5th May 2014
A recent Infosys sustainability report quotes Edward Wilson, US biologist and author, on the need to “raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living.” This need is particularly pressing in India, where the IT outsourcing giant is based. Because the country’s social problems are so acute, says Shibu Shibulal, Infosys chief executive, companies can make substantial contributions through their community investments.
“If you look at primary education and healthcare or poverty elimination – in all those areas, the needs are extremely high and much higher than in developed countries,” Shibulal explains. “So the impact of doing things in India is considerably greater.”
While environmental sustainability is a relatively new concept for many Indian companies, the country has a tradition of corporate community investment. Large industrial enterprises established foundations or embarked on charitable giving many years ago. The Sir Ratan Tata Trust, set up in 1919, is one of the country’s oldest philanthropic institutions. Groups such as Birla and Reliance established foundations.
Infosys is no exception. After shareholder approval was secured for the use of 1 per cent of corporate profits, the company established the Infosys Foundation, which focuses on supporting healthcare, education, rural development and culture in under-privileged communities.
Increasingly however, Indian companies are looking beyond charitable donations and asking themselves how they can use their skills, expertise and resources to help improve life for the communities around them.
New legislation is pushing this forward. As part of a 2013 update of India’s corporate law, large companies that do not devote 2 per cent of their profits to corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities must publicly explain why. “This is a voluntary requirement but if you don’t put it in, you have to justify it,” says Shibulal.
For him, these activities are part of how the company fulfils its social contract. “Enterprises have an external set of stakeholders and one of the most important is the local community,” says Shibulal.
As part of this “social contract”, Infosys runs programmes that tap into the company’s skills and assets. As well as donating computers to schools, its Spark programme brings students on to its campuses. “The idea is to raise their aspirations and provide role models,” says Shibulal.
Another programme, Spark Rural Reach, sends Infosys employees into rural parts of India to spend time teaching students or training teachers.
But while communities benefit, so does Infosys – particularly as a younger, more socially conscious generation enters the workforce.
Community programmes help reduce staff turnover and increase loyalty among employees, says Shibulal. “It fulfils their emotional need to contribute,” he explains. “And it makes them more emotionally connected with the organisation.”
THE GOOD STUFF
Here, I invite my interviewees to name a favourite charity and – in the spirit of Mixing It Up – a favourite cocktail.
Charities: When Shibulal’s daughter was planning her wedding, instead of asking for gifts, the family suggested guests make charitable contributions. The charities chosen were:
Aashayein Foundation, Rapid (Rehabilitative Assistance for People in Distress), and ECHO – Center for Juvenile Justice
Cocktail: Coconut water. “In Bangalore they cut the coconut as you get it,” says Shibulal. “It’s natural, it doesn’t have any caffeine and it’s very tasty.”