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The Business Of Caring

MNCs cohort with the community and look beyond bottomlines, using philanthropic missions to win the trust of a virgin market

The Business Of Caring
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
  • In April '99, some of the 76 slum families of the Rajiv-Indira Cooperative Society mingled with industry and bureaucracy bigwigs to inaugurate a modest plinth structure at Dharavi in Mumbai. When complete, this building would be their pucca address.
  • Around the same time, at Maraimalainagar, 30 km from Chennai, a health centre came up to service 15 surrounding villages. It has a pharmacy, a diagnostic laboratory and a mini-surgical theatre on a one-acre plot and attends to 150 people a day, virtually free of cost.
  • In Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Chennai, 13 teenage, underprivileged blind girls would get back their most precious gift of nature,their eyesight.
  • In November '97, a 12-member management team from the British Airways head office came on special leave to Delhi to construct essential daycare facilities for Samadhan, a philanthropic organisation working for mentally handicapped children. These management professionals helped Samadhan build the walls, do the woodwork and paint the building.

    These apparently remote programmes have one common thread,initiative by multinationals in community development that extends beyond chequebook philanthropy. In daily increasing numbers, mncs are developing a social awareness in India,often right alongside setting up their operations,a practice they would reserve for home 50 years ago. 'We have to give something back to the community,' asserts an enthusiastic Phil Spender, managing director, Ford India Ltd. Sanjeevi, the Maraimalainagar health centre funded by Ford India, came up at a cost of Rs 35 lakh within a year of its plant getting activated. It ensures regular health care and monthly health check-ups for the community. Ford supports a staff of seven, including two in-house general practitioners. While Madras Cosmopolitan Round Table handles the routine work, Ford staff help in administration during monthly check-up programmes.

    When ready, the Dharavi pilot project, a joint effort of Citibank and sparc, an ngo, will be the harbinger of self-reliance for slum and hutment dwellers. Akin to project finance given to a builder, Citibank has structured a Rs 3.5-crore loan for the cooperative. Benefiting from the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, the society will build housing, raise another building on the same plot using the extra floor space index (fsi) to be sold commercially. This will finance the project. The Citibank loan bridges the time gap between building and retrieval of funds through the sales.

    Says S.K. Jain, vice-president, Citibank: 'Though we had set aside the money as a rehabilitation grant, we opted for developing a programme that would have effects beyond a one-time funding. We preferred to help them learn to responsibly finance their own needs.' It should teach them how to seek loans and be responsible about repaying them.

    Procter & Gamble (p&g) has pledged a rupee on the sale of every pack of Whisper sanitary napkins for three months to restore eyesight for 250 adolescent girls. 'The most dramatic difference, we felt, was when a blind person can see, especially if it's a girl,' says Anthony Rose, manager, public affairs, p&g. It has pledged Rs 25 lakh in three months to the National Association of the Blind (nab) through which the programme is coordinated.The figure will be matched even if sales are lower and raised in case of larger volumes.

    Success of such projects hinges on the staff volunteering to make the work part of mainstream activity. Spender and his wife counsel students at schools adopted by Ford. The company secretary helped set up the trust to manage funds. The government liaison officer helped get sanctions and electrical connections for the centre and schools. Ford engineers chipped in to get the building into shape.

    Citibank's T.S. Anil, with a background in mortgages, initiated the process with sparc to develop a housing model for slum dwellers, including issues like cash-flow planning and understanding risk factors by evaluating the members as loanees. 'This was uncharted territory and housing finance companies would turn us down,' says Sheela Patel of sparc. Citibank also financed the project, putting its money where its mouth was.

    At p&g, a core team of 10 works on nab projects, though far more people are involved at different levels. And the entire gamut of bank staff have used their skills and resources to plan the project, negotiate with leading doctors to waive their fees, choose the best institutions for the operations, got celebrities to spread the message free on TV. Says Rose: 'It's our single-minded objective to give these girls a chance to see.'

    In the course of all this, p&g learnt that the biggest hurdle was getting eyes. In a city like Calcutta, only 200 eyes are donated a year when there are 70,000 deaths. This led to a drive within the company that has encouraged 350 employees out of 900 to pledge their eyes.

    BA raised Rs 8 lakh in less than a month for building material for Samadhan. It gave two school buses to Samadhan and another children's organisation, Anchal. 'This enables the two centres to accommodate more children in their daycare centres,' explains Rayana Sequeira, BA public relations manager, South Asia. Its staffers and crew spared time to take 1,200 underprivileged children on joyrides. It fetched Rs 16 lakh for unicef in India. Kevin Steele, general manager, South Asia, got colleagues to sponsor his weight loss and shed 92 pounds off his 300-pound frame to raise Rs 15 lakh. Chairman Lord Marshall announced a week's special leave for all South Asia staffers who want to work with Missionaries of Charity or any such organisation.

    And Ford pays Rs 10 lakh as scholarships to students of nearby schools. p&g started an environment education programme for children. It's also the driving force behind a career counselling helpline for school students. And Citibank is encouraging self-reliance through its partnerships with five ngos by promoting microcredit initiatives for needy urban women lacking access to banks.

    For these mncs, community development is more commitment and less fashion. 'If this project doesn't work out to expectation, we'll try to rework the model,' says Anil. The goal is to make a viable template that can trigger off rehabilitation of more slum colonies without dole. Rose says he 'has to deliver and is evaluated annually on the success of these programmes'. Ford encourages staffers to put in at least 16 hours of annual community work, while BA chief executive Bob Ayling launched the Donate-a-Mile scheme to transport needy Indian children suffering from cancer for treatment overseas. Frequent fliers' donations clocked a million miles with individuals giving up between 1,500 and 15,000 miles. The Change for Good initiative, urging fliers to donate unwanted change, netted $250,000. The money provides safe drinking water and sanitation to nine lakh children. A phoneathon in South Asia encouraged people to phone in and pledge money on one particular day. The Rs 18 lakh raised on that day in '97 went for causes related to children in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

    These mncs aren't shy about their goal of making profits. Says Shekhar Venkateswar of Partners in Change, an ngo that helps corporates put their development policies into action: 'While mncs operating for long in India are seen as having proved their long-term commitment, newer corporates are driven more by the exigencies of a new market. The civil awareness movement has never been as strong as it's in India now and has caused companies to buy into the business of being socially responsible.'

    The more professional manager is more conscious of his social duties. In 'enlightened self-interest' that sees less poverty equals greater markets equals greater profis. Asserts Rose: 'We want not only to make a difference to our bottomline but also to the lives of the people we service. Only then do we deserve to win.' Sound words backed by a sound conscience.

    With Vatsala Kamat in Chennai and in Delhi

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