying team members was always a luxury that all of us take for granted.

1449750036516Today as a social entrepreneur, when I chart unknown territories, reach out to unfamiliar communities deep inside this country, it is both risky and tiring. There is no corporate strategy that I have to follow, no risk mitigation, no stakeholder management or conscious attempt at inclusion. I am just following my heart and passion to connect the unconnected artisans. This is a journey I have embarked on using my CSR skills as the bedrock. I am trying to cover the geographical length and breath of the country and going into deep corners to see for myself the handicrafts that are not in the market – maybe have never reached or have already died the natural death.

Mainstreaming and preserving the cultural heritage that our country– through its 29 states, a history of more than 3000 years, and the existence of thousands of different ethnic groups – is so blessed with, is sure worth all the risks and effort. There are moments when I do not even know if the taxi I am taking in such interiors is safe – and there is never an administration person who I can fire in case anything goes wrong. With a call of judgement and leap of faith, I carry on, however. My family, back home, only wishes for my well-being at all times and seeks constant updates on my whereabouts, naturally so.

**

Coming from CSR background myself, both academically and professionally, I thought convincing people in my own fraternity to join hands in such an initiative will not be difficult. Every company works with communities that have their own unique cultural heritage. It should be a natural choice, therefore, to want to preserve it as one’s responsibility. Handicrafts, after all, are a manifestation of such richness.

1449316533694The CSR law too highlights cultural heritage preservation, women empowerment, poverty alleviation, livelihood generation and environment conservation as clear areas of impact generation. Project Maati Milaap weaves all of these beautifully together, with CSR and sustainable development principles, philosophy and experience at the very foundation.

In the last few weeks, I have on different occasions interacted with my fellow CSR colleagues, seniors, juniors – but this time as a social entrepreneur. I have witnessed their apathy towards the word ‘NGO’. From the suave IT sector to the more rustic PSU, I have witnessed the arrogance of capitalistic mindset, often being treated as the ‘other’ and seldom as the founder of a young, daring, risk-taking, passion-driven, action-oriented organisation.

I have been asked on several occasions to either call back later, or not call at all, for I intruded into the very busy corporate life – the one that I left few months back. Ironically, there are many corporations who still struggle to spend the complete 2% of their profits in a financial year and cut a cheque to the PM relief fund at the end out of compulsion. Yet, not many have the heart to listen to a new idea, a fresh perspective, an inclusive opportunity to make a difference tangibly. Being less than three years old is further considered to be a deterrent, as it is a pre-requisite in many organisation for further engagement.

Being a ‘social entrepreneur on a mission’ is not necessarily well-received or understood by many, as yet. Founding an organisation by getting out of ones comfort zone completely, propelled by the thirst of what lays outside of the realm of the known needs a heart to comprehend. Yes a heart! Capitalistic structures somewhere have taken that away, and left only the mind. Perhaps this is what CSR in this country needs – a heart that beats. The ultimate value creation lies in not just the number of smiles you create but also how many you sustain.

Even then, SoCHE Foundation is a journey that continues to fulfill my intellectual endeavor, each day. I unlearn and learn with every new community. Each time we enter into the interior of the country, I know that there will be a new experience which is waiting to enrich me, awaken a part of my spiritual self that I am unaware of.  I know then my heart is in the right place, beating well. I only hope that coming back it doesn’t get arrested.

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SoCHE stands for Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment.

Find SoCHE Foundation on FB and web.

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8 thoughts on “The Missing Heart of CSR

  1. Hi Kanika,

    It takes a lot of courage to leave a well paying job to do what you are doing. So bravo for that! I was curious to know if you are exploring areas other than Rajasthan and Gujrat for your work?

    Ruchi

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    • Hi Ruhi,
      Thanks for your comment. We are working in Delhi (with potters) and ethnic communities in Rajasthan, particularly Barmer. Yes, we are very much open and are exploring other states as well. Maharashtra is lined up in the coming weeks for the first recky, especially in Vidarbha region.

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  2. This is such a heart touching, informative and to the point post, your coming to this sector will brighten up many lives I am sure- keep rocking

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  3. Hi Kanika,

    We met when you were working at the tyre company and I hope you haven’t forgotten me (yet). Bravo for the ‘giant leap’ you have taken. Some free advice on fundraising for SoCHE – while approaching potential donors, tell them that you worked at XX company and would like a meeting with Mr/Ms ABC to get feedback from him on a new project you have started. Try not to explicitly tell receptionists, telephone operators or other office staff that you are calling from an “NGO’ to raise funds. Unfortunately, the word has prejudices linked to it. Once you get your foot in the door, start telling your story. Prepare a set of tangible outputs that the grant-making organisation can support. For instance, by year 20XX, we supported XXXX women and created XXXXXX livelihood opportunities. And interestingly, at that point you find, you will not have to talk about the ‘art’ much. Just talking about the ‘heart’ will set tone for further correspondences with the donor.

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    • Hey! Prachi… Of course I remember you and good to hear from you. Thank you for the free advice. Of course, I use the indicators with outputs and outcomes, thanks to the CSR training 🙂 …But I guess, the state of affairs at times appears grim with such apathy. We all know how the development sector works, and there is so much ground still left to cover. Somehow, efforts don’t seem to be complimenting and problems only increasing. Perhaps we should meet and talk more about this in detail.

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  4. It isn’t an easy journey to venture out on an untrodden path or an easy decision to leave the cushiony job as you have done. Having done that myself, I know that for a fact. But what’s even more impressive is that you don’t just have an e-commerce website where you sell ‘exquisite handicrafts’ at a premium. You actually work with them – train them, teach them, equip them, and work towards uplifting them. Stories like yours don’t just make one feel good. Stories like this are the ones where you just say, “well done, Kanika” and forget about it. They touch your heart deeply and make one want to be part of the initiative too. So every time you feel down or dejected, think of all those lives you’re making a difference too. Every time, someone says ‘don’t call’, just know that for every ten disinterested ones there would be one like me who would be not just impressed but also equally passionate about what you’re doing. You go, girl!

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