How to make CSR impactful in education?

In April 2014, India passed an amendment to The Company Act, 2013 notifying that those companies with a net worth of US$73 million (Rs 4.96 billion) or more, or an annual turnover of US$146 million (Rs 9.92 billion) or more, or a net profit of US$732,654 (Rs 50 million) or more during a financial year, shall allocate 2 percent of average net profits of three years towards CSR. As the first country in the world to mandate such an allocation, India established itself as a trailblazer in making corporates accountable and involved in the overall development of the country and marginalised communities. Six years in, here’s an overarching look on how CSR contributions have impacted the education sector and how investment outcomes can be improved by strategic reliance on assessments, monitoring and impact evaluation.

Outcome-oriented giving is weaved into the legal mandate

Corporate Social Responsibility is defined by the European Union as “the concept that an enterprise is accountable for its impact on all relevant stakeholders. It is the continuing commitment by businesses to behave fairly and responsibly, and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.” To ensure that this isn’t mistaken as ‘charitable’ donations, the Indian legal mandate calls out 13 principles outlining corporate social responsibility contributions. Three of these principles are:

  • CSR must be outcome-oriented
  • Corporates must audit one’s CSR spend
  • Corporates must measure one’s CSR spend

Since corporate social responsibility isn’t the core practice of any of these companies, they need to rely on external experts to measure the effectiveness of their investments. The law calls for a committee to be set up, within the corporate, to allocate budgets and monitor the progress of contributions made under CSR. Typically, external assessments firms, for e.g. Gray Matters India (GMI) in the education sector, are best positioned to systematically evaluate the state of contributions, outcomes and help set targets for grantee interventions/non-profits. Such assessments firms play a critical role in improving the outcomes of any contribution, support CSR’s in designing their contributions against relevant targets or milestones and help non-profits/grantees design more impactful interventions.

Education continues to be a focus area for CSR contributions

Education itself has played a crucial role across all comparable sub-sectors within the development space, emerging as the primary hub attracting the highest percentage of funding from corporates. As per KPMG’s India CSR Reporting Survey 2018, India Inc’s CSR overhead expenditure towards to the education sector continues to be at the highest at 35% and has increased by over 250 percent compared to the previous year. While there are many reasons for education to be the top choice of contributions, there is still much to build upon in the space of measuring the outcomes measurement and redesigning contributions to be linked with results.

Gray Matters has been in measuring the outcomes and impact of education for several years now championing the metric of ‘learning outcomes.’

Nanhi Kali by The Mahindra Group

In partnership with the Naandi Foundation, the Mahindra Group’s Trust, KC Mahindra Trust, has been serving as the company’s corporate social responsibility arm since 1953, long before the CSR mandate was formalised.

The Trust’s main project, Nanhi Kali, is a brilliant example of a strategic social initiative that’s relied on assessments and measurements to improve their impact. Strategic in the sense that it ensures outcomes (or improvement in the child’s actual learning) are driven by measuring the program and any intervention that has been introduced within Nanhi Kali is evaluated internally and externally. One of their internal assessments involves what they call a ‘Child Tracking Matrix’ which is used to track each child’s learning levels on a monthly basis. The staff may visit a child’s home if they have been absent from the class for more than a couple of days.

External assessments are also essential within any educational institution to be an objective evaluation of the child’s skills in comparison with broader, comparable scales across the comparable standards within the country. Nanhi Kali brought in a digital learning solution to its students designed by an ed-tech company, Convegenius. Called the ‘Yellow Tablets’, these digital tablets enabled with learning content based on nudge-based learning. Gray Matters India was brought in by Convegenius’ funder, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, to measure the impact of this intervention on the learning outcomes of the children. GMI conducted assessments across ~1700 girl children and will be sharing the findings from the data collected with MSDF in March 2019.

This particular case is an interesting one to call out given the convergence of various stakeholders across the education sector- multiple CSRs, Ed-Tech learning platforms, a school, and an assessments firm, all come together to improve a child’s learning levels. Such collaboration is instrumental in ensuring that organisations work effectively towards supporting critical thinking, comprehension and overall learning in students.

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