“How do you know what’s the best bang for your buck?” This question, one that faces corporate leaders around the country as they craft their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies, was a key point of discussion at the roundtable organised by FICCI on “Taking a Strategic Approach to Education through Corporate Social Responsibility” on November 12. The event 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 roundtable, FICCI and Central Square Foundation 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 CSR in education.Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director, Abdul LatifJameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), delivered the keynote address. DebasishMitter, 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 be a fraction of government expenditure, which is estimated at INR 3.6 lakh crore 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 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 on the need to stay outcome- focused. MSDF, he explained, has an independent third-party evaluation for every intervention they support, to see if the intervention is leading to improvement in the quality of learning.
Professor Banerjee explained that evaluation is a difficult task for the Government to do for itself because policy changes generally affect many 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 that are 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.