Beyond the Boardroom

Samhita and Ambuja Cement Foundation organised the fourth edition of CSR Café in Mumbai on January 31st, 2019. The topic for this edition of the CSR Café was ‘Beyond the Boardroom‘. At the Café we discussed bridging boardroom expectations and ground realities. CSR leaders communicated challenges faced in boardroom engagement, and through discussions, the Café sourced solutions and advice in response to the challenges.

Here’s a brief summary of all the discussions that happened during the session –

We started by asking participants to anonymously communicate challenges faced in boardroom engagement through chits, and then sourced solutions and advice in response to the challenges.

A. Challenge 1
How can CSR leaders convince their boards that CSR is valuable or is needed in a strategic sense, beyond legal compliance? This includes pitching for multi-year funding, investing in CSR, the question of profitability vs CSR and so on.

1. Balancing the head and the heart was a recurring theme throughout the session.

  • As pointed out by many, including Ashank Desai, Founder of Mastek,  it is necessary to make an emotional appeal in addition to a logical pitch, since CSR heads and managers are ultimately human.
  • At the same time, as Charlie Bresler of The Life You Can Save and Priya Naik of Samhita advised, don’t leave out evidence, data and expected returns, alignment to business, benefits to stakeholders including employees and so on from your communication to the board.
  • Communicate that you are looking at CSR strategically rather than from a one-time perspective. It is important to communicate that a company may engage in CSR not only for the legal implications but from an intention to do good.
  • Anagha Mahajani of Ambuja Cement Foundation said that as one would demonstrate or promise a much larger than expected return on investment in business, it is up to the CSR team to show that CSR investments could lead to higher than expected impact or returns.
  • Rachana Iyer of IDFC First Bank also explained how they facilitate field and partner visits for board members. The board members started opening upto the partnerships and have even provided the NGOs access to their own personal networks.
  • A mix of above engagement approaches would be ideal.

2. Go offline and build relationships:
Participants also articulated that going the extra mile, engaging individual board members offline, beyond the boardroom, and learning about their perspectives while explaining the CSR team’s views, would be very effective in convincing board members.

B. Challenge 2
Participants inquired about engaging with board members of different nationalities, behaviours, cultures, experiences and professional backgrounds, around CSR strategy and objectives.


  • For boards that have varied cultures and nationalities and as a result, behaviours, align CSR to a global business/sustainability/CSR strategy if it’s a multi-national or engage the individual on a personal level to understand what makes them tick. Both will help you get easier buy-in.

Here are some of the potential topics for the next edition:

1. Data and evidence across the CSR/project lifecycle

  • For evidence and for decision making
  • While monitoring and evaluating
  • Legal and ethical data questions: for eg, taking data from beneficiaries, what can or should we ask for, how do we ensure privacy and so on

2. Investing in the building blocks of CSR of which benchmarking is an important topic. This can be tied to the data topic above.

3. Technologies that could be used for CSR and the social sector – across facilitation, collection of information, programmatic efficiency, innovative tech and so on.