Need Swachh Minds for Swachh Bharat

Kavil Ramachandran and Sougata Ray    New Delhi     Last Updated: August 30, 2017  | 16:12 IST
Need Swachh Minds for Swachh Bharat

The Tejas Express, India's first semi-luxury train was vandalised on its first journey. Beyond the technicalities of what happened, one wonders 'why' it happened. What is even more worrisome is that it was not an isolated incident. Many such reported and unreported incidents around the country every day reveal so many ills plaguing our society - trafficking and crime against children and women, child labour, gender discrimination, social injustice, poor sanitation, water, health and hygiene - the list is long. It is a reflection of the rot at the core of a rapidly growing, "culturally rich, diverse society".

Over the years, many corporations have been contributing in bits and pieces to ameliorate this deplorable condition through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. However, as most CSR efforts have been localised, hands-off and sporadic, barring a few shining examples, the impact has been limited. The corporations need to rethink their perspectives and approaches to CSR and initiate a deeper and longer term engagement with the partners and beneficiaries at the grass root level. This is the time for corporations to take active part in engineering a social change towards building not only an economically prosperous India, but also a morally and socially enlightened and elevated India.

Sougata Ray

 Wherein lies the challenge

Social revolutions are most often not driven by legislations alone. While necessary, those are not sufficient conditions to bring about fundamental changes in a society. We need a major change in the mindset of people - the way people think, look at issues and behave - keeping a larger and long-term goal of sustainability. Given that bulk of the society is at the bottom of the pyramid, any change in the way people behave will have to begin there. In essence, while economic freedom at the bottom of the social pyramid is a growth requirement, social development calls for a major boost to the efforts to enlighten the masses on a number of issues, only one of which is crimes against women.
 
Such a social revolution requires specific strong activities that are in the nature of culture building. Responsibility and respect should be inculcated as values when it comes to treating women and children right. Several challenges converge, pulling down the effectiveness of the small initiatives of many already in vogue. While these are commendable, their effectiveness is limited, and not sustainable. Thus, there are two major challenges independent of the quality of implementation - the absence of comprehensive and widespread programmes in large numbers, and sustained, long-term game changer strategies. We need to plug the leakages on multiple fronts simultaneously and quickly. For instance, concerted and synergised initiatives on women and children, through campaigns and counselling, spreading awareness about the severe consequences of breaking the law, will create a sustainable impact.
 
This is a much overdue movement across the country. But social evils such as violence on women, child abuse, corruption, water conservation, tree plantation and the like, require substantially higher financial resources and management capabilities to develop clear strategies and then execute them effectively. This is beyond the bandwidth of any government or social organisations.

This is where a new community centric people-private partnership (PPP) model becomes critically relevant. This with intense community engagement alone will strengthen, supplement and sustain a social revolution at the base of the pyramid. This will happen only if the current ambit of CSR initiatives of most private sector companies is redefined.
 
Going beyond sporadic initiatives

Corporations now have incredible power over their employees, suppliers, customers, and even regulators, and the ability to affect billions of people around the world. Historically, corporations have restricted their activities to creating value for the customers, shareholders and to some extent immediate stakeholders of their businesses. However, in the last two decades, legitimacy concerns have prodded them to undertake CSR activities more seriously with many large corporations being guided by triple bottom line (TBL) responsibilities and aspirations. TBL responsibilities demand discharging intergenerational responsibility, social equity and justice through concurrent creation of social and ecological value, while fulfilling the economic value obligations towards immediate stakeholders. As an extension of TBL initiatives, over 9,000 corporations have joined global compact initiatives towards attaining sustainable development goals by 2030. As some leading corporations around the globe get more engaged in TBL initiatives, a realisation is dawning upon them that achieving TBLs is not feasible unless they delve deeper in making fundamental changes in society which require corporations to develop novel mechanisms to be active agents of change.   
 
There are several isolated instances worthy of a mention. For example, BASF, a German MNC, has undertaken water education projects in several countries including India to influence students, teachers and community members to bring about a behavioural change in water management. The projects were comprehensive and integrated in their approach: from installing water supply infrastructure and providing education and training to students, teachers and the local community, to sharing information with the public and local authorities, and building cooperation between communities. However, this is limited in its scope.
 
Elsewhere, Unilever runs an ambitious programme to achieve 100 per cent sourcing of agricultural products sustainably by 2020. This will enable the company to protect scarce resources, eliminate deforestation and ensure that land use and social and community issues are managed responsibly. More importantly, Unilever approaches this with the perspective of  "driving wider transformational change across industries and systems, working closely with suppliers, industry peers and others to eliminate deforestation from supply chains - our own and those of others".
Wipro has an articulated agenda towards education that goes significantly beyond nurturing the technical talent pool that it recruits. Wipro's approach to education conceives it as holding "the key to a healthier and better society", encompasses a slew of strategic initiatives that target education from the level of primary schools through focused women education, right up to sponsoring science fellowships in the US. Over 15 years, its initiatives have positively impacted thousands of schools and colleges, and more than a million students, directly or indirectly.
 
IBM runs a unique service programme Corporate Service Corps since 2008. It has sent over 3,000 IBMers to more than 37 different countries to work collaboratively with governments, educational institutions, and non-profit organisations to address local challenges at the intersection of technology and society to develop sustainable economic solutions.
 
Similarly, Bayer, another German MNC, has been addressing the child labour issue for over a decade through a very successful comprehensive Bayer CropScience Child Care Program. This initiative has been rolled out in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, where the company has contracted cotton seed production and transformed the way seed supply chain is organised - making it sustainable and compliant with its policy of saying no to child labour. The program extends far beyond abolishing child labour. Besides a contractual ban of child labour, it focuses on engaging local communities, combining initiatives to improve education in local governmental schools; increasing awareness about crop production profitably without resorting to the use of children; knowledge-transfer concerning sustainable crop production; vocational training opportunities for children; as well as communication strategies to raise awareness of the problem among parents.
 
The scope of most of these initiatives is limited to a few geographic territories or specific social segments, most often with a limited time frame. These are commendable, but still sporadic and isolated experiments, therefore not impactful enough to accomplish the mission of a social change.
 
What should corporations do?

There are two specific, complementary strategies worth considering. One is at the level of individual corporations and the other at the level of collective or association of corporations.  Corporations, big and small, need to revisit their current CSR programmes keeping long-term effectiveness and sustainable social change as a major mission. They should take up at least one such programme that brings about a fundamental change in the way people think and act, for a better society. The second is for the multitude of corporations and industry associations to take up sustained social change as a mission and work with their members to develop coordinated programmes. For instance, CII's green initiative should find new meaning and be redefined in terms of scope and strategy to become a national movement.
 
We believe that a new wave of activities, synergised across segments, and planned for the next decade or so will be the minimum time required to bring about social change. Ideally, such initiatives should continue with a slightly different strategy in the subsequent decade. This is the need of the hour. With an upsurge in purchasing power and consumerism across the economic segments, we need such a mission to reawaken India.
 
The authors are Professor and Executive Director of the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise at the Indian School of Business, and Professor of Strategic Management at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, respectively

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