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Finding the Right Sync: Community Engagement in CSR

By Lynette Phillips On 03 July 2017
Finding the Right Sync: Community Engagement in CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility in India is going through an interesting phase where the need for community centred impact is increasingly becoming more important than ever before. It is not just about compliance with the laws and regulations but also about transitioning beyond the mandated CSR. Stakeholder engagement is a critical tool to ensure a comprehensive approach in carrying out responsible business and within that community engagement holds an important place. It is important because it helps in ascertaining the type and magnitude of the intervention. While most companies try and develop a comprehensive approach to engaging with communities, sometimes certain gaps restrict the efficiency of an intervention and can decrease the impact.  It is, therefore, necessary to understand why there must be a shift in implementation approach i.e. from top down to bottom up. Participatory project implementation helps in developing sustainable systems and empowers the community to successfully take charge of the project.

Some of the critical factors that contribute to effective community engagement are:

  • Intervention Area: It is important that the company is familiar with the area and its people where it is planning an intervention. One of the primary things to keep in mind is to spend as much time as possible in understanding the dynamics of the community. Stakeholder analysis and engagement activities play a vital role in this. Connecting with people directly associated with the community gives insightful information regarding the type of necessary interventions required, the relevant approach and appropriate method. NGOs play an important role in bridging this knowledge gap if the intervention area is new. Another thing to keep in mind while determining the area is the monitoring and evaluation cost associated with the intervention. Such costs shouldn’t be too high since it takes away the necessary resources allocated to the community and diverts it to the operational costs which minimises the impact of the project intervention.


  • Needs Assessment: No amount of secondary data on a community can validate the needs of the community as much as they themselves. The nature of the existing relationship between the company and the community is important because the ease of community engagement depends on that. If the company has been working with the community for long, group discussions within the community with target groups like women, children, institutional members, etc can suffice the necessary information required. However, if the community is new then it is advisable that a thorough baseline survey coupled with exhaustive group discussions and stakeholder discussions are held.


  • Alignment with CSR Policy: While the needs of the community can vary from the CSR thematic focus of the companies, it is important to find ways of integrating and aligning them. For example, if one of the primary needs of the community surfaces as food and nutrition requirements of the school going children but Health is not amongst the focus area of the company; it can still be addressed by designing an intervention in such a way that proper nutritional requirements of school children are ensured through mid-day meals which are mandated in schools. This way, the company is still focussing on its thematic focus area- Education and yet can meet the critical needs of the community.


  • Building Stakeholder Interlinkages: developing interlinkages between stakeholders helps in increasing transparency and accountability between them. The intervention should focus on regular engagements within the stakeholders where problems are raised, addressed and solutions are talked about collectively.


  • Regular Participatory Review and Reflection Meetings: Regular meetings with the communities help in understanding the progress of the intervention as well determining measures to fill the gaps. The community also feels that the company is genuinely interested in their betterment and therefore a mutually benefitting relationship is formed.  Such regular meetings also help in improving, rethinking strategies so that impact can be improved. 


  • Capacity Building of The Community Key Members: One of the key ways in improving community participation and empowerment is to build the capacity of community members that can be identified at the onset of the intervention. Key members of the community can either be a part of the project implementation team or can act as extended team members. Such members can prove to be huge assets to the project but they need appropriate guidance and skill building avenues first. It is vital to understand that the community members have different skill sets and are not completely devoid of them. They just need the correct guidance to complete the project team loop.  Companies should, therefore, spend sufficient resources on their capacity building so that they can be local leads of the project and primary representatives of the project within the community.


  • Community-based MIS:  Developing community-based systems are very helpful in developing community ownership of the project. One of the key factors contributing to an impactful project is the extent of community ownership integrated within the systems. Capacitating the community to set up an information management system locally is a powerful empowering tool. It helps the community to track progress independently and focus on gaps.


  • Community-led Monitoring: Monitoring and evaluation are typically seen as a top- down approach. Even in the very detailed collaborative approaches, we fail to recognise the importance of community-led monitoring of interventions. It is important to etch out the frontline monitoring of activities through the identified community members as it helps in avoiding day to day glitches of the interventions. These day to day hindrances can be quite cumbersome and costly for the project team alone to handle.  A well networked inward and outward information flow from the community through the project teams and subsequently to the stakeholders is an ideal form of communication which impacts an intervention positively.

While integrating such factors in the intervention, companies must contour their role and responsibility articulately. The idea is not to let go of their own goals and objectives but to develop a strong strategy that helps in achieving the desired outcome or impact through a more sustainable and participatory way. This helps immensely in shifting the project paradigm from the typical project mode to a more community empowering mode. 

Lynette currently works as an Independent CSR Consultant and is associated with CSRBOX as a freelance writer.  She is the founder of CSR Trendz blog ( https://csrtrendz.wordpress.com) and specialises in programme design and delivery, stakeholder engagement, partnership development and strategy evaluation. She has extensive experience of working with companies, international developmental agencies and the government on education, health, and disaster risk reduction. You can reach her at lynette.phillips21@gmail.com 

Tag : Community CSR Community Engagement NGOs Partnerships India CSR

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