How do CSR and corporate communications intersect in modern Indian firms? Paarul Chand interviews Sanjay Khajuria, senior VP, corporate affairs, Nestlé India

India is probably the only country in the world where CSR activities are mandatory for firms of a certain size. The Companies Act, 2013 mandates that companies with a net worth of Rs. 5 billion or over, an annual turnover of Rs. 10 billion or more or an annual net profit of Rs. 50 million or more have to spend 2 per cent of the average net profits of the past 3 years on CSR.

When the new law was implemented, the PR business in India felt that CSR was an area they can contribute too and many PR firms now have CSR practices.

In order to understand how corporate communications and PR intersect with CSR and how firms like Nestlé India view CSR and communications, PRmoment India speaks to Sanjay Khajuria, senior vice president, Nestlé India Limited.

He spoke to PRmoment editor-in-chief, Paarul Chand, about how CSR has evolved in the last 5 years and its impact on reputation. 

                                     Pictured right: 'Creating Shared Value' with dairy farmers

Paarul Chand: How do CSR and corporate communications intersect in the modern Indian firm?

Sanjay Khajuria: I understand that many companies in India do have a separate vertical for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate communications. In Nestlé India both the functions are under corporate affairs.

For us, corporate communications are about media relations, stakeholder engagement, issues and crisis communication. The corporate communications function helps build a reputation for the company and its brands. Our CSR activities all flow from our purpose which is “enhancing the quality of life and contributing to a healthier future”, and our core commitment to the concept of creating shared value (CSV). Our 'Nestle in Society' initiatives focuses primarily on nutrition, water, rural development and sustainability. Here, I would also like to point out that our CSR activities are in addition to what we do under the CSV. 

Paarul Chand: Does corporate communications play the role of a programmatic partner in CSR projects?

Sanjay Khajuria: CSR projects are discussed and approved by the board of directors, CSR projects at Nestlé India is a board oversight function. We have an expert CSR team at the headquarters here in Gurugram. They are the ones who actually research the issues at hand, look at the states that would be most helped by CSR, define the project, identify NGOs and look at implementing and monitoring the project.

We also have corporate affairs professionals at every factory site and branch offices who support these projects on the ground and provide constant feedback and also execute the projects. The corporate communications team also plays an equally important role in driving awareness, by using communications as a tool to raise awareness.

For instance, recently, we undertook a campaign called "2-minute Safaai ke Naam" in Dehradun to create awareness about responsible plastic waste disposal, this campaign was covered by leading publications and TV channels. Therefore, in these cases, a corporate communications role is to amplify the story and drive awareness.

Paarul Chand: What is the business case for CSR?

Sanjay Khajuria:  Let me give you an example. 

We directly work with over 90,000 farmers in states such as Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan as part of CSV initiatives. This is helping create prosperity amongst communities and at the same time creating a sustainable value chain. We do similar engagement with coffee farmers in South India.

The projects under CSR have no direct business benefit. Project Jagriti ( pictured right), for example, in partnership with Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child (MAMTA) runs across 15 districts of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Chandigarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. It focuses on creating peer mentor support groups for counselling on healthy nutrition for pregnant and lactating women. This is an unbranded project and with no direct business connect, as I said earlier. This helps to create a healthy and thriving community. We also hope that these programs are replicated and taken up by other members of society.

Paarul Chand: How has CSR evolved since the 'Companies Act 2013' set out mandatory contribution for CSR activities?

Sanjay Khajuria:  The capacity and capability of CSR projects have gone up with corporations and NGOs working together as partners. NGOs look at projects which are mid to long term and are scalable – projects that have a clear positive impact. Project JAGRITI, for example, is for a period of three years and extendable. This gives time for the impact to be seen and offers financial comfort for the NGOs. Project JAGRITI has already covered 1.5 million beneficiaries directly and an additional 3 million beneficiaries are covered indirectly. Similarly, Nestlé India's Healthy Kids initiative with Magic Bus is a long-term project. As of 2018, Nestle Healthy Kids programme has engaged with 280,000 adolescents across 22 states. I would like to add that training of NGO partners and their teams is a key component of many programs. This helps create skill set and capability on the ground.