An Indian conglomerate with an outstanding performance during last 10 years or even more is also a market leader in FMCG and other products it is marketing. The company is not alone restricting itself to money earning and shareholders but also actively contributing to social causes particularly in developing rural areas.
The company is pioneering e-Choupal initiative comprising 6,400 choupals transforming the lives of over 3.5 million farmers in 38,500 villages in 9 states of India. They hope to reach out to 10 million farmers in 100,000 villages in the not too distant future. The Social and Farm Forestry Program of ITC covers 65,000 hectares providing over 28 million person days of employment among the disadvantaged. In the process, the company has also helped sequester over 2,000 kilo-tonnes of carbon as a firm commitment to combating climate change. The Companyâ€™s Integrated Watershed Development programs in rural areas cover nearly 27,000 hectares providing critical irrigation to water partnership with the Government of Rajasthan for an integrated watershed development project covering 5,000 hectares. Companyâ€™s initiatives to provide opportunities for non-farm incomes through economic empowerment of women, supplementary education and integrated animal husbandry services continue to make significant strides empowerment.
The company is none other than the reputed ITC group and very few conglomerates are matching it in their contribution for social causes. India faces at present a multi dimensional challenge to chart a growth path that will transform the lives of almost a third of a billion people who live just above the poverty line. Surely, it is not a task that any single segment of society be it Government or responsible Business can hope to accomplish in isolation.
It is true that sustained high rates of GDP growth is one of the surest ways of creating livelihoods for the disadvantaged. However, if such growth impulses do not envision or contain conscious efforts to enhance social value, it is not necessary that high growth, rates alone will ensure social equity. In fact, there is a danger that competitive pressures may not actually lead to development and growth in areas that need the most.
There is also a significantly large cost involved in implementing value chains that are socially inclusive. While commensurate returns may flow over the longer term, there are indeed cost barriers, over the short to medium term that inhibits investments in such socially inclusive initiatives. In the absence of strong, fiscal or financial incentives, business enterprises would hesitate to raise such investments and commit physical and human resources over a longer term. Therefore, it is important to examine how market drivers can creatively facilitate such long-term investments which have larger societal benefits.
Corporate companies will be able to support a much larger social involvement in their business strategies, if market forces facilitate such investments and returns.