Real Leaders

Responsible Culture – Not Charity: My Lessons on CSR Leadership


Three years back, when my CEO asked me to take on the project of tying together the various Outreach and Community programs that were going on within our organization under one umbrella CSR program, I thought…”Wow! Where do I start?”

Now, when I reflect and see how a three-year-old organization has integrated social responsibility as a key part of the organization’s culture. I thought of sharing some of my learning during this journey and from my inspirational CEO

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1. Be Authentic – Not only for me but it was important for our leadership to be active with their ISR. This means that the most senior leaders must talk about CSR and commit their own time to volunteering and related activities. Lead by example, and lead by acknowledging publicly, and often, the importance of the CSR effort. Believe me, if it is not authentic, it shows!!!

2.  Learn to say No – There are plenty of issues at hand ranging from Hunger, Health, Education, women empowerment, and so forth, but how can we adopt a focused approach to social responsibility? I decided that we needed to narrow our focus to something the majority of our team felt passionate about. A recurring theme was the fact that we all agreed that supporting better education for underprivileged children is one fantastic and impactful way of creating a better world. Saying ‘no’ to social causes is not something that comes naturally to me, but I realized that staying focused will create a better impact in the long run.

3. Build Responsible Culture – Not Charity: Organization waits for being more profitable to start their social responsibility program, but this was not the case in my organization. I had a great leadership team, who backed me in building responsible culture into our corporate strategy. We started social responsibility from the very first year of our operations, and everyone believed that giving back to the society should be a cultural thing and not mere a checkbook philanthropy.  We created a sustainable road-map for five-years for the sustainable development of 100,000 children by 2020. I am happy that all of us started believing in our mantra “Think Sustainable – Act Responsible.”

4.  Rethink, Reinvent, Rewire – I had to reinvent myself and be creative in making CSR work for our employees. Work often seems nonstop for people in the era of digital, and making time or finding time to volunteer may be harder than ever. But on the other hand, technology and human ingenuity make people more flexible than probably at any time in history. If some of our employees could not go to a school to tutor children, we used Skype – or invited school kids into the office for digital day/field visits.

5.   It’s Everyone’s job – The new generation – the Millennials, who make up for a significant share of the market, are entering the society in force and they have very different priorities. They do not want to be talked at; they want to be engaged in conversation and to co-create solutions. We realized that an enterprise with a true sense of the value and importance of CSR is one where everyone employed understands their company’s commitment towards social responsibility, acknowledges its value, and participates to whatever degree they can. Last year, we conducted an internal survey among-st the millennial employees asking about the three things that inspire them to be a part of Brillio; and undoubtedly, CSR was amongst the top three. This is mainly due to the inclusion of the employees in our initiatives and challenging them to strive better each day.

6.   Run it like a business function – If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Profit and philanthropy have always had enjoyed a curious relationship. Historically, Philanthropy has often been enabled by profit. However, profit has also sat at odds with philanthropy in many cases. As with everything else business-related, CSR also needs to have measurable outcomes. For CSR to be sustainable, we should communicate how it is good for the business and the community.

7.   Communicate to Motivate– And finally, always communicate and motivate: I mentioned earlier the importance of leadership’s example when it comes to volunteerism and corporate social responsibility. This was one of the toughest challenges for our CSR effort, but it was also the most powerful approach. As people say, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Sound CSR practices are also about making a sound, resonating, driving dialogue and conversations to deliver return –in terms of social progress, the bottom line (profit) and brand perception.

As boardrooms around the world begin to feel the presence of Social Responsibility in their agenda, CSR continues to present a whole host of opportunities and challenges for businesses. And it’s going to be a continuous learning process, and I am hopeful that Corporate Social Responsibility will bring communities and corporations together in ways that will make our future better!

Abhishek Ranjan has a 12 year history of Corporate and Development Sector experience and currently leads the Banking Industry Marketing, CSR, and Sustainability for Brillio Technologies. He set up the Sustainability and CSR department for Brillio with a vision to help 100,000 underserved young minds by 2020.

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