Roundtable on taking a strategic approach to education CSR

November 12, 2014

Hosted jointly by Central Square Foundation (CSF) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) on November 12, 2014, this roundtable highlighted the critical role that companies have to play in addressing India’s education challenges and the need for companies to act strategically and collaboratively to fulfil this role. At the event,FICCI and CSF jointly released the report, Investment in Learning: Promoting Quality Education through Corporate Social Responsibility, which provides guidance to companies as they formulate or refine their approaches to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in education. Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), delivered the keynote address. Debasish Mitter, Country Director of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), and Vijay Chadda, CEO of Bharti Foundation, then joined Professor Banerjee for a panel discussion moderated by Ashish Dhawan, Chair of the FICCI School Education Committee and Founder and CEO of Central Square Foundation.

The panelists emphasised the need for companies to work in collaboration with the Government to bring about change in education quality at scale. “Our first learning, don’t replicate the system,” Mr. Chadda said, reflecting on the experience of the Bharti Foundation in working with government schools. The Foundation runs 254 schools across six states under a public-private partnership model and uses learning from these schools to support quality improvements in government schools.

Indeed, as Mr. Dhawan highlighted in his opening remarks, corporate contribution to education will continue to represent a fraction of government expenditure, estimated at 3.6 trillion rupees annually. To maximise their impact, companies should aim to catalyse change in the government system through their CSR. The panelists also discussed the need to drive improvement in the growing affordable private school segment, much of which serves students from low-income families.

Conceiving of CSR as research and development (R&D) will enable companies to play this catalytic role, the panel suggested. This requires supporting innovative interventions and gathering evidence of the impact. Successful interventions could then be brought to scale by the Government.

Mr. Mitter stressed the need to stay outcomes-focused. He explained that MSDF has an independent third-party evaluation for every intervention they support to determine if it  is leading to improvement in the quality of learning.

Professor Banerjee explained that evaluation is a difficult undertaking for the government since policy changes generally affect multiple variables, making it difficult to establish exactly what is or isn’t working. “When the government changes policy, it changes 15 things at the same time, and for a government that’s the right thing to do,” he said. As a result, “the R&D for the government, the government cannot do.” This is part of why R&D is such an important role for CSR.
While the panelists recognised that there are many interventions necessary to improving education, the discussion converged on the importance of building teacher capacity and mindsets in particular. “Basically, infrastructure, inputs provide very little evidence. All the evidence is on the other side, on the side of teaching,” Mr. Banerjee said.

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