With the introduction of mandatory spending on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) brought on by the Companies Act 2013, companies in India and across the world have shifted focus from anticipating change and understanding the impact of this change to actually being the change.
Firms have started gauging the ramifications of their decisions and activities on society and the environment, some even going the extra mile to give back to their employees, their valued patrons, the community and the world at large. CSR activities by malls and brands today is helping scale customer engagement and brand popularity.
A handful of international and national companies have developed solid reputations for being do-gooders and turning their success into an opportunity to help others. One such mall in Mumbai is Inorbit.
When it rains in Mumbai, there is no respite. Where the city is in a rush to find a safe haven to save themselves from the downpour, the city’s traffic cops stay put diligently performing their duties to ensure smooth movement of vehicles to keep the roads as clutter free as possible. How often does one really give a thought about these traffic management champions braving the endless showers and getting drenched to the core? Recently, Inorbit Mall in Mumbai came forward to present raincoats to the team officials headquartered in Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai.Kishore Bhatija, Managing Director - Real Estate Development, K Raheja Corp. said, “The effort put in by our traffic police during these times is commendable and we are indeed thankful for their selfless work in maintaining road safety. Our small gesture is a salute to the spirit of the protectors of Mumbai.”
To this, Sunil Lokhande, Deputy Commissioner of Traffic Police said, “We appreciate the efforts of corporates coming forward to assist our men in uniform. We are committed to performing our duties whether rain or sunshine no matter what the weather conditions, but these initiatives ease the process.”
Many more malls are taking it upon themselves to serve the community with gestures that indeed matter. Take for instance the recent celebration of Kargil Diwas by Select CITYWALK. The mall has been actively undertaking initiatives to celebrate the day and simultaneously pay homage to the martyrs. This initiative isn’t just namesake as the funds collected are then sent to the families of the martyrs thus making layman a part of the noble cause. The shopping centre in addition to this celebration has created a special microsite - http://letsnotforget. co.in where the people can be a part of the initiative till August 15, 2019.
So, how do malls measure the success of a CSR initiative?
According to Rajendra Kalkar, President (West), High Street Phoenix (Mall) – The Phoenix Mills Ltd. (Group), “A successful CSR initiative entails a good turnout and participation of retailers as well as customers. Consumers are increasingly looking to engage with purpose-driven brands that empower them to make a difference and to connect them emotionally with a cause they would want to support.”
While a majority of the initiatives involve contributing to a noble cause through an NGO, many malls and shopping centres plan their CSR activities in a way that they directly touchbase with the beneficiaries.
Take for example Inorbit’s unique and awardwinning campaigns is ‘Inorbit Pink Power’. The mall conceptualised the idea to celebrate Women’s Day in a different way by making a difference in the lives of aspiring women entrepreneurs with unique businesses. The mall provides a platform for women entrepreneurs to unveil their businesses. The winning candidate is given free kiosk space in the mall for a period of 9 months. Being one of the pioneers in the mall business, Inorbit works to mentors these entrepreneurs and helps them grow their business as they operate among the major retail players in the mall. Pink Power is hosted across 5 geographic locations i.e. Malad, Vashi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Vadodara. The mall has been hosting this campaign for the last 5 years and Pink Power has won several accolades at some of the prestigious award forums.
Mumbai’s High Street Phoenix took the road less travelled to enlighten the mall’s staff members, retail workers, employees and security personnel on the ‘rights of transgenders’. In August 2018, on the occasion of International Transgender Day of Visibility – Sharanya Ruia, daughter of Atul Ruia, Managing Director of The Phoenix Mills Ltd., held a workshop at the mall made them aware of transgender rights and ways to treat them equally.
During the Kerala floods, Infiniti Malls conducted a massive ‘collection drive for flood relief ’ materials which were then handed over to Kerala Samaj for further distribution to people in need.
The mall in the same year also went ahead to organise the second edition of ‘Happy Feet’ for special kids to showcase their talent. The event was well received by mall visitors who cheered these special kids taking to the ramp with confidence and style at the fashion show hosted by the mall. These kids also put together a spectacular dance performance at the event. The event saw participation by more than 100 special kids along with mall visitors.
Mukesh Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Infiniti Mall shares, “We believe the main causes that require serious attention at this point in time are nature conservation and providing the underprivileged and physically challenged with a platform to showcase themselves as ‘abled’ people of society. In an endeavour to address pressing social matters, our Summer Event ‘Funmania’ revolved around nature conservation acts and performances and soon we willbe launching ‘Mast Monsoon’ event which is about showcasing abilities of physically challenged people.”
Junction Mall in Kolkata, in coordination with the local authorities organises a ‘one-day city tour activity for under-privileged children’ during Durga Puja during which they visit pandals and are treated to new clothes and delicious food. Bringing in international attention to their noble initiative, Lulu Mall has been conducting various campaigns over the years on World Environment Day.
Shibu Philips, Business Head, Lulu International Shopping Mall Pvt. Ltd. says, “One of our campaigns was approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to create awareness on increasing food wastage and shortage the world is facing. At another event, we created a mud, clay and grass play area in the atrium of the mall to re-familiarise the current generation with nature. We have also helped facilitate experiential visits of the mall for 340 senior citizens from old age homes. Similar visits for underprivileged children are also conducted on Children’s Day. Also, the mall has been closely associating with the Ernakulam Autism Club for annual talent shows, art exhibitions and so on.”
Malls for Nature Conservation
Social responsibility is important to a business because it demonstrates to consumers that the company takes an interest in wider social issues that have no direct impact on profit margins.
These issues may be local, national or global, but a concern for the health and wellness of others that does not involve sales can be seen as commendable, if handled well.
Highlighting the need for malls getting involved in conserving the environment, Arijit Chatterjee, Chief Operating Officer, Junction Mall says, “It would certainly not be wrong to say that the companies of 2020 will be those that would provide their customers and clients with goods and services and even reach out to them in a manner and with an approach that accommodates solutions to major challenges, such as poverty, women empowerment, child labor etc. The biggest challenge coming to us is “Depletion of Green” and overuse of plastics. Natural vegetation has always maintained the balance of the environment for survival without which the entire lifeline would come to an end slow but steady. It’s high time that we ensure a healthy environment for the next generation. Towards this, we are in discussion with our retailers to encourage and educate customers about re-use of shopping bags, plantation of saplings, minimising the use of plastic or using bio-degradable bags. Most brands have adopted the same to be a part of this green revolution.”
Philips adds to this saying, “Undoubtedly nature deserves the most attention. It’s not about CSR, but it is a necessity. There are hundreds of causes one can contribute towards, but nothing matters if our very own existence is in jeopardy, due to our own actions. There just might be some time left for us to redeem our planet and we have to act now.”
Nature First - LuLu Group’s dedicated CSR initiative towards nature conservation has been gaining the support of the public at large over the years. Multiple activities are conducted yearround related to the sustainability of the environment. These include - protection of wildlife & rare plants, food wastage, use of alternate technology forenergy conservation, distribution of saplings and several other activities have been undertaken under nature first.
Interestingly, LuLu Mall, Kochi is also a Government of Kerala certified e-waste collection centre.
Philips adds, “We also constantly try to incorporate an ‘environment friendly’ message in all our events. For Onam, a gigantic Maveli(the king in who’s remembrance the festival is celebrated) was fabricated by the mall and artists from the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) using nature friendly materials. The supersized Maveli – made from iron, special papers, jute, cloth, coir, rope and reclaimed wood – drew the attention of our customers towards the importance of recycling and ensuring sustainability of the environment in every which way possible.” It is indeed impressing to learn that the LuLu Mall recycles 100 percent of the organic waste generated into manure, within the mall’s own premise. Last Christmas, we brought back the true Christmas spirit with the ‘Recycle Joy’ initiative. Plastic trash was collected and turned into the Christmas décor of the mall and further recycled.”
“Post New Year, all the plastic collected and used for décor were recycled into toys for underprivileged children and into plastic chips. More than 400 kgs of plastics was collected and recycled. The campaign wasaimed at mobilising the entire city and creating awareness about preserving our planet, by encouraging less usage of plastic and recycling it in our daily lives.And it achieved that and more,” he further said.
In 2018, when the Government of Maharashtra banned use of plastic, Inorbit hosted a ‘Green Walk Initiative’ where the focus was not just “Say no to plastic” but it was a campaign that educated people about how hazardous plastic is to the environment.
The mall spread this message by hosting a rally that was led by famous toon characters – Garfield and Shin Chan. More than 500 people joined the walk and supported this initiative. Over 5,000 eco-friendly bags were distributed in the catchment by volunteers. The initiative was supported by Green Yatra, an NGO, the BMC P South Ward and the Police Division of Malad. Mumbai’s Oberoi Mall took up a novel and noble cause of conservation of sparrows.
Anuj Arora, General Manager, Oberoi Mall says, “Since inception, we have been clear about our vision for the mall– we are a vibrant community space, and through the mall, we wanted to positively influence our patrons on varied social and environmental matters. Over the years, towards achieving this goal, we have associated with authorities, NGOs and private enthusiasts to partner on matters relating to conservation of water and water bodies, recycle and re-use. There have also been Saving Sparrows and Go Green themes to raise awareness. For more than 8 years now, we have been associated with Earth Hour Day and Sparrow Day.”
“We believe that such initiatives by the mall help spread awareness, relevance, and importance of the cause amongst our diverse patrons and positively influence the ecosystem we operate in. On our 10th anniversary, we gave jute bags for free to our loyal patrons to dissuade from the usage of plastic bags,” he adds.
“Water is a cause that needs immediate attention, especially in a city that sees acute water shortage throughout the year. At Oberoi Mall, we do rainwater harvesting to conserve water. We have recently revamped our Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) and use the treated water in the property itself. We are planning to conduct awareness-building activities in the mall towards water conservation soon,” he further adds.
In addition, Oberoi Mall has been hosting ‘Eco-Ganesha’ activity at their mall premises to create awareness towards water pollution and impact on the eco-system.“We have received overwhelming response and support from our patrons and have been able to influence the adoption of eco-Ganesha,” Arora states.
Involving the Stakeholders
Without active participation of retailers present in malls and the public at large, none of the initiatives planned by a mall can remain successful and more so if it is a CSR activity / initiative. The planning of activities has to be done meticulously to ensure that it generates interest and participation without having to convince or cajole. Blood donation drives and collection of money and other items as part of relief measures during natural calamities are the most common activities where a strong participating from people and retailers alike can be generated. Having NGOs come and take over too proves beneficial as they are experts in the field, and they know hoe best people can be convinced to participate for a noble cause.
About the action plan in place at High Street Phoenix,Kalkar says, “The mall has hosted a myriad of events in the past years including big ticketed concerts, food festivals, luxury fashion shows, lifestyle exhibitions and various digitally driven campaigns. Some of the most celebrated CSR initiatives by the mall are the Palladium Anniversary, Easter, Halloween and Christmas Party celebrations for the kids. These events takeplace every year in association with an NGO dedicated towards a noble cause. The major part of revenue generated through these association and events goes directly to the NGOs and for the welfare of the children.”
On how retailers are encouraged to be a part of the initiatives, he adds, “When it comes to such big ticketed events the mall encourages immense participation from its tenants. For Palladium’s anniversary,the retailers are encouraged to promote more shopping at their stores by training the store staff, tent card placement and in mall branding that indirectly lead to more sales generating a greater sum for donation. For special day celebrations, the mall hosts various fun activities for kids including treasure hunts where in the customers follow a trail that leads them to various stores that in lieu offer customers goodies from the brands. These activities help the brand receive more visibility and create a positive perception in the minds of the customers,” he says.
“More and more retailers are realising that giving back doesn’t just make the world a better place; it’s also good for business in lot of ways. It’s about creating tangible change – socially, economically, and environmentally,” he adds.
Apart from various initiatives that the mall has been undertaking individually to bring in a positive impact in the lives of the underprivileged, High Street Phoenix also promotes various retailers who are looking to promote their campaigns that are associated with a noble cause. The retailers are encouraged to choose to host their major activations at this mall.
“At Inorbit Malls we support and work towards numerous voluntary initiatives like blood donation camps, cleanliness drives, pet adoption, World Environment Day, women empowerment etc. We strongly believe that crafting social initiatives around the retail environment gives us as an entity and our shoppers a chance to do our part for the underprivileged society,” says Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Inorbit Malls.
“The retailers support the initiatives by spreading the word among shoppers and also donate products/gifts for the underprivileged. Lot of retailers are a part of recycling initiatives. H&M is one of the brands that encourages people to donate old clothes which they upcycle.
All campaigns are promoted through various communications mediums like print, radio and social media. The initiatives are curated in such a manner that it is not just information sharing, but where in people can participate in the same and contribute,” he adds.
According to Arijit Chatterjee, big tenants like Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons, Reliance Trends etc. along with conducting their solo CSR activities give great support to the mall and try get involved as much possible in every activity organised by the mall.
“Apart from the big shorts, the other retailers also take the initiatives in various campaign on special days as World Yoga Day, World Environment Day etc. They also associate with us to organize activity as blood donation camp where 150+ successful donations were made from the member of our retail family.”
Challenges While Executing CSR
On the challenges that shopping centres face in execution of their CSR initiatives, major ones on the list include logistics and finding the right NGOs.
Philips elaborates on this saying, “Logistics is a major challenge. You might have a great plan and a team who could execute it beautifully, but all external logistics factors need to be aligned. For example, LuLu Kochi is a certified e-waste collection centre. However, to ensure timely collection of this e-waste by the recycling company is a challenge. When we conducted the Recycle Joy initiative, we had to place large recycle bins in schools across the length and breadth of the city, educate the students about the cause and do follow up visits in all these schools to make sure the campaign yield’s results. To see a campaign through all its phases is not always easy. We are now actively recycling the mall’s plastic waste to pavers tiles, furniture, etc. However, there are very limited vendors who do this effectively and the costs are very high. We need more vendors in every state in this country. When logistic costs become lesser, everyone will be glad to recycle, and this will create a strong impact. The Government needs to take this up.”
Stating the prime purpose and responsibility of having CSR initiatives in place, Arijit Chatterjee states, “Business started long centuries before the dawn of history, but business as we now know it is new - new in its broadening scope, new in its social significance. Business has not learned how to handle these changes, nor does it recognize the magnitude of its responsibilities for the future of civilization. The prime purpose of including CSR in corporate business is to make the corporate business activities as well as the corporate culture both sustainable in three ways: economic, social and environmental. Many of us think that CSR is much outside the realm of our business, while others think it irrelevant for their businesses. It is further felt that customer satisfaction is only about price and service. However, social responsibility, which many of us don’t understand is actually an opportunity in itself for our business to grow.”
“Create CSR champions across the company by sharing ownership, stewardship, and storytelling among multiple internal functions. Keeping CSR in a silo or just in a report should be highly discouraged,” he concludes.