Sudha Murty: CSR requires passion and utmost commitment

How powerful and impactful could CSR be when it comes from the heart? Sudha Murty, Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation certainly sets the benchmark. Having been associated with the Infosys Foundation for the last 20 years, she believes CSR can’t be merely a job, but it’s a passion. Love for the fellow human beings and the nature should be the driving force. Sudha Murty pours her heart out in an exclusive interview with CSRlive’s Editor-in-Chief Kanhaiya Singh.

The Infosys Foundation has managed to do wide-ranging work in almost every major sphere of the social sector. How do you go about allocating resources to a particular project in any given year?

Based on our extensive experience over the past two decades, we have learnt to prioritise our focus areas intuitively.

We are able to understand which sector requires focused attention. Our panel of experts prioritize projects by assessing their impact, and match funding requirements with the availability of funds in our corpus. The Foundation collaborates with stakeholders to monitor the status of each project.
The Foundation supports programs in the areas of education, healthcare, destitute care, rural development and arts and culture. Mid-day meal schemes, improving the quality of education, Healthcare and medical facilities along with destitute care are some of our top priorities.

What has been the budgetary allocation for CSR this year, and what has been the y-o-y increase in allocation?

We started with a humble purse of INR 30 lakh in 1996 which gradually expanded as the company grew in size. This year, it is INR 269.54 crore as compared to last year’s budgetary allocation of INR 254 crore.

From mid-day meals to the Spark-IT programme, can you tell us a little bit about the response you have received for the education-related programs of the Foundation?

A hungry stomach has a direct correlation to drop-out rates in Government schools.

The higher the drop-out rate, the greater the chances of these children taking up labour. Based on this fact, we realized that investing in mid-day meals is a powerful tool to reduce drop-out rates in schools.
Initially, the Foundation started devoting a small percentage of the budget to mid-day meal scheme. With the increased CSR budget, we are now investing in it at a large scale. From our experience so far, it has been very gratifying to know that the provision of mid-days meals is having a positive impact on the reduction of students dropping-out of schools and arresting child labour.

Coming to the second part of your question, the objective of Spark-IT is to enhance the skill levels (technical and behavioral) of engineering graduates and orient them to meet the needs of the IT industry. It aims to bridge the gap between career requirements of the IT Industry and college education. The program covers the basics of IT and helps students build a strong understanding of concepts. In addition, the program will also impart soft skills training.

To what extent are you personally involved in the CSR projects?

Having been associated with the Infosys Foundation for the last 20 years, I can proudly say that it is not merely a job, it’s my passion and I do it for the love of it. I also have a wonderful team that is dedicated to their work.

Effective project execution is always a challenge in the social sector because of infrastructure, bureaucratic resistance, and several other hindrances on the ground. How do you overcome these issues?

In my opinion, execution is not the difficult part. Realising and evaluating the correct need of the donation is the real challenge. Identifying the right projects and deciding the exit policies consumes more than 50-60% of our time. After execution, it’s the follow-up that is time consuming.
Every initiative has to be self-sustaining in the long run in order to be effective. We look at projects which can be hand held and supported from anywhere between 1 to 7 years, however an exit policy is mandatory in order to ensure that they become independent and self-reliant.

What advice do you have for other companies who are struggling to align CSR with their business goals?

CSR is an initiative that requires passion and utmost commitment. I also believe that every corporation is responsible to work towards the development of the society. Given this, the 2% CSR regime is a well thought-out initiative.

CSR is an effective tool to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots; to promote equal distribution of resources and overall well-being of the society.

In fact CSR is not a new concept as it has been around many years. Look at Mother Nature, she teaches us to share and give back. Similarly, businesses should also have the philosophy of giving back to the society.

What’s your take on the mandatory CSR Regime?

The 2% CSR spend has been extremely beneficial to the Foundation. In our initial journey, we aligned our projects to locations where Infosys has its presence. Now with an increased CSR budget, we are not only scaling up the operations in these areas, but we also have the resources to extend the work to remote areas such as Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu. Earlier, we were unable to take up these projects although we wanted to, as we had restricted funds and resources. Hence, the 2% regime has been one of great advantage to us.

Reproduced with permission from CSRLive.

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