Thrive addresses some of the most asked questions on ACF's corporate partnerships through a conversation with Manoj Agarwal - DGM at ACF.
Thrive: As a corporate CSR implementing organization itself, why did ACF decide to start working with other corporate partners?
Manoj: ACF has been working in rural development among the poorest of the poor, implementing what we now call Corporate Social Responsibility for over 27 years. Our experience and in-depth understanding in this sector enables us to move beyond the core geographies of Ambuja Cements Ltd. and reach out to other underserved areas and communities across the country by partnering with other CSR & donor agencies. We understand that for rural development to be implemented effectively, it is imperative that like minded partners get together to achieve the scale that India needs. In this context, while the Government rural development projects and programs as well as NABARD are major partners, from the last 3-4 years ever since the CSR contribution has been mandated, we have been working with other corporate partners as an implementing agency to work together to co-create rural development projects and roll them out on-ground.
Thrive: What kind of Corporate partners does ACF work best with?
Manoj: ACF typically works well with large reputed organisations with a clear board vision and CSR mandate and also match our values and ethics. Organisations that have a presence in any of the 11 states we operate in are preferred, primarily because of ease of implementation and aligned focus on programmes.
Thrive: Why do Corporate partners choose to work with ACF?
Manoj: Corporates are always on the lookout for very credible and professional NGOs. In that context, ACF's reputation as a CSR Implementing organization stands out. Specifically: -
- Our USP is the high levels of credibility & integrity in the system.
- Our financials are clean and strong, ensuring every rupee is well spent on the society only
- Highly specified and experienced team of professionals to think and fast track execution of projects on the ground.
- We are run by a professional management which reflects in the projects we pick and execute and the teams that implement them.
- We have an ability to penetrate deep into the interiors of the country and quickly mobilise in remote communities.
- Our experience and expertise allow us to lead and implement CSR projects at scale
- We are geographically spread across 11 states in India which means that CSR projects can be implemented in numerous locations across the country. We have, furthermore, recently started working in regions where we have no presence as well. For instance, we work with Asian Paints in Vishakhapatnam on Water Resource Management projects, a location where we have had no presence in the past.
- Our monitoring, evaluation and reporting are very robust and give partners peace of mind when looking at measuring progress and outcomes.
Thrive: What is the process of working together on projects in a Corporate-Corporate relationship?
Manoj: Post the initial discussions where we present the work we have done, our programme areas, our impact, our board, our CSR policy, and examine the proposed project; we do a needs and demand assessment survey of the regions where the project is proposed to be implemented. For example, when Hindustan Zinc Limited approached us with the need to implement a CSR project related to skill development in the regions surrounding Udaipur, we did an on the ground study where primary and secondary data was collected and a feasibility report was presented on what would work best in the region. Once the investment size is defined based on the feasibility report, the project is formulated, and a project proposal is submitted which outlays the investment, the process of implementation and the outcomes. This project proposal is then whetted by both the CSR committee and the finance committee after which a final go ahead is given, and an MOU is signed. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is also shared which focuses on ethics, trust, and transparency. A capable team is put in place while the senior management closely monitors the progress of the project. As part of implementation, monthly reports, quarterly audits, quarterly reports, yearly reports, and yearly presentations are provided to the partner. Through all of this, a relationship of trust is established which allows the partnership to offer the best outcomes to the targeted community. Moreover, the scope of the partnership itself expands, moving to regions well and beyond the original location.
Thrive: What is the role that the Corporate partner plays in the project?
Manoj: Partnership is beyond just funding. Earlier while funding was the primary goal, Corporate partners today play an active role in the project and hence, development. They play a crucial role in deciding the geography and sometimes, also play a joint role in deciding the Project Implementation Committee, the team that will implement the project. They also actively monitor the progress through our monthly project reviews, often suggesting changes to the process. They are thus actively engaged as equal partners when working with ACF.
Thrive: How do you address the notion that ACF being a corporate agency, will choose to highlight its own brand in any CSR implementation project?
Manoj: This notion was definitely a stumbling block for us 2-3 years back. Most corporates were apprehensive that in any partnership with ACF, their brand would lose out on visibility. We have since addressed this by deciding a clear joint branding strategy where the corporate partner and we decide on how the branding needs to be implemented before the project starts. This approach has helped put to rest most of the fears around brand visibility. At the end of the day, enabling the community is the goal of the partnership.
Thrive: Who are some of the corporate partners that ACF works with today?
Manoj: We have been fairly successful in finding and working with like-minded partners who share a common vision for rural India. In this context, HDFC Bank works with us in implementing multiple projects in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh. IndusInd Bank works with us in Rajasthan and West Bengal. Hindustan Zinc Limited started a small project with us in one geography but seeing the quality of work we bring to the table, has quickly expanded the scope to include 3-4 more geographies in the areas of skill development and water resource management. We work with Asian Paints in the remote regions of Andhra Pradesh. All in all, we work with more than 25 partners in different geographies and across programme areas.
Interested in a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partnership with ACF to enable Rural India? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org