"The facts speak for themselves. In the last 50 years, world GDP multiplied 60 times to reach a level of more than $60 trillion. Yet, two-thirds of the world lives in poverty, with more than a billion people in acute deprivation and hunger. It is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong in the way the world has chosen to pursue economic development and progress."
-- YC Deveshwar, Chairman & CEO, ITC Limited
Deveshwar goes on to add:"The need of the hour is to encourage business models that enable companies to co-create, with local communities, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods as well as enrichment of natural capital. At the same time, civil society needs to be made more aware of the tremendous change they can bring about by encouraging a preference for responsible companies."
Corporate India today is grappling with a similar question—much like the rest of the world. "What are the steps to make this change happen? How can we design businesses that are financially viable yet benign? How can growth be inclusive?"
As I look back at 2010, I remember a year that saw a surge not only in the discussion of corporate social responsibility among the private sector, but a heightened interest from the Indian government. With announcements filtering out through the year, going as far as to allege possible regulation pushing companies into CSR, what lies ahead for corporate India?
Three basic steps that could help companies create significant impact in 2011:
1. Create genuine value
Indian companies today need to start looking at solving genuine problems and not those created by the irrelevant and artificially created scarcity model. Hunger, livelihoods, education and healthcare are universal needs that are not being addressed, despite being present at every street corner. Co-creating solutions that solve these problems can be a genuine way to sustainable growth.
Many "bottom of the pyramid" initiatives by Indian companies simply view the poor as a large market that needs to be captured. The corporate belief that "we are creating consumers" must be genuinely replaced by a betterness model that Umair Haque and many others talk of.
2. Inclusive growth through sustainable livelihoods
To ensure sustainable growth and employment, we need to look at generating rural livelihoods at a large scale. Creation of products, services that empower livelihoods can be a part of corporate initiatives. And there is a very tangible business case for these initiatives because they carry the dual benefit of reducing carbon footprint and simultaneously providing sustainable livelihoods. It’s a win-win, like they say in management jargon.
How are companies in the western world adopting this approach? They are moving away from standardization and mass production to local, sustainable and small. Indian companies too can do this with ease and successfully market not just their products but also celebrate and create exposure for the local manufacturing community. The value then extends from just spotlighting the product to the complete lifecycle, impacting thousands of lives in the process.
3. Design and Innovation
Finally, corporate India can play an important role in driving ground level, affordable innovation in not just products but processes and thinking as well. Can we develop innovation frameworks that co-create genuine value for bottom of the pyramid consumers? Yes, we can, and with very little cost or energy too.
A great case in point is the way digital collaboration can drive innovation. The internet is built on the premise of sharing: This movement of sharing digital content, formation of communities, and solving problems by crowd-sourcing is not all driven by commerce. Often, this engagement is borne out of the need to connect, find like-minded collaborators, and solve problems that might be someone else's solutions.
Can Indian companies drive these values to the brick and mortar world?
There are certainly many examples to emulate with frameworks like the Living Principles that blends design with environment, people, economy and culture. Frameworks like these must immerse our corporate culture and become the primary gateway for value creation.
If we want to drive genuine value through the products and services we create, we need to start building CSR into our business DNA, not create new CSR departments.
--By Namrata Rana
Namrata is a director at Futurescape and a mentor at Futurescape Foundation. After graduating with a bachelor's in strategic sustainable development from the University of Cambridge and Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, Rana completed her MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad, India. Her background in business and sustainability ensures a cross functional expertise in work assignments which include new services, applications that enhance livelihoods and also Integrated sustainable experiences. She has written extensively on sustainability reporting, mobile applications for sustainable livelihoods and serves as a visiting member faculty at several business schools in India.
YC Deveshwar: It Can't Be Business as Usual
Mandating CSR: Indian Government Demands Full Disclosure From Companies
Moral Policing & CSR: Government Wants India Inc. to be Beacon of Good
CSR 2010, Part VIII: A CEO Contemplates: "It Was The Best of Times; It Was The Worst of Times..."
CSR 2010, Part VII: Holding Up the Mirror to Sustainability in 2010
CSR 2010, Part VI: 5 Reasons Why Sustainability Grew Up in 2010
CSR 2010, Part V: New Times; Old Challenges
CSR 2010, Part IV: Corporate Social Responsibility Shifts From Cubicle to Boardroom
CSR 2010, Part III: Don't Let Your Job Search Define You
CSR 2010, Part II: Emerging Career Choices in Supply Chain & Sustainability
CSR 2010, Part I: The Sudden Explosion of Commentary on Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR 2010: Lasting Impressions From a Volatile Year
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