Briefly share the CSR projects undertaken by Sehgal Foundation in India.
We have undertaken close to 50 CSR projects, 27 of which continue till date. Through our projects we aim to achieve positive social, economic, and environmental change across rural India by addressing critical issues concerning food security, water security, local participation and information asymmetry, with a focus on the empowerment of women and children.
We work with communities to harvest and store rainwater for direct use, and/or replenish groundwater by building and restoring infrastructure in villages. We support revival of traditional water bodies, construction of water storage infrastructure, and safe disposal of wastewater. We promote safe drinking water for all with innovative low-cost, sustainable technologies and WASH behaviour. We create awareness about the need for water conservation and build capacities of local communities for better management and long-term sustainability of their water resources.
We promote sustainable livelihoods by building the capacities of farmers, including women producers, on improved agricultural practices and new technologies that increase crop yields, conserve water, and improve soil fertility. We work with small-holder farmers in rain-fed and irrigated areas to facilitate adoption of improved and advanced agricultural practices that include soil health management, crop production management, input-use efficiency, small farm mechanization, crop residue management, water-efficient irrigation techniques, horticultural development, livestock management, and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in agriculture.
We create awareness among communities about the value of participation in making local institutions vibrant and improving the last mile delivery of government programs. We incorporate local knowledge and choices in village development programs for inclusive and sustainable development. We build capacities of village-level institutions to identify and address community problems, monitor the maintenance of public infrastructure, and conserve natural resources for holistic village development. We further create awareness about important health and sanitation issues, and promote usage of digital technologies to widen the reach and benefits of government programs to the communities.
We work with government schools in villages to provide schoolchildren access to drinking water, better sanitation facilities, a conducive school environment and digital and life skills awareness. We also aim at building capacities of School Management Committees and other villagers for greater engagement in the functioning of schools. We encourage parents, teachers, and children to increase enrolment and reduce dropouts in rural government schools, especially for girl children.
We share the knowledge acquired from working with communities to interested stakeholders, and also provide a platform for sharing voices of the grassroots communities through community radio. Furthermore, we carry out various last mile outreach activities to bridge the large information divide by making use of print, audio, and visual formats so the message reaches the right audience at the right time.
How has your foundation scaled up over the years?
S M Sehgal Foundation started its activities from 4 villages in Nuh District, Haryana in 1999. Since then we have grown into an organization with its presence in 1000 villages in 10 States, across India. This growth has been made possible due to the great partnerships that the Foundation has been able to forge.
The foundation’s partners, in the corporate, government, academic, social sectors, and on the ground in rural communities, are key to the success of its rural development initiatives and consistent growth. S M Sehgal Foundation cultivates strategic partnerships with organizations and individuals that share its vision of more secure, prosperous, and empowered rural communities.
SM Sehgal work with organizations to address critical challenges facing rural communities and scale up the most effective solutions to expand to more rural communities across India. The foundation seeks opportunities to collaborate for rural development projects with a firm belief that every partner ensures value.
What is your approach for the sustainability of projects?
S M Sehgal Foundation considers sustainability a dynamic and continuous process of building capacities of communities which starts with the start of a project and continues even after the project period. It focuses on building ownership among communities by making them aware of the benefits of project interventions. It further motivates communities to support the project and pool resources to maintain improvements, and enables village level institutions, such as Gram Panchayats (village councils), to access funds and subsidized government programs to maintain the project. The objective is to ensure that the benefits of the project are sustained beyond the project period with communities eventually taking ownership of development in their village.
What are the initiatives taken for COVID-19 Relief?
Our initial activities in response to COVID-19 focused on distribution of essential items such as soaps, sanitizers, masks, gloves, and thermal scanners to frontline workers and villagers, and food and nutrition kits to underserved communities, among others.
Now, as we move from relief to rehabilitation, our activities and programs focus on building rural resilience. We bring this to action by improving farm productivity (better agri-technologies and practices); increasing water availability in villages (rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge); making schools safe for children (hand-washing stations, toilets, and drinking water facilities); and making communities safer by building their awareness levels.
Civil Society and Corporate relationships have evolved over the years. What is your viewpoint on it?
Traditionally corporate social responsibility (CSR) was philanthropy, mainly supported by a few conscious industrial families with charitable intentions. In the 90s, with economic growth, many other companies started their CSR initiatives with a ‘Triple Bottom Line’ approach thereby putting focus on social and environmental issues in addition to profits.
With the introduction of Companies Act 2013, that mandated CSR to be practiced by companies operating in India (with certain eligibility criteria), the responsibility and accountability of companies increased. This is because the CSR spend, regulations and reporting became mandatory. CSR now requires strategic intervention due to the impact it is expected to create.
Considering this, the role of CSOs and Corporates has also evolved over the years. From viewing CSOs as facilitators of charitable acts, most Corporates now consider and treat CSOs as partners to bring about the social and environmental impact that they envision. Both CSOs and Corporate bring their expertise and experience to co-create and subsequently implement projects. While CSOs help Corporates understand their social impact, Corporates help CSOs scale faster; a successful partnership comes from aligned objectives and shared goals.
2020 has witnessed a huge amount of money being spent on providing meals, masks, sanitisers, etc. due to Covid-19. Do you see mid-term and long term projects are affected by it? If yes, how can we overcome this?
COVID-19 has had a lasting impact on the economy, with millions losing their jobs, many of them at risk of falling into extreme poverty, and businesses suffering losses, or worse – shutting down. This in turn has had a negative impact on the not-for-profit sector, as this sector depends largely on Corporates, Businesses and PSUs for funding.
Rightfully so, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the majority of CSR funding in 2020 focussed on immediate relief activities, from providing supplies to giving targeted support to those in need. It is therefore understandable that limited funding will be available over the next couple of years for the not-for-profit sector to execute their usual activities; it will take time for things to get back to normal.
That being said, our long-term and several other partners have come through for the rural communities and us during these times, keeping to their commitment for the cause of rural development. We even know corporates that have re-prioritized their purpose and stepped-up to support those affected most by the pandemic.
To tide over these times, it is imperative for all sectors to work together to overcome the economic, social and environmental impacts of the pandemic. We must pool our knowledge and experience to develop sustainable strategies, especially for supporting the vulnerable.
(CopyRight @India CSR Network)