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CSR is the bone under our skin: Dr. Soumitro Chakraborty, CEO Finnovation.

In an interview with BW Disrupt, CEO, Dr. Soumitro Chakraborty, talks about company's upcoming projects, expansion, response from corporates and more

1. Brief us about your business model like how did the idea come to start and how does it work (step by step procedure) and what is the monetization model?

Innovative Financial Advisors Pvt Ltd (Fiinovation) was established in the year 2008 with the idea and intention to develop a structural resource mobilization strategy and a transparent framework for the same. We began with only 5 people in 2008 and as the demand and the appreciation for our services kept growing, we also grew at a steady pace. One of the major reasons for our growth was that we continued to diversify various platforms of the business. 

Fiinovation offers a one stop solution to corporates and civil society organizations for all their project management, implementation and resource mobilization needs. Fiinovation house India’s first Proposal Research Laboratory wherein dedicated sectoral teams categorically working in Health, Education, Climate and Livelihood sectors, partner with companies and institutions to develop concepts and design social sector initiatives. We also have a department, which only focuses on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) wherein assessments' based research like impact studies, outcome studies, need assessments and base assessments are carried out. 

Fiinovation is associated with more than 2000 civil society organizations that act as implementing agencies for social welfare programmes. An implementation agency is chosen based on its sectoral experience and after diligent verification process.

We take pride in stating that we have been able to develop innovative initiatives with leading public and private sector organizations, which has been documented and published as well. Through our services we have been able to touch the extreme cardinal points of this country with our successful initiatives.

2. What are the unique key points of your company and how are you different from the existing competitors?

Fiinovation in collaboration with corporations, PSUs, multilaterals, government bodies and civil society organizations, synergises and leverages their combined capabilities for effective resource allocation, efficient implementation and maximised output. 

Our unique ‘Proposal Research Laboratory’ uses state-of-the-art scientific and rational research tools to conduct primary and secondary research. The findings from the research are used to assess the real-time on the ground needs and offer simplified solutions. Fiinovation has been conducting social and environmental audits and impact assessments for the longest time and its team specializes in the systematic study and analysis of the collected evidence and data points. The common indicators of the audit and economic valuation are embedded in both quantitative and qualitative methods. This unique approach of ours is imbibed and benchmarked across the sector. We also have a customer support department which is unseen in most organizations working in the social-development sector and the team deals with client queries and grievances. 

What works as a USP in our favour is the amalgamation of both human intelligence and artificial intelligence at Fiinovation. We have struck a perfect balance between the two and have created robust project optimization mechanisms. Our decentralised CRM platforms which are unique for every project, acquires real-time on ground data through mobile applications ensuring greater efficiency and transparency for the stakeholders involved. The system provides traceability of the records all throughout the project-life cycle. Our partners can track the status of their respective projects from our cloud-based dashboards remotely. The dashboards make the data available readily for effective analysis and measurement.

3. What have been the challenges and how has been the response of corporates so far towards the work you have been doing for years?

The organization began its quest long before the Government of India mandated and formalised CSR in the year 2013. Although CSR per se as a concept for the businesses to take responsibility for the impact that they have on society has been a long standing tradition within the country, we initially faced hiccups for offering CSR and its related aspects as formalised services. However, with time and width of our services, corporates realized the benefits of our cost efficient models and we began to experience favourable responses. Over the years, we have partnered with renowned corporates, PSUs, multilaterals and various other organizations. The quality of our services, transparency and authenticity of the data and reports have been one of the primary factors that made corporations who engaged with us to re-engage with us for CSR programmes. At Fiinovation, we give equal importance to human intelligence and technology, and most of our social interventions are an effortless amalgamation of both. We ensure that we leverage the benefits of both without taking out the spine from any of them. 

4. What are your upcoming projects?

Majority of India’s population reside in tier three, tier four cities, small towns and villages. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the healthcare landscape in the country and has exposed its vulnerabilities and inadequacies, especially in the above mentioned regions. In the coming years, Fiinovation aims to work towards strengthening the primary healthcare system and increase access to healthcare services & infrastructure in these areas with the support of its partners and associates. The rural population is the spine of the nation, and we hope to focus our efforts and endeavours at bolstering this strata of the society. We intend to focus our efforts towards curative healthcare and promoting maternal healthcare in the underprivileged sections of the society. Fiinovation hopes to extend its efforts towards imparting skill development training and promote social entrepreneurship in its bid to extend support to marginalised communities for livelihood opportunities. 

Through various initiatives, we have brought forth the importance of ecological balance and have raised awareness on environmental issues. We will continue to work towards replenishing the green cover through our phytoremediation based projects. 

5. How do you look at expansion?

Our future plan is quite simple, for us, CSR is not just an extension of business operations or just a mandate, but it is the bone under our skin. We aim to take forward our growth story beyond the boundaries of India and look at global impact because we believe that positive impact cannot be limited by geographical boundaries. We will continue to revolutionise the social sector by bringing the corporates and civil society organizations closer and create a synergy between the complementary skills of the public and private sector. 

6. What has been the biggest learning so far?

We believe that change is always happening and we need to identify the change before it happens. Socio-development sector is always the first one to get affected by any socio-economic or geo-political changes and as an organization that has been active in the CSR & sustainability domain for more than a decade, we have come to learn that arresting both positive and negative effects of these changes is imperative and essential. For instance, while the nation reeled under the economic pressure of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak and while most corporations were preparing their relief strategies, we were ahead and had already implemented our COVID-19 relief programmes along with our partners.  

7. What is the market size and opportunity?

CSR spending by India Inc has been rising with every passing year, however, on average annual CSR expenditure stands around INR 15,000 crore. The Companies Act of 2013, might have been overwhelming in the beginning but it has encouraged corporates to work closely with the social sector. Over the years not only have the CSR budgets increased, but the percentage of companies spending on CSR has also increased. Corporates have realized the importance of CSR and have formalised their social impact strategies. CSR as a concept of charity has stepped up and entered the board rooms and has become a crucial part of businesses’ social impact strategies. 

In the current scenario when the world is tracing its steps back and major economies are rebuilding itself, CSR uphold utmost importance. The scope of work is global in nature because welfare is not limited by latitudes and longitudes. During these unprecedented times, the purpose of corporate social responsibility has moved beyond merely being a legal obligation and has become the need of the hour. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies and faultlines which if not corrected will surely have adverse effects. The clarion call is to strike a balance, balance between development and nature and governments alone across the globe cannot achieve it. It requires partnerships and collaborations between all stakeholder groups. CSR offers itself as an opportunity and as a tool to achieve it.

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