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2% Should Not Be A Limiting Factor For Companies To make CSR Investments

CSR should not be looked as an expense but as a critical investment for business growth, says Vaishali Nigam Sinha, Director, ReNew Power

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Not confining to the provision of 2 per cent CSR commitment, Indian Inc is taking a greater leap and going beyond the mandatory spend, esp the Clean Energy sector whose business is by default aligned with the purpose of philanthropy. Breaking that paradox, Vaishali Nigam, Director, ReNew Power, elaborates on company's CSR initiatives and strategy, aligned to their growth.

How is the commitment to CSR helping ReNew in its business? Or let me rephrase, is your CSR aligned with the core business objectives?
Our CSR strategy is core to our business model. Our approach is one of empowering the community, all our CSR programs are being implemented at our project sites with this objective. We believe in partnering with the local community in their development process not just in terms of development of the local economy but also addressing key social issues.

The Board and the top management plays a pivotal role by asking the important difficult questions which helps in planning and monitoring at ReNew. The board ensures that CSR opportunities and risks are considered as part of the company's strategic and annual business planning process and risk management systems. The top management is constantly involved in monitoring the company's progress in relation to CSR.

What is the philosophy behind community development work that ReNew does around its projects?
At ReNew, we believe that CSR is the core to the business of any fast growing company. via the ReNew India Initiative, we focus on embedding sustainability into the core business model in an effort to create shared valued for business & society.

ReNew looks at community development as a 'bottom up' process. We believe in identifying the needs of the community in consultation with various stakeholders and then designing the interventions around those needs and issues. Community engagement at ReNew spreads across all our sites in the rural areas and also at the corporate level in Gurgaon through NGO partnerships. A very strong sense of social responsibility is engrained within the employee engagement activities at ReNew. We focussed on empowering communities by educating and giving them means of livelihood in alignment with ReNew's vision and mission.

Give us some sense of the scale of your program? And how has the journey been for ReNew?
It has been an exciting journey for us. We started out with small steps in the year 2014 by covering 2 sites with 21 villages. In a span of 2 years, we have been able to scale up our program outreach by around 4 times. Today, through our interventions in the area of education, health, water management, environment conservation, women empowerment and livelihood promotion, we are impacting around 1, 11,250 people across 89 villages in 16 sites across 5 states namely Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. The idea is to increase our outreach to cover the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in India.

What is the Smart village program that you are developing?
As one of India's leading renewable power producing company, ReNew is committed to improving quality of life of people living in rural India as part its Corporate Citizen approach. The Smart Village program adopted by ReNew Group is a model of development with the aim to ensure energy sovereignty of a village using renewable energy leading to holistic development to improve the quality of life. SVARG is based on bottom-up approach towards development. A 3 year plan will be developed in consultation with local stakeholders and community members ensuring access to safe drinking water, sanitation, basic health care services, education and livelihood opportunities and most importantly access to electricity. The idea is to develop a SMART village through a holistic approach towards development.

Considering that you are in a sector where its comparatively easy to define the purpose of philanthropy (ReNewable Energy) how is the company attempting to get out of the paradox?
Being in a business of generating Clean Energy, it is assumed that as a company we are not required to invest in creating "good will" in the community we operate in. But, for us, at ReNew Power, we believe in doing business in a socially responsible manner. We are conscious of the impact of our business on our consumers, supply-chain, investors and our workforce- basis the fact that our business processes have larger impact, beyond the business.

As a socially conscious & responsible business, under ReNew India Initiative (RII), we believe in going beyond the "feel-good" factor and take responsibility to impact the lives of the communities in which we operate.

What is your view on the section 135 and schedule 8 of the companies act mandating 2% commitment to CSR?

The provision of 2 per cent commitment to CSR for Indian Inc's is a great step in structuring the CSR investments. It not only provides a framework for the companies to make CSR investments but also increases accountability. However, 2 per cent should not be a limiting factor for the companies to make CSR investments. CSR should not be looked as an expense but as a critical investment for business growth. Lot of studies show that investments in CSR actually have a positive correlation with the growth of the company. Most of the corporates have now realized the importance of CSR and are doing their bit beyond the mandatory 2 per cent spend. The 2 per cent law has been a very positive step in the area of corporate social responsibility and has made the companies accountable, responsible and sustainable in doing business.

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