CSR in Indian realty: Serious brand-building or marketing gimmick?

[] Are developers in India serious about corporate social responsibility and what are the benefits that it can offer? We look at some of the activities that developers have carried out, to answer this question

The reality of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Indian real estate, is that companies get into it, merely to fulfill mandatory provisions and/or tax adjustments, rather than out of any real concern for the society. As a strategy, CSR has not made any significant inroads into Indian realty, as leading brands have thus far, failed to shift their focus to broader and deeper issues surrounding sustainability, accountability and governance.

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With CSR meaning different things to different realty companies, very few developers understand its benefit, as a means to leverage band reputation.

Developers, on their part, argue that with real estate being a localised business, realty brands can afford to have a selective and partial approach, towards the formation of CSR strategy. This is in contrast to mature industries, where a global brand strategy is defined from a multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder perspective.

Examples of developers’ events that have been labeled as CSR activities

  • Painting competition organised by a real estate company.
  • An initiative to ‘clean the city’, with a sweeping drive for a day.
  • A blood donation camp, where more money is spent on the photo shoot and event management.
  • A school for the children of construction workers is organised and food is distributed to the construction workers, under the guise of CSR, while the real objective is to ensure that labourers do not leave.

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Why real estate developers shy away from CSR

What probably deters realty companies from CSR, even though they agree that ‘doing good’ is good for business, is that the exact return on investment (ROI) for CSR programmes, remains hard to measure. Another deterrent, is that the nature of the business of real estate is very individualistic, whereas, one of the first things to do when considering a CSR program, is to think about your CSR partners.

“It is generally believed in the sector that CSR cannot be a brand driver, the way other branding efforts are being evaluated in terms of ROI. However, this is one business, where the investment of buyers is highest and hence, word-of- mouth publicity plays a critical role. If CSR is adopted and practiced in the right spirit, it could give a facelift to the overall brand reputation of the developer,” says Vijay Menon, a CSR professional.

Benefits of CSR activities

Experience from other industries, suggests that companies that make CSR a core pillar of their operations, directly enhance their employee morale, agent tenure, the health of the communities where they work and importantly, their bottom line. CSR brings a company to the limelight, as a socially responsible company. It also exhibits that the company understands the needs of the society. CSR is, therefore, seen more as a responsibility towards the society, rather than a business promotion activity. This forms a very different kind of indirect branding for a company.

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There have been very few examples of effective CSR, in the Indian real estate industry. While some of the much-hyped endeavours have not moved beyond the project level, certain low-key initiatives are increasingly being noticed and are giving a much-needed corporate outlook to the companies. Indian real estate players have been slow to adopt CSR, as they remain unaware of the implications and costs of such a program and its critical linkage to ROI and brand enhancement.

How real estate companies can successfully leverage CSR

“The broader understanding of CSR, clearly indicates that it must be linked to brand positioning in the overall scheme of things. To say that brands must operate responsibly in the communities that they serve in, is particularly true of real estate brands, as this sector has historically been plagued with perception issues,” points out Vibha Uniyal, an advertising professional.

Hence, while other property markets across the globe have witnessed successful CSR programmes, Indian counterparts are only now, gradually scaling up. However, for an authentic initiative, it is critical that all levels of the management are committed to a comprehensive CSR program for the right reasons and not simply for financial gains and some media visibility.

(The writer is CEO, Track2Realty)

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Category: Lifestyle

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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