Monday, July 7, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility: Towards Sustainable Welfare.

Sustainable Welfare

TODAY, about 300 multinationals control 25% of the world’s assets. Indian companies currently comprise only a fraction of this number. However, with our economy coming of age, more and more of them will lay claim to this elite list.

While this is truly a matter of great pride, we must remember that there rests an equally momentous responsibility on us to give back to the society that has nurtured our growth. Today, most companies contribute to society by means of well-defined corporate citizenship initiatives executed by their not-for-profit trusts and foundations. However, we believe it is important for corporations to look beyond charity and redefine the act of ‘giving back’. Corporations must look at cultivating and encouraging social entrepreneurship in society with the same degree of focus and energy that keeps profitable businesses running.

As companies with a conscience, the onus is on us to lead the initiative to reform. We must recognise that the power to initiate change lies with the youth, particularly as most employees across organisations are today under the age of 30.

Youth have found empowerment in the ubiquity of technology and the democratisation of online media, among other factors in today’s world. In India, we see more and more people voicing a need to do their bit for governance, policy-making and improving civic systems. Most important, they want to be agents of change by making a positive difference. Many of these people have path-breaking ideas for social change but not always the means and resources to take them to fruition. Often, their dreams go unrealised for lack of support or guidance.

With the right push, imagine the transformation their ideas could bring to the economy, society and the environment. Think of the difference they could make by channelling the energy of the youth towards improving education or healthcare.

Companies are accountable to society, not just their shareholders. They must look beyond the current performance yardstick of shareholder impact and profits. Creating a culture of leadership is a pressing need, particularly to ensure that our social values keep pace with economic growth. The onus is on companies to catalyse this process by broadening their horizons on social commitment. Corporates should augment their current charity efforts and utilise their business experience, acumen and capabilities to provide the required impetus to social entrepreneurship and make social development efforts scaleable and sustainable.

The case for social entrepreneurship has never been stronger. For both companies and individuals, there is an urgent need to evolve a systematic approach to addressing social issues by applying a combination of inspired effort and strategic thinking. This also means pushing the boundaries of corporate social responsibility by making the act of giving sustainable for both benefactors and beneficiaries.

What we have before us is the perfect opportunity for corporations to step in and empathise with social entrepreneurs. The challenges faced by social entrepreneurs are similar to those faced by any fledgling company. With our wealth of experience, the corporate sector is capable of extending support to entrepreneurs by advising them on processes, quality parameters, building scale, enshrining values and ethics, exploiting market potential and fine-tuning financial performance.

Being entrepreneurs ourselves, we can easily recognise that an organised initiative has greater potential for social impact than fragmented efforts in social entrepreneurship. The key to success lies in reaching out to motivated individuals by offering access to a network of successful entrepreneurs along with a framework for evaluating social ideas, exploring funding sources and models, and charting a roadmap for the successful execution of their plans.

The emphasis must be on selecting social ideas that are sustainable, profitable and suitable to be implemented through a clear business plan. Participating in such an initiative will give young corporate professionals a taste of entrepreneurship beyond what their job roles can offer them. They will learn how to evaluate ideas, build business cases, seek funding, learn governance mechanisms, etc. At Infosys, they have already set the ball rolling. INFYi is an Infosys initiative focused on providing young entrepreneurs with an opportunity to make a positive social impact and seeks to combine professional excellence with social conscience.

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