Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dont let the 2% come in the way of CSR



In 2013 the previous Indian Government modified the Companies Act adding Section 135. It provides for mandatory spending of atleast 2% of the average net profits made during the 3 preceding financial years on CSR. Net profits are calculated as per Section 198 of this Act. Schedule VII lists CSR activities which include eradicating extreme hunger, enhancing vocational skill, contribution to Prime Minister's Relief Fund or similar funds.

To clear the air post the modification, the Government issued a circular (General Circular No. 21/2014 ) on the 18th of June 2014 with the subject “Clarifications with regard to provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility under section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013.”

Besides clarifying specific points raised by companies and citizens the Assistant Director (CSR)at the Ministry categorically states “ The statutory provision and provisions of CSR Rules, 2014, is to ensure that while activities undertaken in pursuance of the CSR policy must be relatable to Schedule VII of the Companies Act 2013, the entries in the said Schedule VII must be interpreted
liberally (emphasis in original) so as to capture the essence of the subjects enumerated in the said
Schedule. ----”

Corporates may not wish to spend over 2%. However there are non-expenditure avenues. There are also opportunities to stretch the CSR budget without reducing the impact. The unwillingness to spend money on CSR should not inhibit the willingness to help society.

Top-Ups
Corporates see CSR as an avenue for employee engagement/empowerment, brand building, brand extension and market penetration and therefore the following suggestion may not go down well even though it can save money, time and create a deeper impact.

Two corporates focusing on different CSR activities can work together on one 'population'. This is the way forward. Here CSR activities though different are synergised and feed off each other because the target group is the same. For example, corporates focussing on women's empowerment or enhancing vocational skills and wishing to enter rural areas can team up with those working on rural education. The new entrants would be able to build on the goodwill created by existing activities and thereby reduce time and money to make an impact.

However, it could also be that a non CSR activity becomes the foundation for the CSR activity of that corporate.

A business activity of a corporate can be extended into avenues that include CSR activities. Take for example the Financial Inclusion programme of banks, private banks in particular. These banks go deep into rural India (or poorer parts of urban India) creating accounts and disbursing money. The face of the bank is usually one person on a motorcycle or a small room in the village carrying technology that allows them to feed and generate data. Can this person and technology be used to improve government programmes? Take for example the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme. This government sponsored scheme was initiated in 1975 to tackle malnourishment among children, pregnant and lactating women. Later primary non- formal education, health checkups were added to the scheme to make it one of the worlds largest integrated family and community welfare schemes. The Anganwadi Worker (AWW), the lady in charge of the village creche, also handles the scheme there. Her activities include teaching young children and feeding them, visiting families with children and lactating mothers and documentation. Documentation is a time consuming process because the lady has to fill information by hand and then has to deliver them to the district/block office which could be many miles from her village for further processing. This naturally eats into her time and reduces the efficacy of the data as data would be feed into a computer by a 'third person' far removed from ground realities, this could lead to incorrect data generation and inability to make decisions.

All this data can be fed into the ICDS central system in real time at the anganwadi. The technology being used in Financial Inclusion can be expanded to incorporate feeding of such data. Data entry can be done with the help of the concerned bank worker. This frees up time for the AWW and insures data can be accessed and analysed within a short period.

Cashless CSR
Most corporates have large office spaces in cities. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of employees are concentrated in such places for a fixed periods of time. Many marketers would call this a captive market and would love to dip into them. The employees in a majority of instances are part of households or run households. They need to buy groceries, gifts etc at frequent intervals. Such purchases take time and effort. This becomes an opportunity for CSR and a way to reduce the demands on the employee.

Corporates by giving opportunities to organic farmer groups to sell their produce directly to employees are helping these farmers extend their consumer base and get a better price. A similar initiative can be undertaken during festivals when initiatives promoting weavers or products of disabled groups are given floor space.

Infact one doesn't even need floor space. The IT department along with the CSR departments can create applications which could put the employees in touch with producers on particular office days to create a virtual market.
However, the CSR that all corporate’s should head towards is bettering existing business practices. This will improve their bottom line, the environment and society. For example a soft drink manufacturer could start using glass instead of plastic bottles to not only reduce the amount of waste ending up in the landfill but to make consumption sustainable. If such manufacturers wish to use plastic then they could create a system employing ragpickers to collect the plastic for reuse/recycling. Such a move would be trendsetting, compelling rivals to follow suit and would provide opportunities for brand building. The only thing limiting CSR is not money, but ideas.

Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas 76 Towns & 1 Million People. The hard copy will be out on February 26th. He tweets at @samirwrites

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hair Today..........



Hair is more than a growth on the skin. There is a science, art, philosophy and economics to it. Newspapers covered Salman Khan's attempts to cover his balding head with hair weaving. People shave their heads as a symbol of bereavement, religious/caste identification and even of protest and style. Some Catholic monks have specific hair styles. Temples in India make a lot of money from the proceeds of devotees tonsuring their heads. Advertisers suggest every colour except grey for hair while others wax eloquent on .....ahem waxing. Waxing is no longer the bastion of the stronger sex, men do it too.

Hair being combed at Rameshwaram


Like the food business the hair business is perennial. In Veeraval, one of the #76towns I visited on my 6 month journey, I saw 3 barber shops side-by-side. The clip in these salons was not only a sound of the scissors at work but also an indication of the pace of business.


Scalps being tonsured on Puri Beach





Beards or hair-on-the-face can be understood to be a sign of laziness or style or a political statement. Infact it is what weaves all religions together (okay most). It is supposed to be a sign of having reached a certain level of 'Being'. Hindu Sants, Maulvi's, Sikh Granthi's, Christian priests (some) all have the beard. 



Roadside salons in Mumbai or Bombay




And so we have the Hirsute Principles!


Busy barber with a shop by the side at a bus stand in Gujarat














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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here,  GooglePlay here & itunes here The hard copy will be out in February 2015.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sleep

Sleep is a form of time travel. You close your eyes and you are transported into the past, potential future or into the next moment or maybe an alternate reality.


Sleeping in Mumbai



 I slept in various holes in the wall during my 6 month #76town trip through the Indian coast. However, I never had to rough it out like so.....


Sleepers in Paradeep


 Though my hotel rooms were dirty, small and inhabited by all god's creatures I was better off than this-

Sleeping under a boat


 Being tired at the end of the day absolved all ills of the room and the bed. They say a clear conscience is the best pillow, I say tiredness makes for a lovely mattress.

Cat nap.
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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here,  GooglePlay here & itunes here The hard copy will be out in February 2015.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Tale of Two Parathas



When one hears mention of  #Paratha's a visual that immediately comes to mind is that of a strapping north Indian eating these greasy shallow fried unleavened bread with a dollop of unclarified butter and a glass of whipped yoghurt (lassi).

But Paratha's are not as simple as the afore mentioned visual. They tend to be complex and not confined to one particular Indian region or cuisine. For one, this bread can be stuffed with just about anything and it can sure stuff one's stomach. Parathas are stuffed with minced meat, finely shredded cauliflower or radish or mashed potatoes, egg and what have you. They are delicious on their own but can be relished with a side of yoghurt and pickle. More importantly this shallow fried unleavened bread can be made from a variety of flour everything from corn to wheat.

The southern parts of India too have their Parathas. These are not stuffed and are made of refined wheat flour. There is the Kerala Paratha, the Ceylonese Paratha to name a few. These retain their shapes when they reach your table.
The Pithai Paratha, before it is broken and bruised

But there is Koothu Paratha of Tamil Nadu and the Pithai Paratha of West Bengal that lose their shape as part of the final dish.

The Koothu paratha is actually a paratha or two noisily minced with iron spatulas over a large hot iron griddle to which is added a variety of spices. As per the order an egg could be cracked over it, vegetables could be added or pieces of shredded chicken thrown in.

The Pithai Paratha, is something different. It is a large thin paratha that is beaten black and blue by the cook with his bare hands. This broken shapeless mass is put on a plate and served with a side of chickpeas or anything else. Mind you the paratha is not torn asunder, just beaten.

There is no one particular definition of a Paratha, just as there is no one definition to what makes an Indian.


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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here  and on GooglePlay here . The hard copy will be out in February 2015.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thoughts on Bangaluru/Bangalore


Bangalore/Bangaluru, I am sure is unhappy as it compares its staid name with those of its townships and apartment complexes. These are grabbing large chunks of its varicosed veined land which are then rechristened with trippy names and names that drip with exclusivity and achievement. Such islands of exclusivity, where everything is perfect and just right, is a complete antithesis to the route one has to take to reach there – I am speaking both literally and figuratively.

A newbie entering Bangalore/ Bangaluru would naturally assume that s/he is in the wrong city. This technological hub of India, where the brightest minds (okay engineers and their ilk) come to toil and so grow rich has very few hoardings advertising the many software/technology/e-commerce companies that have made this city their home.

Infact, on the drive from MG Road to the Airport, I noticed only one hoarding being used by a technology company. All space had been grabbed by reality firms selling dreams, views, recognition, status everything that they allege money can buy.

The success of the IT industry should not be gauged by the number of IT millionaires or the number of IT companies in Bangalore/Bangaluru. Instead, this success should be measured by the growth of the reality industry and the price of space (including in terms of money) that one has to pay.


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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here  and on GooglePlay here . The hard copy will be out in February 2015.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Some forms of fishing in India - I


To all fish lovers, is your catch colour blind? If not, why do fishing nets differ in colour? Is it because of different refractive indices of water in different parts of the sea? And is the differences dependent on salinity and water temperature? I dont know, but I do know that there are different nets used.

I realised this on my 6 month journey through 76 towns.  Fishing did not only differ according to quantum of water, but also on the types of nets used. Nets changed in size, gauge, length, shape and even colour. In some regions the nest were white, in another nets were red and in other places they were blue. In one of the coastal villages i visited fishermen were dyeing their nets green.

Red fishing nets being prepared at the fishing pier in Malpe

The length of the nets can be seen in this snap of fishermen bundling a fishing net in Poompuhar


Tidal nets that are strung across the tidal plan to prevent fish from swimming back to the sea as the tide ebbs. Dahanu

Fisherman scooping fishing from puddles in the rocky tidal plain in Dahanu



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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here  and on GooglePlay here . The hard copy will be out in February 2015.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Children in small town India

Children have the ability to entertain themselves. They are still immune to the diktats of social mores. This quality allows them to remain still, create something from scrap and find joy in things that older people have discarded.

On my 6 month trip through 76 towns I had many opportunities to see children.

A boy watching the waves with a crow for company in Bhimunipatinam
This was before the time of the cell phone, where the world was still their oyster. Where their skills to build had to do with creating pieces of value instead of reaching the next level of some game on their (or their parent's) phone.

A scooter without wheels and a seat is still a thing of interest.

A young boy and girl sitting amongst fishing boats in Tranquebar

Children body surfing with planks of wood in Tranquebar

Children with flotation devices built by them in Byet Dwarka.
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Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'. Read an excerpt of the book here. Read more about the book here. The book is currently available as an Ebook on Amazon here, Scribd here  and on GooglePlay here . The hard copy will be out in February 2015.