Collaborative CSR In India: How Start-Ups & Corporates Are Partnering For Sustainable Impact

by | Sep 6, 2022 | CSR

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Over the last decade, the philanthropy environment in India has changed dramatically. Amendments to the Companies Act in 2019 and 2020, which enforced corporate social responsibility (CSR) contributions for selective corporations, have aided the corporate sector in transitioning from a voluntary and haphazard method to a structured strategy to contributing to societal welfare. This has led to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) becoming an increasingly important part of business in India. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of collaboration between startups and corporates in the area of CSR. This is a positive development, as it can help to achieve greater social impact than either sector could achieve on its own. This article examines more about collaborative CSR in India.

Collaborative CSR in India has the potential to alter business. The impact of these activities includes the abolition of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, the promotion of preventive health care, the expansion of access to education, the promotion of gender equality, climate action, sustainability, animal welfare, and the preservation of Indian national heritage sites for art and culture. Measures to fund, train, and officially recognize Olympic and Paralympic athletes are also crucial, as are contributions to central government money for socioeconomic development and relief for marginalized communities, minorities, and women.


The total benefits of CSR partnership to private enterprises can fuel growth and become a commercial force for good. CSR investment in the digital age can help to improve society by fostering learning, supporting innovation, getting access to new markets, hiring more women while using new skill sets and strengths, and improving brand recognition and reputation.

The Rise of Social Startups in India

The rise of social startups in India is a positive development that is helping to address some of the country’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Social startups are businesses that are focused on solving social problems, such as poverty, education, healthcare, and environmental degradation. They are often innovative and creative, and they can bring new ideas to the table when it comes to social impact.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the rise of social startups in India. One factor is the growing awareness of social problems in the country. As people become more aware of the challenges facing India, they are more likely to be motivated to start businesses that can help to address these challenges.

Another factor is the increasing availability of resources for social startups. There are now a number of government and non-profit organizations that provide funding, mentorship, and other support to social startups. This makes it easier for social entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses.

Finally, the rise of technology has also played a role in the rise of social startups. Technology can be used to solve social problems in a variety of ways, such as providing access to education and healthcare and promoting environmental sustainability. Social startups are increasingly using technology to achieve their goals.

The rise of social startups is a positive development that is having a real impact on the lives of people in India. These businesses are helping to address some of the country’s most pressing social and environmental challenges, and they are also creating jobs and opportunities for people.

Here are some examples of successful social startups in India:

The Companies Act and CSR Provisions

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs embraced the Companies Amendment Rules (CSR Policy) in January 2021 to promote governance and transparency. The following are significant changes:

  • A revised definition of CSR excludes operations carried out in the ordinary course of business: increased board and CSR committee requirements.
  • Increased reporting requirements include a more extensive CSR policy, a CSR committee, authorized project disclosure on the firm website, CSR spending and capital assets in annual reports, and impact assessment studies (where appropriate).
  • Provisions specifying how unspent or surplus CSR spending is handled.
  • Permission to appoint a foreign organization to create, monitor, and evaluate CSR projects and train internal CSR staff.
  • A 5% limit on administrative and management expenses.
  • Financial fines are imposed on organizations and defaulting officers for noncompliance.

Several CSR projects fall into the grey area due to the directive that CSR activities should not be part of routine business operations. For example, Hindustan Unilever’s Dove Self-Esteem Project attempts to help today’s youngsters build a positive relationship with their appearance and become self-confident. However, one may argue that the program is a Dove marketing initiative.

The Benefits of Collaboration Between Startups and Corporates

Collaborative CSR in India can help numerous organizations pool resources (both financial and human), solve complicated market risks and opportunities, raise sales and customer loyalty, encourage long-term staff, and improve companies’ capacity to attract fresh talent.

  • Tata Trusts, Maruti Suzuki, and Michelin India are just a few examples of organizations that have achieved remarkable success through CSR engagement. For example, The Nudge Foundation collaborates on skill development with over 50 partners (NGOs, governments, foundations, and businesses) to lift one million people from poverty. Tata Trusts and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani are philanthropic partners of The Nudge Foundation, and companies like Mphasis and Maruti Suzuki collaborate with the foundation as part of their CSR programs.
  • PVR Limited collaborates with Michelin India on their CineArts program. This innovative CSR effort teaches schoolchildren about safe driving while also allowing them to create original road safety content shown in movie theatres. This displays how collaborations may improve a company’s image and value by developing solutions that benefit the local community. Such collaborative techniques entail diverse stakeholders collaborating to achieve a common goal, with the added benefit of inspiring and motivating personnel. People who find genuine meaning and purpose in their work become effective brand ambassadors for their organization.
  • Millennials and Generation Z are the most diversified, ecologically conscious, and socially conscious workers. According to the Deloitte Millennial (Generation Y) Survey, millennials should make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, fostering innovative thinking and positive social contributions. This generation represents a hitherto unseen segment of society with the financial means to support businesses and buy items that reflect their ideals for people and the earth.
  • According to a Deloitte survey published in 2018, millennials care deeply about how their organizations address problems such as income inequality, hunger, and the environment. According to 88%, employers should play a critical role in relieving these concerns, and 86% think corporate success should be assessed by more than just profits.
  • According to a Cone Communications study, 75% of millennials are willing to take a pay reduction to find a job that aligns with their values. As millennials rise into leadership positions, the emphasis on influencing social change will intensify. McKinsey discovered that employees who believe their employment has meaning or can make a difference have higher levels of loyalty.

Examples of Successful Collaborative CSR Initiatives in India

1. Tata Trusts and Genrobotics – To develop a low-cost, robotic arm that can be used to clean sewers and septic tanks.

Manual scavenging is the practice of cleaning sewers and septic tanks by hand. It is a dangerous and hazardous occupation that can lead to serious health problems, including respiratory infections, skin diseases, and even death. In India, manual scavenging is still a widespread practice, with an estimated 1.8 million people employed in this occupation.

The Tata Trusts and Genrobotics partnered to develop a low-cost, robotic arm that can be used to clean sewers and septic tanks. The robotic arm is called “Botman”, and it is designed to be operated by a single person. Botman is equipped with a camera and sensors that allow it to navigate sewers and septic tanks safely. It can also be fitted with a variety of tools to clean and disinfect these spaces.
Botman has been deployed in several cities in India, and it has been very successful in reducing the need for manual scavenging. The robotic arm has helped to protect sanitation workers from the risks of this hazardous occupation, and it has also improved the efficiency of sewer and septic tank cleaning.

The Tata Trusts and Genrobotics partnership is a great example of how startups can play a role in addressing social challenges. The robotic arm is a low-cost, innovative solution that has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people.

2. Ola and Lithium Urban Technologies – Ola’s CSR initiative focused on promoting green transportation

In January 2023, Ola and Lithium Urban Technologies announced a partnership to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in India. Under the partnership, Ola will deploy 10,000 electric vehicles from Lithium Urban Technologies over the next two years. The vehicles will be used for Ola’s corporate fleet and ride-hailing services.

The partnership is also a positive development for the Indian electric mobility space. It shows that two of the leading players in the industry are committed to making electric vehicles a mainstream option for transportation. This is likely to encourage other companies to invest in electric vehicles and help accelerate the transition to a cleaner transportation system.

3. Flipkart Foundation and the Pratham Education Foundation – To improve literacy rates in India

The Flipkart Foundation is the CSR arm of Flipkart, an e-commerce company. The foundation has partnered with the Pratham Education Foundation to improve literacy rates in India. Pratham is a non-profit organization that works in the areas of education, health, and livelihood. The Flipkart Foundation provides financial assistance to Pratham, and it also supports Pratham’s programs, such as Teach for India and Reading Clubs. This partnership has helped to improve the literacy rates of children in India.

These are just a few examples of successful collaborative CSR initiatives in India. There are many other examples, and the number of these initiatives is growing every year. Collaborative CSR is a win-win for everyone involved. It helps to solve social problems, it benefits businesses, and it makes a difference in the lives of people.

Ways To Achieve the Outcome of Successful Collaborative CSR in India

To be successful in CSR partnerships, well-designed implementation plans and quantifiable activities that can be verified, assessed, and implemented across India are required. Organizations can develop exponentially by reviewing the results and refining the CSR tactics involved.

Opportunities for action exist at all organizational levels, from the most junior to the board of directors, and have the potential to make a significant social impact.

Here are four approaches to achieving this result:

Ways to Achieve the Outcome of Successful Collaborative CSR in India

1. Identify the appropriate initiative

Alignment is essential. Both companies must identify a social impact effort complementary to their economic interests. If a firm can select a cause that matches what it already does and the skills of its workers, it will be in a better position to acquire community trust and create a long-term impact.

2. Consider what the rival organization has to offer

Establishing a genuine relationship between the social impact effort and your existing aims is critical. Use what both organizations have in abundance to actively give value to the global community while improving your area of the earth.

3. Form long-term alliances

Discussing collaboration in CSR does not imply that you must interact with brands. Building successful relationships with universities, organizations, and other area specialists can help increase a company’s credibility and demonstrate that it takes corporate social responsibility seriously rather than just partnering for marketing.

4. Put your values into action

The mission and vision should be readily seen in the company’s actions. Partnerships are important. Organizations must make genuine corporate investments in social change, develop cross-sector collaborations, and be willing to take a stand and exhibit results in real-time. Companies that demonstrate their principles in action create brands that people adore.

The Future of Collaborative CSR in India

The future of collaborative CSR in India is bright. With the growing number of social startups and the increasing awareness of the benefits of CSR, we can expect to see more and more collaboration between startups and corporates in the years to come.

Continuous evaluation of CSR projects is becoming increasingly vital in today’s volatile regulatory climate. CSR has come a long way since India became the first country in the world to make it mandatory in April 2014, according to an amendment to the Companies Act 2013. Still, more has to be done to ensure better planning, implementation, and tracking of resources spent. Administrative bodies, non-governmental organizations, and enterprises, as well as the government, are awakening.

Collaborative CSR in India has the potential to impact organizations’ futures and improve people’s lives positively. An ever-evolving CSR strategy will assist companies in developing and implementing necessary policies over decades while also having procedures in place that integrate social, environmental, and consumer priorities into business operations and core strategy – all in close collaboration with stakeholders.


Q1. What effect does CSR have on business sustainability?

CSR may assist in improving many parts of society while promoting a positive brand image for businesses. Environmental implications, ethical obligation, philanthropic endeavors, and financial responsibilities are sometimes divided into four categories in CSR.

Q2. Can businesses work with other businesses to develop CSR initiatives?

In a step that could help the whole corporate sector, the government has authorized corporations to work together to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Q3. How does CSR help the company’s long-term viability?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to a company’s obligation to contribute to society’s long-term growth. CSR is about going above and beyond legal duties to ensure the business works well for its customers and the environment.

Also Read: The Evolution Of CSR Policies In India: From Philanthropy To Sustainable Development


  • Farhan Khan

    Farhan is an accomplished Sustainability Consultant with 6-7 years of experience, He specializes in the design and execution of innovative sustainability strategies that not only mitigate environmental impact but also foster social responsibility, thereby enhancing overall business performance. With hands-on experience in ESG and BRSR reporting, as well as a wide array of assessments including gap, baseline, midline, impact, and value chain across various regions in India, Farhan brings a strategic and comprehensive approach to sustainability initiatives.


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