Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility

The Concept that is Developing a Country

What if I told you one of India's largest and most important corporations is behind one of its biggest HIV success stories? You would think there is a catch, but with the good publicity comes great work that is transforming an entire city.

The story starts with a notion that is simple in sound and proven effective in action. The concept is what experts coin "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR) and, for whatever reasons it is initiated, it plays opposite to corporate capitalism, something Americans are unfortunately all too familiar with. In this model the corporate world goes past philanthropy and donating to charities, and instead bases its practices and focus on human rights. It sounds idyllic and the jury is still out on the successes and pitfalls of such work, but some examples illustrate the type of vision that can foster positive change.

The secret to this recipe is mixing the right amount of ingredients and letting the flavors of each spice blend and not overwhelm the pallet. One part corporation for the business smarts of management and efficieny, one part government to utilize the experts in the various ministries, increased resources, and its ability to coordinate with different sectors, and lastly, non-governmental organizations to run the grassroot initiatives and provide added man power. After all this you have what is know as "public-private partnerships" that are responsible for much of India's development in the social sectors, such as health, education, and even infrastructure.

Coming from a corporate capitalist society I was quick to ask questions and fact find when I met with an official from the Bombay Chamber of Commerce. There has to be a catch or esle why would these large corporations committ such amazing amount of capital. Well, good publicity and favorable public relations can certainly account for some of the good will, but the top corporations that have embraced the idea really take it to the next level. The official explained a key concept ingrained in Indian society - repayment of debt (and no I do not mean the bank). A further explanation was given by the Chief Medical Officer at one of the coporations. He said one of the most important concepts for Indians is karma and reincarnation; therefore repayment of debts, especially to your parents and teachers, is a vital component of life. This is achieved by taking care of your parents in their old age and putting what the teacher taught you into practice and good use.

The higher ups and decision makers have all witnessed the change that has happened within the last few decades in India. The large corporations have grown almost exponentially in the last 10 years and to whom do they owe their debt? Well the answer given was India and they see their duty is to repay it by running development programs.

One of the India's biggest corporate success stories is Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which last year accounted for 12% of India's Exports and 2.7% of India's GDP, and it is also a paradigm for the corporate social responsibility model. They run a plethora of programs meant to increase healthcare, education, local infrastructure, and the enviroment (which seeing a petro-chemical factory with a large "green" zone is quite interesting to say the least). Perhaps the most internationally celebrated one is the HIV program they run, which is cited as a "Global Best Pratice" by the United Nations Global Pact. This is the program that I will be documenting for the book and my next post will attempt to highlight why such praise has been bestowed upon them.

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