POTENTIAL, PROMISES, PARADOXES

Written by Lina Mathias, Be Movement issue 4 – INDIA, published August 2014.

Indians are proud of their diversity, of the sheer mind-boggling paradoxes that continue to be such an integral part of their present. Post-Independence India has reconciled itself to the modern and the traditional, the western and the desi, the itinerant healer sitting under a tree and the Harvard-educated super-specialist, the McDonald’s and the vada-paav street side eateries, the exclusive high end luxury bespoke air-conditioned stores and the in-your-face fakes and duplicates of famous brands sold in congested lanes.

The quirkiness begins to fade however, as the disparities of life come into focus. The media reports almost daily on deaths and amputations due to accidents on the impossibly crowded public trains and buses while traffic jams on expressways worsen due to the increasing number of private cars. Giant hoardings present palatial luxurious homes with swimming pools even as matchbox-like houses in far-flung suburbs without basic infrastructure remain unaffordable to millions, and the hovels by railway tracks and slum colonies simply multiply. Higher education and institutes of technology and management get official and media attention even as surveys indicate that the majority of Standard III students in government schools cannot read a Standard I text, with teacher absenteeism continuing to be worrisome.

Be Movement India issue education

Be Movement India issue education

Successive governments at the centre as well as in the states enthusiastically invite citizens and foreigners to invest and do business in India – Indians themselves, let alone the foreigners, complain bitterly about the delay and non-transparency at many levels that breed frustration and corruption. Worse, India’s much touted “demographic dividend” of 500 million young people aspiring to a better life can turn into a “demographic disaster” if unemployment rates are not dealt with, many warn, among them economist Alakh N. Sharma, director of the Institute of Human Development and the main author of India Labour and Employment Report 2014 (Times of India, 12 February 2014). India’s manufacturing sector, which can generate the most employment, is a mere 16% of the GDP.

These existing disparities and potential crises cannot but affect the entire “development” debate, which reached breaking point during the campaigning of the recent general elections. Tension surfaced between those who advocate “subsidies” for the poor and those who argue for “market merit”, who pointed out that the subsidies are pocketed by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats anyway. The role of government in providing services via the public sector has been and continues to be a bitterly contentious issue, with the private sector now seeming to take the upper hand.

In this context, what does the concept of “giving back” mean to those who are grappling with the obstacles to do good? On 11 July 2014, Be Movement and Barclays India invited those involved in meaningful interventions in key areas like education, agro business and housing, to a Round Table discussion on “Giving Back to Society”.

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BARCLAYS PRIVATE ROUND TABLE – POTENTIAL, PROMISES, PARADOXES

 

1) HOW THEY GIVE BACK

All the participants — Smita Godrej Crishna, Juzer Khorakiwala, Mahesh Shetty and Nayan Bheda —shared about their efforts at giving back to society, followed by some challenges they faced while doing so.

Teaching Students to Question

When Smita Godrej Crishna’s grandfather and his brother set up a factory in Mumbai’s remote suburb of Vikhroli, they found that for miles around, there were absolutely no educational facilities for the employees’ children.

“In the beginning, they had to beg the reluctant parents to send their children to the school,” she recalls. The Udayachal School was set up in 1955, and began as one room with five little boys (the girls were not sent).  The school got off to an excellent start under Principal Cooverji Vakil, an alumna of the famed Shanti Niketan School started by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

Today the high school has nearly 2500 students and is acclaimed for nurturing creativity and the scientific temper in them, while giving full expression to sports and cultural activities. The children are taught to grow vegetables, “to make them realise the hard work that goes into putting food on the table. Otherwise, they think it is just a matter of going to the market and bringing them home.”

Be Movement India issue education 2

The school encourages students and teachers to participate in history camps, training seminars and international programmes like “Seeds of Peace”, which acquaints young people with conflict resolving skills. “Secularism is important to maintain the social fabric of our country. We teach our students to question and debate values without blind acceptance.”

Combining Commercial and Social Objectives

Juzer Khorakiwala started Biostadt in 2010, and his regular sojourns into rural India showed him that the average farmer spent a lot of time sourcing for services to manage his personal health, the wellbeing of his animals and cattle, and that of his crops and products. In many places, these services were vast distances apart, if they were available at all, and never under the same roof. The problem was further compounded by bad roads. “That is when we hit upon providing all three fundamental services under the same roof, in one centre. This would be our way of giving back,” he adds.

A locally influential farmer with the means to invest around Rs 15 to 20 lakhs was contacted and set up the centre on his land. Khorakiwala’s company paid for the services of the medical doctor and veterinarian. The investor-farmer was also given the franchise of the company’s products, with an opportunity to earn a greater margin since these  products would be stocked at the centre. The success of the first centre in Madhya Pradesh led to similar ones in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh too.

But the challenges proved daunting. The medical doctors would work for a few months and then take up jobs in the towns or cities; the investor-farmer, not committed to the social objectives in any case, would want to use his land for other ventures when the real estate value rose.

Today, only one centre is functioning in Uttar Pradesh and Biostadt is looking for partnerships with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to give the original idea another chance.

Awards for Value-added Packaging

Khorakiwala describes a packaging concept that allows the company to earn goodwill, and their customers to get more than the purchased product.
Having negotiated with the makers of the popular Sintex water tanks to carry Biostadt’s brand name on their water tanks, Biostadt then used the tanks as packaging for their fertilizer. This meant that their customers also get the water tanks for daily use. In the same vein, the company packaged the biological fertilizers in made-to-order gaagars (earthen water pots), commonly used by women in rural areas to fetch or store water.

For its innovation, Biostadt received three awards: the India Star 2012 Award presented by the Indian Institute of Packaging, the Asia Star Award by the Asian Packaging Federation in 2012, and the World Star 2013 Award by the World Packaging Organisation. On a roll, the company then decided to pack its fertilizers in milk cans and now has set its sights on using solar lamps for packaging. Khorakiwala’s eyes light up as he says, “Imagine what a huge social purpose that would serve!” No one acquainted with rural India’s power supply woes would dare to disagree.

Making Teaching an Attractive Profession

In 2011, MT Educare decided to offer their teaching services to the 10th standard students of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s 145 schools.

This is the stage at which school students in India take their first public board examination – the “percentage” gained by the student at this juncture is crucial. The announcement of results is routinely followed by a spate of suicides and cases of depression following failures or low marks.

Mahesh Shetty describes how his company MT Educare had to struggle for six months to convince Mumbai’s municipal authorities to accept their free teaching services!

“What is in it for you?”

When the corporate social responsibility (CSR) director of MT Educare approached BMC’s School Superintendent to offer their services, he was in for a shock. The Superintendent was sceptical. Why did they want to teach the BMC students? Who was funding them and what was in it for them? It took six months for the BMC authorities to accept MT Educare’s offer.

So began the extra tuition for nearly 13,000 students of BMC’s schools, where the medium of instruction was variously Hindi, Marathi, Urdu and English. Due to a complex of factors, students in these schools routinely experience poor teaching standards and high drop-out rates. Shetty says that within one year of MT Educare’s supplementary services, the pass percentage of these schools rose from 37% to 73%. Conducting tuition after regular classes, MT Educare focused on Mathematics, Science and English, the weak spots of these students.

Finding Urdu-medium teachers to conduct the extra tuition posed the most difficulties due to religious sensitivities: Urdu is seen as the language of Muslims in post-Independence India. There are now nearly 250 Urdu-medium teachers serving 5,000 BMC Urdu-medium students; since these are predominantly Muslim students, he feels the greatest sense of fulfillment when they are called on stage to be felicitated for excellent performances. “This is the section (Muslim students) that needs most help because they lack a strong support system otherwise,” he points out. His company also conducts tuition for minors in remand homes, where they are serving sentence for a variety of crimes.
Affordable Housing

As Managing Director of Neptune Developers Ltd, Nayan Bheda’s first bid was for 22 acres of land belonging to the Guest, Keen and Williams (GKW) factory in Mumbai’s eastern suburb of Bhandup, in 2002. He was very enthusiastic about the government’s affordable housing schemes and after the GKW factory ceased operations, the land was available at Rs 101 crores.

However, he was woefully short of the money needed and those around him thought he was nursing a pipe dream. He managed to raise 50% of the down payment from family and friends, with the financial institutions being unhelpful and the deadline for the tender barely days away.

Realising he had nothing to lose, he knocked on the doors of the then Union Minister of State for Housing and Poverty Alleviation, Selja Kumari. He told her that he wanted to build affordable housing on the land but was facing problems in raising the capital. She gave him a patient hearing and helped iron out the hitches so that he could borrow from the Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd, a Government of India Undertaking. His gamble in boldly approaching a top minister without pulling any strings or putting a word in the right ear had paid off.
The affordable 325 square feet houses, with attached toilet and bathroom, are his way of “sharing if not exactly giving back”, he observes. To date, he has sold approximately 2500 such affordable houses.

 

2) ON CSR BEING MADE MANDATORY BY LAW

The participants discussed India’s recently amended Company Law (2013) that makes it mandatory for companies meeting certain criteria to spend 2% of net profits on CSR.

From the Heart

All participants agree that mandatory CSR is not a good idea.

Khorakiwala points out that philanthropy must come from the heart and cannot be enforced. Illustrating his point, he recalls that when he was president of the Rotary Club of Bombay Central in 2003, the regular practice was to cajole members into donating money for different causes. “Many of them obliged willy-nilly. But how long could you keep on asking? So, I decided on a scheme whereby each member would pledge Rs 75,000 every year for three years. The money would be used for the cause dearest to his or her heart and the leg work would be provided by the club.”  Instead of the usual Rs five lakhs, that year the collection touched Rs 30 lakhs and was “willingly given from the heart.”

“When your heart is not in it, what is the point?”, Smita adds.

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3) ARE INDIAN BUSINESSES GENERALLY SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS?

While there are sporadic discussions in the media on the difference between charity, philanthropy and CSR, this is not part of the larger public discourse. The participants reflected on the general social responsiveness of Indian businesses.

Secular vs Community Philanthropy

Khorakiwala and Bheda feel that many businesses do charity within their own communities, within the bounds of religion or caste, and that this is perfectly acceptable. In contrast, Smita wonders why philanthropy could not be secular, aimed at offering optimal solutions to society at large.

Khorakiwala’s view is the feasibility of secular solutions would depend on the size of the establishment being targeted and also on the level of knowledge about this establishment. Most often, individuals know their own communities best, including the problems faced, and also feel more at ease operating within their comfort area. As Azim Premji whose philanthropy involved crores would obviously have his sights trained on the larger social fabric, but smaller businesses preferred charity directed at smaller areas.

 

4) ON CHALLENGES FACED BY THE INDIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM

During this segment of the Round Table, the two educationists, Shetty and Smita, spoke primarily.

More Government Ownership

Smita emphasises the urgent need for better salaries and emoluments for teachers, teacher training programmes as well as more and better equipped vocational training centres that would impart training, similar to that for other workmen like plumbers, electricians, landscape designers, carpenters.

The municipal and government schools have as many as 80 and 90 students to a class with no real accountability demanded from anyone, least of all the teachers, she points out. The government runs the largest number of schools in the country, and must show greater will to improve matters rather than simply putting the onus on private schools through laws like the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RtE).

Remove “Academics” from Our Schools

Shetty expresses his unhappiness with the schools’ emphasis on academics. The learning of academics should be delivered through computers and the school syllabus recalibrated, with 20% of time in school committed to academics and 80% to personality development, cultural activities and sports.

The present education system produces successful students who job hop in search of fatter and fatter salary packages, with few becoming inspirational leaders of society.

 

5) IS THE “ASPIRATION” FOR A BETTER LIFE FOSTERING MATERIALISM?

All four participants rejected this proposition.

What is Wrong with Materialism?

Smita observes that due to the spread of global and pop culture, Indian youth are looking to the West for guidance and inspiration. “But then, we must learn to cope with it. They are inspired by different things now and materialism is growing at a faster pace.”

Khorakiwala believes that for the very first time, the results of the recent general elections were decided by the development platform, and not by religion or caste. This is only “due to the rural folks knowing what is out there and wanting it for themselves.” As for materialism destroying social commitment, he notes that food on the table is more important and that giving back to society comes later.

For Shetty, giving back must be embedded in childhood and cannot be learnt later. However, brilliant students are being told by their parents not to share with others, “or you will lose your rank.” In his 30 years of teaching, he has met a large number of parents who are obsessive about the marks scored by their children and breed extreme competitiveness in them.

 

6) ON THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE BEFORE INDIAN SOCIETY

This was the most animated part of the Round Table: the participants discussed a plethora of rules and petty bureaucratic harassments that make an entrepreneur’s life difficult.

From Job Seekers to Job Creators

Satya Bansal points out that channelling India’s “demographic dividend” from job seeking into job creating is the biggest challenge. All participants are in agreement.

Doing Business in India

Khorakiwala says that while creating jobs is very important, helping existing businesses grow is no less important.

(This drew a slew of responses on the difficulty of doing business in India.)

Khorakiwala points out that running one Akbarallys store requires 34 licenses and that he has to hire a consultant to specifically look into this aspect. He recounts how 10 years after installing a biometric attendance system for his employees, he was asked to pay a penalty of Rs 12,000 for not seeking the government’s permission to do so!

Shetty gives the example of enterprising hoteliers from his community, whose eateries dot Mumbai’s streets and feed lakhs at reasonable rates – these hotels and eateries are rapidly closing down. In fact, Mumbai’s reputation as an easy city for migrants and single working women is partly based on the presence of these small grade II hotels. The younger generation in the hotelier families does not want the stress and tension they have seen their elders go through – a constant and daily barrage of bureaucratic hassles and demand for bribes from different quarters. “They prefer to do their MBAs and take on jobs,” he says. The participants object to the diverse laws under different authorities (central, state and local) that one single business has to deal with, wasting time and resources. “This is truly a diverse country in every sense of the term,” they laugh.

India’s tryst with its destiny is nowhere near clear-cut but as the discussion showed, Indians are never short of resourcefulness and endeavour to fulfil their destiny and deal with their country’s complications. •

 

PROFILES OF SPEAKERS

Smita Godrej Crishna
is an educationist and heritage conservationist. She is also a music enthusiast, involved passionately with the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation which promotes western classical music among children. She is a founder-member of the Association for Inter-Married Zoroastrians (AIMZ), an organisation that works to safeguard the rights of Zoroastrian women who have married outside the community.

Barclays pte Smita Crishna Godrej

Juzer Khorakiwala,
a qualified pharmacist, is Chairperson and Managing Director of Biostadt India Limited, makers of agriculture and aquaculture input products. He is also actively involved in running the iconic Akbarallys, one of Mumbai’s oldest chains of retail stores. With his cousin, he built up the pharmaceutical company Wockhardt before leaving to start Biostadt. Khorakiwala is a nature lover and farmer, delighting in growing fruits and vegetables on his farmhouse near Mumbai. He believes that “India’s growth is directly related to the growth of its rural areas and it is necessary to give farmers top-of-the-line agricultural inputs and services.”

Barclays pte Juzer Khorakiwala (1)

Satya Bansal
is Chief Executive Officer, Wealth Management, of Barclays India. Satya started his career in project & corporate finance in India and had worked in numerous functions including finance, sales, marketing, product development and technology and investment analysis in the past 24 years. Prior to joining Barclays, he was Head of Private Banking in the South East Asia region for ICICI Bank in Singapore.

Satya is an active angel investor has invested in more than 20 start-ups across various industries, both in India and overseas, including ventures in the social impact space.

Barclays pte Satya Bansal

Mahesh Shetty
is a teacher. He founded and heads MT Educare, which has 199 centres in India, a branch in Dubai, and is the first coaching enterprise to be listed on both the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE). He is also a founder of Trustee of Global Education Trust. MT Educare reaches out to underprivileged children and students through various initiatives. For Mahesh, bringing brilliant teachers into the teaching profession is his greatest challenge.

Barclays pte Mahesh Shetty

Reshma Jain
writes on varied subjects from travel to commissioned biographies under her company “The Narrators.” Editor of a community magazine (Marwar) for four years, a chance email from documentary filmmaker Valerie Gudenus saw her become part of the production team of “Ma na Sapna” – a documentary film on surrogacy – which was a humbling and life changing experience for her. Her passion for Indian classical singing and dancing drives her to curate small gatherings, functions and exhibitions which promote art, skills and creativity in a commercial and non-commercial manner.

Barclays pte Reshma

Lina mathias
is Senior Assistant Editor at the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and has worked as a journalist with a number of newspapers for the past 28 years. She has won the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh’s award and edited a collection of the Parliamentary speeches of former Union Minister Kamal Morarka, released by Rupa Publications with the title “Left of Centre”. Lina teaches mass media students at the Sophia College for Women, Mumbai and is also a member of the Network of Women in Media, India. She is a Consultant for “The Narrators”, a venture that helps people write their stories.

Barclays pte Lina Mathias

Nayan Bheda,
a first generation entrepreneur and real estate developer, is Managing Director of Neptune Developers Ltd, which builds low-cost, affordable, and high end luxury housing projects. He is also the founder of Neptune Foundation that supports the underprivileged, especially children and senior citizens. He is an active member of the Jain International Trade Organisation (JITO), a worldwide network of businessmen and professionals.

Barclays pte Nayan Bheda

Barclays Be Movement

 

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