The Maharaja’s Cow: An Indian CSR

Umesh Mukhi

The Present Scenario

Much has been discussed and debated over the ‘Companies’ Act’ which will make Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities mandatory in India. What has been surprising is the resistant attitude of certain stakeholders including the private sector. Of course it is hard to accept that they will have to spend a portion of their profits on CSR activities. Added to this is the fact that CSR was never given importance in business school curriculums, due to which Indian executives are not sensitive about CSR issues. However, at this point in time when the Indian economy is under transition, we not only need regulation which will tighten compliance standards but also proactive support from private sector which will further facilitate inclusive growth.

I am aware that there are certain companies in India are exemplary in CSR but still at the collective level there is no consciousness of promoting CSR. I often ponder on the fact of what is keeping India aloof from CSR? Is it because we have focused only on the money minting aspect of business without giving respect to the environment in which we operate and without caring about the stakeholders who we impact.

So Why CSR? Do We Really Need a Bill?

The CSR bill has a capacity to bring a change in the Indian economy and we do have some logical reasons for it. Post-Independence, in general as Indians, we have developed a mentality, that until and unless we are not pressurized or obliged, compliance with rules and laws is not needed. Research has proven that Corporate Sustainability if perceived strategically has the capacity to yield profits and unleash new avenues. Recently management guru Michael Porter unveiled the concept of Shared Value. It is all about generating a Win-Win Situation and creating value for the companies as well as society. Marc Pfitzer, Valerie Bockstette, and Mike Stamp in their recent article “Innovating for Shared Value” in Harvard Business Review, analyzed companies which innovate for Shared value. They outline companies which create shared value share have common traits such as

  • Purpose: re-stating corporate purpose around meeting societal needs
  • Defined need: focusing efforts on a well-researched, distinct need
  • Measurement: measuring value creation for both business and society
  • Co-creation: bringing in partners at different phases in deliberate and mutually beneficial ways
  • Innovation structure: being intentional about where in their organizations to house and nurture social innovation

The CSR bill would require Indian companies to follow the above set of guidelines, which in reality might be tricky. Luckily we do have the rich resources of CSR, UN Global Compact India Network, CII India and many other institutional mechanisms exist which can offer multiple opportunities to partner and work for many social initiatives. Given our vast landscape, talent and rising number of social, environmental and political issues, corporations have huge opportunity to create new markets, business models and services. For example DANONE used the model of social business to tackle malnutrition in Bangladesh. It has been proven that CSR activities are healthy for brand identity and also have a good return on investment over the time, further strengthening the case for wide spread CSR campaigns. Corporations have a huge opportunity to tap into plethora of ideas and innovation by investing their CSR resources in social innovation, environment protection, agriculture, youth projects and many more entrepreneurial initiatives.

India’s Responsibility to Lead the World?

CSR is there in our Indian roots and we have forgotten it. In ancient times, the Maharajas used to give away hoards of cows along with other gifts to the people. However India hasn’t taken a considerable lead in resolving issues related to CSR and environmental sustainability. The floods in Uttarakhand are already an example about what investment without conscience can lead to. I believe for the social, business and government sectors it is the time to develop a strong and social economy. The private sector is the backbone of Indian economy and has always uplifted India. Through public private partnerships and its outreach it can play a huge role in resolving the socio economic issues, which will make India worthy of being an ideal model to other nations as well. CSR is already imbibed and taught in our culture and heritage and it is high time to dwell back into it, as opposed to continually only looking at economic benefits. In fact the present scenario of private sector reminds me of Saint Kabir’s famous quote “Bada Hua to Kya Hua, Jaise Ped Khajoor Panthi Ko Chaya Nahin, Phal Laage Atidoor”. It means “What is the use of this eminence, wealth power and ego, just like the date tree when, you can’t even provide shade for travelers and even your fruit is hard to reach?”

Finally it is up to India and Indians to decide, do they want to imitate Western model focused on economic growth or do we want to create our own unique holistic model of growth? A huge responsibility lies on business leaders to adapt to this paradigm shift. We would also require business graduates, working professionals and senior executives to develop a sustainable mindset. Everyone has a role to play. Business schools need to train responsible managers, government should introduce more inclusive policies and private sector should fuel responsible growth and investment. It is high time that we move away from conventional forms of leadership and focus on Return Of Investment for generations to come.

This is called “Sustainable Leadership” which first focuses on mindset and consciousness development. First know thyself and then the world. It is with this mission in mind that we started Sustainable Leadership Initiative which cuts across the discipline of International Affairs, Economy & Governance, and Human Development & Civil Society. We believe it is only by developing a sustainable mindset at a personal level and integrating it at organizational level, will we be able to perceive a bigger picture where individuals would not only work for pay packages, but also to achieve the dual purpose of organizational growth and social impact.