India Inc as a whole is finding it tough to deal with their CSR initiatives. Many companies have been found wanting, some deliberately so, in carrying out their responsibilities under the government mandated policy. However, social business venture Mrida Group has shown great initiative and is working to bring holistic development to under-served rural areas which lack basic infrastructure. In an interaction with FE Online, Co-Founder, Arun Nagpal explains how his group is going about this job, the opportunities available and Mrida’s future prospects:
Q. Where do you see the maximum opportunities for Mrida Group, in rural areas or urban?
We have worked on a variety of initiatives with individuals, village level entrepreneurs, self-help-groups, rural communities, and Corporate entities. We have a variety of small individual interventions working together in a synergistic and sustainable manner to bring about a palpable difference in the lives of communities at the base of the pyramid. Our projects have already made a significant dent in, and impacted/influenced the lives of thousands of people in villages and hamlets spread across that States of MP, UP, J&K, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
Q. Why set up a facility in a far remote area like Umbergaon, Gujarat?
Mrida has set up a herbal manufacturing/extraction facility there. Umbergaon was chosen for a combination of factors, including a positive business environment in the state, proximity to customers and sources of supply, and so on. Having started commercial production only about 6 months ago, the unit is currently operating at about 35-40% capacity utilization. Mrida has so far invested around Rs 2.5 crore for setting up the facility at Umbergaon, and in related start-up, market/business development costs. The business expects to recover a significant part of the accumulated losses during the current financial year.
Q. What are your future expansion plans in terms of expansion, revenue and job creation?
Mrida is working on the concept of 50-500-5000, whereby we aim to set up 50 working models (of small interventions leading to holistic development) on the ground in the first 2 years of operations, then scale this to 500 in the next 2 years, and 5000 in the 2 years thereafter.
Q. Is Mrida partnering with any entity to promote these initiatives?
Mrida Renergy has partnered with leading business houses such as Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS), Mahindra & Mahindra, the Reliance Foundation, Hero Group Companies like Rockman Industries and AG Industries, etc. for integrated Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. In addition, we also partner with local NGOs at some of our project locations on the ground.
Q. Is government’s current CSR policy good or does it need improvement?
The Government’s CSR policies have put in focus socially responsible behaviour for corporates that leads to inclusive growth. National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic responsibilities of business by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs have encouraged public and private companies to engage with the communities and enhance their contribution towards lessening the gap between economic and social progress. This is a definitely a good step by the Government. However, the efficacy could be improved significantly if some norms and guidelines relating to the impact created, and the sustainability of such initiatives, are also established by the government, for CSR spends by Corporates.
Q. What is your current revenues?
We have closed 2015-2016 with revenues above Rs 2 Cr. Moving forward, crowd funding/crowd sourcing using social media is expected to bring in additional revenue streams.
Q. Please elaborate on Mrida’s role in ‘Skill India’ and CSR’s in Skill India?
We are not formally a part of Skill India mission, but our work is totally focused on skill development and creating job opportunities for rural population at the base of the pyramid. We are working closely with corporates for implementing their CSR programs and also undertaking health/hygiene/sanitation initiatives, including construction of toilets construction, and training on their usage and upkeep/maintenance.
Q. How many jobs has Mrida created so far?
Mrida interventions have impacted over 11000 lives through multi-pronged rural development initiatives. This includes imparting skill training, providing livelihood generation opportunities, facilitating education initiatives, providing energy and physical access (through solar grids and eRickshaws) etc.