India's best bank for CSR 2021: RBL Bank
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India's best bank for CSR 2021: RBL Bank

RBL Bank

Shanta Vallury Gandhi, RBL Bank.jpg
Shanta Vallury Gandhi, RBL Bank

Corporate social responsibility got a big lift in India after the government made it mandatory in 2014 for large firms to spend at least 2% of their profits on such projects every year.

Banks such as HDFC, State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank have made CSR a core part of the business and put money to work helping the underprivileged. This year, RBL Bank’s CSR division, led by Shanta Vallury Gandhi, stood out.

RBL’s long-term focus has been on health, education and livelihood opportunities – which it shortens to HELO – but it rejigged its strategy last year to help mitigate some of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Take its flagship Umeed 1000 Cyclothon, an annual fund-raising event it has held for the last seven years. Covid didn’t pose a barrier to the event’s supporters, who stuck to social distancing guidelines to cycle 1,000 kilometres over the course of 14 days. RBL also adopted a physical and digital format for another challenge involving volunteers walking, running or cycling, with each kilometre covered raising Rs10. Volunteers clocked up 161,036 kilometres in total, with the cyclothon raising Rs161.2 million ($2.2 million). The funds were earmarked for the education of girls.

RBL, led by chief executive Vishwavir Ahuja, also deployed women trained in fashion design to make 110,000 masks that were distributed to low-income women entrepreneurs in India.

The Covid crisis, which at its peak triggered a lockdown in India, created an untenable environment for hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers. RBL teamed up with non-governmental organizations to offer migrants legal consultation and supply basic necessities.

RBL’s CSR budget has remained stable at about Rs190 million in the past couple of years: any unspent sums are usually carried over to the next year.

Despite an emphasis on Covid-related battles last year, RBL hasn’t strayed far from its HELO focus. Financial inclusion and the provision of financial literacy programmes remain important to the CSR team, as does supporting the treatment of children with eye cancer. RBL’s gross loan portfolio for financial inclusion was about Rs64.7 billion at the end of March 2020, versus Rs50 billion a year earlier.

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