Good Citizenship

By Greengard, Samuel | PM Network, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Good Citizenship


Greengard, Samuel, PM Network


Socially responsible projects can be good for the world-and the companies launching them.

VERGHESE JACOB WANTS TO CHANGE INDIA one rural village at a The lead partner for Byrraju Foundation will tell you the poverty line in India is $1 day, and yet millions of people still live beneath that threshold. "Indian cities have benefited greatly from the growth and prosperity of Indian companies," he explains. "So, it's important to give something back and improve living conditions in villages."

For Byrraju Foundation, that means launching a barrage of life-altering projects. Hie not-for-profit organization is funded by Ramalinga Raju, chairman of Hyderabad, India-based IT provider Satyam Computer Services Ltd. And over the last six years, it has constructed water-treatment plants, developed medical clinics, supported schools and created jobs in more than 170 villages throughout the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Call it compassionate capitalism. Companies are discovering projects can not only help the bottom line, but when done right, they just might make the world a better place.

"Today, companies are expected to take more responsibility for themselves, for their conduct in society, and for the social and environmental impact they make," says Christopher Pinney, director of executive education at the Center for Corporate Citizenship, Carroll School of Management, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., USA. "It's no longer acceptable to ignore pressing social and environmental issues or think of [such] projects as little more than a way to gain attention through public relations."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting some free publicity out of the deal, but corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects must offer viable answers to real issues.

"There's a growing emphasis on solving high-value problems," says Arthur C. Brooks, Ph.D., professor of public administration at Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y., USA.

And as tempting as the glory of resolving the world's troubles may be, CSR projects should still align with the company's strategies and objectives.

At Byrraju Foundation's Centre for Rural Transformation, there's a fundamental understanding that poverty, illiteracy and poor health drag down Indian society-and impair the ability of corporations to find the labor pool required to compete in the emerging digital economy.

"A more prosperous and better educated India puts Satyam and others in a better position to compete in the world economy," Mr. Jacob says.

Starting in 2001, the foundation's trustees and leaders have identified major problems in rural villages and looked for innovative ways to help them achieve a sustainable economy and self-sufficiency.

This approach has guided Byrraju Foundation's project selection. Water-treatment plants, for instance, reduce disease and sickness, as well as allow villages to profit by selling surplus bottles to their neighbors. Broadband Internet access in villages has enabled business centers to provide employment for residents, who handle document scanning, transaction processing and other backoffice functions. These people gain skills and income-and the money they generate helps spouses and others open small businesses. "It puts money back into the rural economy and reduces the influx of people streaming into cities looking for menial jobs and living in substandard conditions," Mr. Jacob says.

The Same Rules Apply

Embracing a CSR initiative isn't for the faint of heart. The political and sociological implications are enormous. "Before an organization can choose a path for CSR, it must understand its core impact," Mr. Pinney says. "It must understand how people use its products and services and how its footprint-labor practices, facilities and people-affects society."

All the traditional rules of project management still apply. The project should reflect the values and mission of the company, and spin a tight orbit around supply-chain practices, performance targets, policies and practices, Mr.

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