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November 8, 2012

Because, Corporate Social Responsibility is more than Window Dressing...

Posted by Raghavendra K (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:55 AM

Recently, when our ''Project Genesis' touched a great new milestone - over 1,00,000 students trained, it set me thinking.  Some forty years ago, Milton Friedman famously declared that the "Social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." If he were alive today, would he still have dismissed corporate social responsibility as window dressing? We'll never know. But what I do know for sure is that CSR has come a long way from being a footnote in annual reports or well-intentioned corporate action to emerge as a driver of societal welfare.

One of the areas where this is most apparent is education. In Japan, a chemical industry conglomerate has launched several initiatives to rekindle interest in science including a program in science and environmental education for fifth graders, a camp for older students, and awards for teachers showing outstanding creativity and innovation. This is a great example for us, in India, as we grapple with the shortfalls of a weak educational system, one symptom of which is that of the 350,000 - 550,000 engineers graduating each year, just 10-25% is readily employable. The situation is somewhat comparable for graduates in non-technical disciples as well. Lack of soft skills - in communication and problem solving for instance - and a lack of understanding of the workings of a corporate environment are what prevent most students from being employment-ready. And making that seamless transition from campus to corporate. The problem is often concentrated in the smaller towns and cities, and it's quite obvious that the great Indian divide, which exists between the privileged students from the country's top colleges and those from more modest institutions, is largely to blame. 

We leaders of Indian industry can take a leaf out of the Japanese book to invest in initiatives promoting both technical and soft skills education.  I think, the most effective way to do this is in partnership with academia and local government, by training the trainers or supporting apprenticeship programs, for example. While such initiatives will serve to, perhaps, erase socio-cultural differences to some extent, and create immediate economic value by expanding the workforce, more importantly, these'll do their bit to bring about game-changing progress in India's ailing technical education system.  In a sense, taking a view like this, changes the very semantics of corporate social responsibility to entail not just return on investment but return on innovation....imagination even.   And that, to me, is the trump card. 

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