When philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates came calling on the Indian billionaires last week with the intention of getting them to broaden their palms so that they are able to give more to the society, a lukewarm response awaited them. But still the duo didn’t go back disappointed. They had realized that their message was well received. What needs to be seen now is how far the rising number of Indian billionaires that stood at 55 till last year and growing along with more than a lakh of millionaires, take the message seriously and actions it.
Nearly every big industrial and commercial establishment across the country has an in-house department that looks after the CSR activities of its company. But what kind of resources are earmarked towards social causes and in what direction? According to a study conducted by a consulting firm, in 2009, just about 10% of the charity donations came from individuals and business houses. That worked out to just about Rs.3,300 crore from overall figure of Rs.33,000 crore. Approximately 65% was the government’s contribution towards the development work while the rest came from overseas in the form of grants etc. No wonder Buffett and Gates requested the India’s rich and the elite to be more generous towards the fellow citizens who are way below the poverty line.
A trend that’s emerged from the study conducted also showed that most of the business houses prefer to galvanize their CSR activities in those regions in which they have vested interests. They prefer to shower all their attention on these regions and wouldn’t look beyond those places to give something back for the society. So you have mining companies like Vedanta and Posco who’s CSR activities revolve around their plants. Also the level of these companies’ CSR activities are centered around either the villages affected by their plants or around the welfare of their employees who in most cases are locals.
In some cases, some of the industrial and commercial houses around the country try to ride piggy back on the CSR activities they undertake. Directly or indirectly, they ensure that their brands get due prominence in the marketing of the CSR activities in whatever region they unfold. After all, they have to sustain their business long term no matter what. And what better way to do then push their brand forward in the name of corporate social responsibility.
It’s high time the business community spreads its CSR tentacles to reach to a wider range of society and reach out to those as well who have been neglected by the government and the civilized world. And it’s about time they also upped their stake in charity from the current miniscule figure of 10%. We don’t need the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to come down to India to showcase the real joy of giving when we have our own role model in Wipro Chairman Azim Premji who has pledged Rs.8,846 crore to promote education.
Right now, education is the major stake in the CSR activities of major industrial houses. We need to reach beyond education and cover other basic amenities that’s an integral part of our daily lives. Business houses are justified in being active with their social causes in the regions that has their business setup but they need to look beyond as well. Maybe just about stretch the blanket a bit more to reach out to the outside periphery of the regions of interest to them.
Most often, business houses tended to dump CSR activities on the underprivileged that may or may not be relevant at that point of time or in the given scenario. The team implementing the CSR need to engage the community that is their focal point and engage them in a dialogue to get a better understanding of what their major grievance or need is and to chalk out an action plan accordingly. Giving for the sake of expecting something from the community shouldn’t be the order of the day. Rather give for the sake of giving back to the mass. After all, no business survives without the support of the common man.
It may take some time before India Inc increases it’s spending on the CSR initiatives but a sustained increment should be stepped up and wider plans to be initiated then only the long term growth will be achieved. India traditionally has been open hearted where the concept of giving is concerned. They have never shied away from the joy of giving. However, a systematic and planned approach is needed to allocate more funds to social causes. If Buffett and Gates’ call to give is successful, then more individuals are going to follow the likes of Azim Premji of Wipro, Shiv Nadar of HCL who has pledged about 10% of his wealth (estimated at Rs.15,000 crore) for philanthropic activities, G. M. Rao of GMR Group who pledged Rs.1,540 crore and some others who too have highlighted portions of their wealth for the good of the society. It’s clear however that the evolution of giving towards philanthropic acts will take some time to boom.
However one needn’t take the words of Henry Thoreau seriously who has quoted in ‘Walden’ that if you should ever be betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing. After all when you do go, let the world know so that others may follow suit just as Buffett and Gates has proved. If you need to advertise your brand to garner sales, likewise you need to advertise philanthropy so that more rich and the elite jump on to the bandwagon of giving but definitely not to boost one’s brand but to give to society what society has given you.
And for those who are unaware of who Warren Buffett is and his contribution to charity, he is the third richest man in the world and worth $47 billion out of which he has pledged 99% of it for philanthropic causes while Bill Gates, the founder of software giant Microsoft stands second rung on the richest people in the world. He has pledged 100% of his wealth towards the social causes through his foundation ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’. His net worth today stands at $56 billion!!!