One of the site visits I enjoyed the most during our time in India was our meeting with the CEO
of the GMR foundation. As I noted in a previous post, GMR is an infrastructure group that runs airports, develops large toll highway projects, and has a growing portfolio of power plants. During our time with the foundation CEO, he shared the foundations and company’s approach to corporate social responsibility or CSR. It was a great conversation. Here are some high level notes from that meeting:
How GRS Looks @ CSR
Thoughts on CSR – the key is to view it through the lens of sustainability, namely, ” If we are making money off the society and the society is sick, we won’t be making money for very long.”
Because the very nature of the company’s projects are disruptive to both local community groups and local business, the foundation is the first to arrive at a potential site where they are looking to conduct business. Their key question to answer is “How can we create a benefit for those disrupted communities?” The foundation deals therefore more with the disruption, but are not in a position to work on the environment issues or corruption or employee pay,
FOCUS in CSR
The foundation has chosen to focus its efforts in three areas: Education, Health, and Livelihood (Skills/Technical/Vocational training) – what they refer to as “The Dignity of Labor.” The foundation cannot do everything so to be effective the keep their focus narrow.
While they have gained great knowledge and expertise in their three key areas, the foundation maintains and works from the viewpoint that the communities always know betterthan an outsider what they want, need and can handle.
KEEP the CSR Effort Separate
A key learning for GMR is the value of having a separate non-profit organization that manages the CSR work. They argued that if CSR is under the “corporate banner” the sustainability is usually short-lived or that once the company leaves an area so does the help. That is not the case with GMR. The CRS projects are supported and built to last even after the company’s business interests may have moved on.
For me, there were some great takeaways and wisdom in their efforts and certainly some things that I think corporate America could learn from GMR’s approach.