Monday, June 25, 2007

On Social responsibility of Indian Corporates - A cynical comment

At the start of my professional life, I was a firm believer that all one needs to make this country better place to live in is to do your job and do it quite well. All else will follow. If all of us follow this professionalism and a search for excellence in our work, we would complement each other. Imagine an enthusiastic traffic policeman in the morning doing a good job of directing traffic, the municipal workers cleaning up the roads quite well, the public buses cleaned up and driver driving for your comfort (and not as if he is herding sheep to office!). We wouldn't be petty, we'd smile and open doors for each other, say thanks and good morning more often. This is what Ayn Rand envisioned for a capitalistic society. A decade after, I have learnt that very narrow pockets of our country have experienced this change while most have been left behind. Centuries of dark ages, suppression and fatalistic culture has left our people with no hope, no ambition and no sense of excellence. A day's bread earned is "excellence" for most of our population!

A breed of business leaders started changing all that with liberalization and end of license raj. Industries came up which could beat public sector ones hands down (check out the production of Reliance Refinery at Jamnagar and compare with BPCL, IOL etc.). IT leaders created unique software services business model - brains for hire! This was followed by Business Processes for hire! and here we are with our billions of dollars of revenue, great jobs at air conditioned offices, but still 6-10 hours of power cuts, water woes and a shame of a public infrastructure. Something has failed, failed deeply. These billions of dollars are worth nothing, when no decent basic service or goods are available, except luxuries of fancy cars, overseas vacations and overpriced real estate. Your millions won't buy you clean air or a aesthetically designed city. Masses contribute very little value to economy (on individual basis) and expect very little! So there you are: your excellnce is reciprocated by mediocrity and sloth of 600 million strong and it is not entirely their fault.

We cultivate sheep!
In 1927 when Lindberg flew solo across Atlantic, we were mired in dark ages, we were slaves and couldn't have done a pee pot design by ourselves. Do you wonder why some people in San Diego spend 800M of their own money on developing next generation technology, because that's "creative leadership". It is the spirit of the St. Louis (built in SD) that motivates them to dream, to lead and change their future. Indians are great followers!

The leap that Indian companies have to make is this leap of leadership, our president spoke of this "creative leadership" at the FICCI function recently ( I don't deny that corporates can supplement their contribution to economy by direct intervention in social sectors as well, case in the point being Infosys hiring of 100+ SC/ST candidates recently or support of schools/social causes. Someone shared an interesting artice of "social entrepreneurship" sometime back, which was how you can create profitable enterprises doing social work. Grameen bank is an interesting example and so is our very own Amul, which crossed a billion dollar mark in revenues recently.

Corporate sector needs to excel in whatever they do, responsibly. It needs to set global benchmarks, demonstrate leadership of the grandness of Lindberg and not just be good followers. We need leaders that create industries that have a good "trickle down" and wealth creation effect on a greater scale. We need creative leaders to make money by building infrastructure, by helping people to live better lives. We need cunning leaders to "make" money in the truest sense, not collect dollars which won't buy you a bucket of water to wash in future. Intervention in social causes is a small byline in what corporates can do.

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