Building A Case For Corporate Social Responsibility

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
The world is changing very fast. Tectonic shifts today are changing the very contours of the economic and business environment, regardless of geographic boundaries. Digitalisation, increasing privatisation and globalisation have turned the corporate landscape topsy turvy. Amidst these seismic changes, as a nation, a series of issues—like lack of drinking water, sanitation and healthcare—stare us in the eye.

For us in the corporate world to expect that the government alone should address welfare issues is both unfair and unrealistic. I recall the words of Dr Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, during his advocacy of the need to bridge the gap between the privileged and the not-so-privileged. He said, “Let us choose to unite the power of markets with the authority of universal ideals. Let us choose to reconcile the creative forces of private entrepreneurship with the needs of the disadvantaged and the requirements of future generations.” Against this backdrop, let me restate that commitment to making a qualitative difference to the community is at the core of the value systems of our group.

For us, our social responsibility means serious business. We do not subscribe to the concept of cheque book philanthropy. In fact, for us, our social projects are akin to our business projects. In all of our companies’ business vision, the social vision is embedded. We have an articulated social vision, which is to actively contribute to the social and economic development of the communities in which we operate to build a better, sustainable way of life for the weaker sections of society.

We have an apex body called The Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development. Under its umbrella, our group companies’ activities are carried out. The centre that I am privileged to spearhead provides the strategic direction and thrust areas for our work and ensures performance management.

Over the years, we have endeavoured to understand the problems of the communities. We put them on the same pedestal as our customers, so that there is no contentious relationship with them. Our guiding philosophy is to always work out projects that are sustainable by the beneficiaries over the long haul, and then we withdraw. Our reasoning is that this way, we will not build a culture of dependency and, instead, after the hand-holding, make them self-reliant.

There are some advantages for our group as well. Increasingly, customers show a definite preference for companies with a social conscience. Today, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates the positive linkages between a good corporate citizen and financial performances. I believe corporate reputations play a decisive role in not only paying decisions, but winning customer loyalty as well. Not surprisingly, in all of the business sectors that we are in, our group companies enjoy a leadership position.

I feel shareholders expect the companies in which they invest to be sensitive to the needs of society. In the last two to three years, many companies have started reporting their community initiatives in their annual reports. We do so for all of our group companies, and at the annual general meetings, we have experienced the special pride that shareholders take in their involvement with our companies on this score.

Importantly, social projects are also a means of sharing with the community the values for which an organisation stands. It is a way of telling them that we care about you, that your concerns are ours as well, and that we are a people with a conscience.

We firmly believe that business is not an end in itself and that business exists to serve the larger interests of society. What are our gains We are not in it to get any commercial mileage. We are not in it for publicity. The work that we accomplish under The Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives And Rural Development simply epitomises the values for which we stand. At the end of the day, we are into social responsibility because of our convictions. We truly believe in it.

It has been part of a continuing family tradition in our group. To make a qualitative difference to people is a very uplifting feeling. In all humility , our gains come in the transformation that we are able to make in the lives of 250 destitute children every year at The Aditya Birla Center For The Welfare Of Children, Mumbai, where we train them in vocations and help them stand on their feet. And this is an activity we embarked on over 20 years ago. Take, even for that matter, the Aditya Birla Hellen Keller Centre for The Deaf And Blind in New Bombay where education and training provides succour to over a hundred such challenged children. Our gains come from the 40 million human beings whose lives our projects have impacted.

Our gains come from the six and a half million people who now have access to piped water; the 15 million people whose healthcare needs have been met; the 14 million children who have emerged from the portals of not only our 26 schools, but even those we have supported. Our gains stem from the hope that these people will be value based, good citizens who will take the nation forward.

The Author is Chairperson, The Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development