Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sustaining a Social Initiative

Last week I attended a workshop organized by International Business Leaders Forum and DFID (UK) on measuring impact of Inclusive Business Models. Here are some key learning points/take-aways for me:
1. Sustainability of social initiatives is ensured when we look at inclusivity from both ends -- for example, a model that focuses on employability of the poor and underprivileged youth - works better if we can include the middle class youth and may be even the rich as well. I had not really thought like this -- was always mentally excluding the better off people from the initiative. It brings a different set of challenges to the table - but ones that are more addressable. This is inclusivity the other way round.
2. Partnerships should be true to the word - sharing of both risks and gains. This changes the mind-set from the customer-supplier relationships that we were getting into for all 'partnerships' - of course the challenge is (a) having us accept sharing the gains and (b) having the partner accept the risks. Will need to explore the implementation challenges more.
3. Approach solutions from a sector perspective rather than a general perspective. This is not something new for most vocational training organizations. However, I feel most training only focuses on getting the people started in the sector as compared to supporting building a career in the sector. There are long-term sustainability benefits that come from this approach.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Corporate Social Responsibility

Sometime back I attended a session by Dr Wayne Visser (pronounced wiser - and surely was wiser on the subject than most in the room) - CEO of CSR International. He referred to current CSR efforts by organizations to be not at all effective in the long run or even in scale. The main reason cited was the lack of creativity in thinking about alignment to the main business.

For example, a cement manufacturing unit considering education of the people in the vicinity of the factory as CSR has all good intentions but it does not necessarily link with the company’s expertise and hence sustenance and scale are limited. Also, in difficult times the CSR is quick to be downscaled. It lives as a year on year project. But then how should the Cement Company change its approach to CSR? Difficult? Yes... needs creativity and thinking and more importantly a vision and passion to drive it! That is the wiser view.

Lot of discussion ensued and my own feeling was that CSR appeared to be like a band-aid effort on to an ailing body with sores breaking out all over. So the band-aid was rarely even a temporary relief -- it was just a hope of healing sometime soon while the main issue of why the sores are breaking out is not getting addressed.

However, the story does not end here. As I meet people from the corporations who are volunteering and supporting through personal funds or from corporate funds – I am realizing that the band-aid effort is much needed. It provides the hope and relief and keeps the motivation going for the people who are all out into inclusive efforts.  The people who are investing their lives in solving the core problems need to be encouraged.

As Ruma of NDS recently said: Its important that Corporates do what they do and earn so that they can 'give' and that the feeling of abundance is defined by how much a person 'feels' they can give. And only when the corporates give, the not-for-profit efforts of organizations like NDS ( grow and start bridging the divides and develop long-term scalable models.

In conclusion, I realized that CSR is an important activity that enables the required change through NGOs (slow) as well as Government’s structured initiatives (even slower). Now whether it should stay philanthropic or it should get linked with strategic business initiatives is a separate debate that should not take away from what is being done today.  Slow is okay since it is definite.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Giving or Taking from Society (or rather the whole World)

When you ask an investor to invest or you ask a philanthropist to give -- standard question is what is the return. Nothing wrong with this question. Resource and monies applied to any venture must be utilized efficiently and that should be the objective for all - giver, taker, user etc.

However, there is an element to the attitude of giving which we should reflect on:

How much do we consider usage efficiency when we take - we take all the time without even realizing -- service from servants, air, water, oil, beauty from nature, politeness and consideration from fellow human beings ... are just some examples to consider.

So my statement is -- when we give - we watch the return with hawk eyes but when we take sometimes we dont even know we have taken.

What do you think?  How should we build the gratitude in each of us?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What comes first - value creating Individual or value creating society

Last couple of months I have been spending time with students in the rural setting, our slum centers, and also have visited locations of other NGOs and organizations operating in the rural areas.  I was carrying forward the question from my previous blog of what holds us back as a nation in creating value.

One such place was an NGO by the name of Samuha in Karnataka.  They have partnered with Foundation for Life (another NGO of course).  They run an English, IT and Life Skills training for complete illiterates from the base of the pyramid and have them ready for BPO in 6-8 months!!! 

What was most interesting for me was that the trainees appeared to be all very responsbile, bright, driven, polite and at the same time not diffident at all.  It could be very clearly and obviously be linked to the environment and community they were being made to live with (I was meeting them after they had been there for over 6 months).  The whole community of trainers, facilitators, and management are very compassionate, driven, very responsible for their own actions.  An almost ideal micro-ecosystem if I may say so.

So then it seemed obvious that we are what we are because of how our society is, our education is -- probably also corroborated by the more observed phenomena of Indians becoming like Americans in the US. But then looking at this NGO setup in the midst of India and in a rural setting - I felt that someone has created the community too -- it is not like it has been there for ages.  Sunil Savara, the founder of Foundation for life - and the main person behind this community training experience, is from a corporate background like most of us.  But that one individual has managed to create a community that I believe is what most of us hope we could be living in - in India.  So then what created value first?  The Individual or the Society?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Drives Value Creation in a Society?

Just as 2009 was coming to an end I got to attend a silver jubilee re-union of my college batch (IIT Delhi). In one of the discussions, my close friend, classmate and also colleague for quite a while at NIIT - Mukul Saxena -- triggered a thought. He said that if we ask ourselves the question - what makes Indians and North Americans operate differently -- we will get a good insight into what we need to change.

Interesting question - I thought. So I went ahead and asked my colleagues in Affirmative Action team the following question -- you can respond too if you like.  I will post my own responses and some selected responses of my colleagues in a while.

Here is a question – the answer to which might help you create value in your own lives and lives of others that are linked to you:

Data points:

US Population: 250mn
GDP: USD 14.2 Tn
From zero to the leading nation of the World in 250 years

India Population: 1250 mn
GDP: USD 1.2 Tn
From Hero to 20th position in the World in 300 years
So the question is:

What makes a typical American in US create ‘sixty’ times more value than an Indian in India?