Lead Story

Doing Good Is Good Business

When a corporation pushes its energies and helps resolve social sector challenges through its engagement, it indirectly stimulates its own business development

Over the last decade, we have seen a tectonic shift in our country. India is in a sweet spot, a nation to reckon with. We stand on the cusp of the country’s leap, economically and socially. India is forecast to be the fastest growing economy, with an estimated growth rate of 6% to 7%. The International Monetary Fund reports that India is all set to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2028, with an estimated gross domestic product of approximately $5.36 trillion. This will put us ahead of Japan and on par with Germany.

The benefits of economic growth are percolating down. More than 415 million people have moved out of multidimensional poverty. This has won us some praise from the United Nations Development Programme, which terms it “a tremendous gain and a historic change in 15 years”.

A World Bank policy paper estimates that now only 10% of our people live in extreme poverty. A unique combination of forces like technological advances and a slew of government initiatives have made a difference. The government’s digital services have been a boon, as it has linked the poor with an electronic identity, enabling them to access the benefits of economic reforms, ensuring a direct real time digital welfare system. As a proud Indian, I am heartened by our country’s progress.

India’s development journey has got support from a trendsetting corporate social responsibility (CSR) regime. The CSR in India has been a game-changer. As we navigate the age of transformation, caring for the community has become for many organisations an authentic purpose, which in turn has moved performance ahead of the curve.

Of course, a large number of corporates have been statutorily roped in the CSR frame. In a sense, the new CSR regime, hinged on the CSR law, is the fountainhead from where a deeper responsibility transcending business interests emanates. Business acts as a force for good. Simply put, most corporates within the defined parameters have begun to comprehend that doing good is good business. Unsurprisingly, the culture of giving back is getting increasingly embedded in the corporate DNA.

In so far that it relates to us, the Aditya Birla Group has always championed the cause of the underprivileged. Way back in the pre-independence era, our family patriarch Ghanshyam Das Birla had an emotional connect with the marginalised. He felt that it was our dharma, or duty, to better their quality of life. Under Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of trusteeship, he practised the dharma. Aditya Birla took it leagues forward, stewarding inclusive growth. Kumar Mangalam made a paradigm shift by corporatising compassion. And so, while giving and caring has become a generational legacy, the group set up the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development.*

This centre is the apex body which provides the strategy and the oversight for all of CSR projects of the Aditya Birla Group across in India and overseas, fixated on performance accountability and definitive outcomes. The return on investment the centre has set is the number of people from whose shoulders it lifts the burden of poverty.

Before I move to the stoic aspect of why “Giving is Living”, I want to assert that for corporate, giving and thriving must become an integral part of their corporate ethos. Let me briefly explain why I think all corporates must embed giving in their DNA.

When a corporation pushes its energies and helps resolve social sector challenges through its engagement, it indirectly stimulates its own business development. There is much to be gained when business leaders give from the heart and set the mandate of making a difference through caring for people and mainstreaming it into their companies.

Mainstreaming such a philosophy within an organisation entails incorporating it in a legitimate, credible and ongoing manner into its day-to-day activities. It means integrating those aspects into the innards of the organisation in its community initiatives and encouraging employee volunteerism on an ongoing basis. Therefore, allocating funds and ensuring high visibility on the corporate agenda becomes a part of the organisation’s DNA.

Let me give four reasons why it is being increasingly done. Firstly, healthy communities make for a healthy workforce. At the end of the day, a corporation’s catchment area and its most important constituency are its workforce. In most organisations, while 20% people may be the executive force, 80% are the work bees. They come from communities in proximity to the office location. It is critical, therefore, to ensure that this is a healthy community. Healthy communities make for healthy organisations in every way. It is also important to extend the gaze from these immediate communities to the larger community at the periphery.

Today, it is talented people who provide the cutting edge to organisations. Professionals of the highest order want increasingly to align with a company that not only enjoys a reputation for its values, quality products and services but is also committed to giving. Today’s young want to ensure that the benefit of capitalism percolates down. The youth believes that wealth creation is a noble pursuit.

Increasingly, I find that a company’s social initiatives make for a legitimate, compelling and increasingly important way to attract, retain and energise the talent pool. I have seen this happen in the Aditya Birla Group. Employees say that they have joined the group because it is a meritocracy and exhibits exemplary corporate citizenship.

Secondly, this creates a tremendous goodwill among consumers, which is far in excess of the price tag. Customers show a preference for companies with a social conscience. A growing body of evidence reveals the positive linkages between corporates that give to worthwhile societal causes and their financial performance. Again, from personal experience, I can say that consumers see the Aditya Birla Group as having a social conscience.

Thirdly, shareholders and the investor community also gravitate towards organisations that give for the larger cause and are socially responsible. Millions of our shareholders and investors are proud of our group. In the annual reports of all our group companies, we provide a quantified evidence of our social and environment performance. I have seen at the annual general meetings the pride that a large number of shareholders take in their involvement with our companies on this score.

Fourthly, social projects, which entail a lot of giving, are also a means of sharing with the community the values that an organisation stands for. It is a way of telling them that we care about you, that your concerns are ours as well and that we are a principled group of people led by a moral compass. It is also a way of garnering community support for social projects.

And finally, I want to share with you that giving is in fact living. This is my deep-rooted conviction. To me, giving is an expression of joy, love and caring. It is being useful to those around us and to the world in concrete ways. Giving is like blessing your own life. When you give with an open heart, the good that you do for the other person comes back to you in some form of a blessing.

Let me conclude with what Stephen Grellet, a prominent French missionary, said many moons ago, “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Corporations are living this mantra for this millennium.

* This author is the chairperson of the centre, which is run as a vertical anchored by Pragnya Ram

Rajashree Birla, Chairperson, Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development