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BW Businessworld

We Go Beyond The Mandated 2% For CSR: Aniisu Verghese, Tesco

Tesco Bengaluru’s unique Individual Social Responsibility programme allows colleagues to endorse causes which are beyond the focus areas of the company.

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The CSR expenditure of corporate India continues to see a bias towards health, poverty, sanitation and education related activities, which take up almost 63 per cent of the Rs 9,822 crore total CSR spend in the country.

The government data put out in Parliament shows decline in funding related to environment, women empowerment and slum development. The total spend on these accounted for only 11 per cent of the total CSR expenditure in 2015-16.

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, with Aniisu Verghese, Corporate Communications & CSR Lead at Tesco Bengaluru, discusses the CSR landscape in India and some of Tesco’s CSR initiatives. Edited excerpts:

What are some of the current and upcoming CSR initiatives by Tesco which are unique, in relation to environment, women empowerment and slum development?

At Tesco, while we aim to support as many causes as possible, our CSR mandate primarily focuses on: education, preventative healthcare and environment.

Some of our current CSR initiatives include building a water ATM for a village, upskilling and supporting the learning of young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds, camps to support preventive health measures for disadvantaged communities; partnering with Sankara Eye Hospital to provide vision-restorative surgeries, tie-up with Green Sole for recycling footwear, e-waste collection drives, partnering with Unnati to provide skills training for youth and providing kitchen equipment to the Akshaya Patra Foundation to help cook nutritious mid-day meals for school-going children, among others.

In addition to these existing initiatives, Tesco Bengaluru’s unique Individual Social Responsibility programme allows colleagues to endorse causes which are beyond the focus areas of the company. We are ranked 13th amongst 123 companies in India, in terms of employee participation in our payroll giving programme. In fact, we recently won the India CSR award for our CSR volunteering programme.

Some of the upcoming initiatives include expanding our school engagement model to support sports mentoring, teacher enablement and infrastructure, along with building a bio-diversity park in the city and installing solar grids for a few of our adopted government schools.

What is the current landscape of CSR expenditure in India?

A substantial improvement has been reported in the CSR performance of most companies in 2016-17 over the previous year. A recent CII report also indicates an inclination by organisations to spend more on rural development, education and skill development, and health and sanitation.

There is however a need for companies to engage and collaborate to solve pressing community issues such as environment protection and women empowerment. In this regard, a large-scale impact can only be created by collectively pooling in resources, time and effort.

What did Tesco do in the realm of sustainability with respect to this year’s World Environment Day theme of ‘Connecting People to Nature’?

Given Tesco’s global commitment to sustainability through reduction of food waste and its carbon footprint, there is a greater focus on promoting sustainable practices. At Tesco Bengaluru, several activities were carried out throughout the month of June to commemorate this year’s World Environment Day. 

These initiatives were created with the intent to impact three different groups: the individual (involving colleagues to reduce e-waste, involving colleagues’ children, etc.), the company (collectively recycling our waste, educating and encouraging colleagues to give back etc.), and the community at large (collaborating with a charity to recycle footwear, helping with a biodiversity park).

To keep it fun and engaging for our colleagues, the activities included a sapling plantation drive in the locality, a photo sharing project named ‘Share your Favourite Green Spot’ which encouraged colleagues to share images of their favourite nature spots, Ideas for Change! – where colleagues could actively contribute their ‘green’ ideas, an Environment Day painting competition for the colleagues’ children, and Enviro Exhibition – that showcased environment friendly products and services that colleagues could make use of.

We also partnered with NGOs to further our World Environment Day sustainability initiatives. Colleagues were asked to bring their unused electronic items and old footwear to office. The NGO partners helped reduce the impact on the environment by recycling the e-waste in a scientific manner, and refurbishing the old footwear which was then donated to the children from the government schools Tesco Bengaluru supports.

Why is there a lack of CSR expenditure on women empowerment and environment?

There is an assumption that companies in India generally spend based on their CSR priorities and overall business goals. However, recent studies have suggested that there is a considerable amount of CSR expenditure towards environment protection, health and education. This clearly indicates that companies are actively involved in uplifting the biodiversity ecosystem.

Women empowerment is generally addressed by organisations as a subject that comes under the purview of their HR rather than CSR. Nevertheless, organisations are also heavily investing in health and sanitation and education and skilling programmes, with the intent of directly or indirectly impacting and empowering women in the local communities.

How is Tesco utilizing technology to promote their various CSR initiatives?

Social media and electronic channels have certainly made it much easier for us to communicate and inform our colleagues about in-house events and initiatives. Tesco Bengaluru uses Yammer chat extensively as its internal social media colleague platform, and other social media platforms for external engagements. It also helps keep their colleagues actively involved in what they do. Tesco has also used the Google Maps platform to showcase the scale of its CSR impact - where they have planted trees, installed e-toilets, set up solar lights, etc.

Our team also created a food cloud app which routes food, which could potentially end up as waste, from stores to charities in the UK.

How does CSR work in the digital age of social media?

Social media is a handy tool to enable communication at all levels in the organisation. When it comes to CSR, social media platforms help to facilitate conversation between stakeholders where they can share views and seek opinions on various projects, enable communication between volunteers, rally people to support causes and get real-time feedback.

How does Tesco facilitate employee engagement for its CSR agenda?

Our colleagues are the backbone of our organization’s community outreach and impact programmes. Through inclusive and focused initiatives, it empowers them to make a collective difference. For instance, when colleagues expressed the desire to devote more time to community activities, Tesco set the tone for the largest employee volunteering programme. A month-long CSR drive gave colleagues the opportunity to engage with communities, as well as each other, through participation in a range of activities from blood donation drives to volunteering at partner NGOs and charity carnivals.

Employee volunteering is a big priority for Tesco Bengaluru. 25 per cent of our colleagues are actively involved in the employee volunteering and we disburse funds across a range of well-researched beneficiaries that are prioritised by our colleagues as well as related to our CSR strategy. The intention is to get colleagues engaged across every one of them.

Does Tesco go beyond the 2 per cent mandate for its CSR expenditure?

Tesco Bengaluru’s dedication and commitment to its corporate social responsibility programme has actively contributed to raising awareness amongst our colleagues and ultimately, impacting local communities positively. We invest significantly in causes we believe in such as funding and supporting disaster relief.

Another prime example of this is Tesco’s CSR Impact, a bi-annual event conducted in partnership with Rotary Bangalore Whitefield Central. The event brings together several corporates, NGOs, implementing partners and thought leaders to engage in dialogue and give direction to initiatives in the city of Bengaluru and beyond. The discussions lead to tangible measures related to partnerships, awareness creation, capacity building, and increased access to information, influencing behavioural change, engaging millennials to participate and bringing greater accountability for initiatives. This CSR initiative is clear proof that we go above and beyond the mandated 2 per cent.

Our Give India payroll programme has been around since 2011 and we have raised nearly Rs 1.5 crore.

How is Tesco’s CSR agenda different from the rest of the industry?

Tesco’s CSR agenda is deeply ingrained within its culture and values. All our CSR activities are collaborative and inclusive in nature. In fact, one of our values is ‘Every little help makes a big difference’. While we do intend to touch and change lives with our CSR initiatives, we believe that there are several differentiators that sets us apart from the rest of the industry.

For starters, our ‘Big 6’ business strategy that focuses on customers, vendors and colleagues also has an element of CSR in it, indicating the value we put into community giving. Our CSR focus areas - education, preventative healthcare and environment, are aligned with what the country’s CSR agenda is at large.

Since we place great emphasis on employee volunteering, we track and report our colleagues’ volunteering hours and have a ground-up approach where our colleagues can create and manage their CSR initiatives. We also conduct surveys on annual volunteering to gauge the pulse or interest of our colleagues.