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Corporates with a conscience
November 22, 2006
India is on the move like never before. Every economic indicator indicates a vibrant emerging economy that is firing on all cylinders. GDP has grown almost 9 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal and that is almost double the 4 per cent Hindu rate of growth we clocked through the 50s to the 80s. The Sensex has zoomed past the 13000 mark, creating a new record for the Indian equity markets.
FII inflows this year have crossed the $6 billion mark. Corporate India has consistently delivered double digit growth for the last couple of quarters. The elephant is now giving the dragon a run for its money. The Global Competitiveness Index, 2006 released by the Economic Forum ranks India ahead of its fiercest competitor. India's biggest advantage is its skilled talent group.
India is a very young nation with 70 per cent of the population below the age of 35. Last year, 48 million Indians graduated across the country. Three lakh engineers passed out and 1,90,000 will take the common aptitude test, CAT, this year to do an MBA. However, these figures do not reflect the other side of the story. Fifty per cent of the employable population is either unemployed or under-employed.
What is to become of these capable young people, who have the potential but no opportunity? Can they even dream of becoming a part of this organised workforce? Will they be able to ignite their minds and lead a life of dignity? Can they be made employable, even though they have no access to quality education?
Finance Minister, P Chidambaram told CNBC, "The National Common Minimum Programme or NCMP mandates the government to promote employment, while creating permanent and quality jobs in the productive sectors, for providing immediate relief to the poor. The National Rural Employment Scheme was launched on February 2, 2006."
A 100 guaranteed workdays per person, per family and Rs 500 a month. It may not be enough but at least it is a start. There maybe slippage, there may even be manipulation but can that be an argument against this scheme and what about the plight of urban youth, who may be better qualified but are equally pressured by burdens of unemployment? The government can't do it alone. There is a need for serious affirmative action.
Sona Koyo Steering Systems, a joint venture of Koyo Seiko, Japan, is India's market leader in steering systems. With the lion's share of the market, the company is the largest manufacturer of hydraulic power steering systems for four-wheelers in India. While customer satisfaction and constant innovation drive the company's core interest, there is another dimension to its success.
Chairman and managing director, Surinder Kapur says, 'Beyond normal stakeholder or shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, I think the community becomes extremely important and therefore, it is important for companies to think in terms of giving back to the community - not only in terms of money but also their management skills.'
Kapur explains, "'What we intend to do is much more closer interaction between industry and the institute. Today, so far, the institute has been operating in isolation. They have no idea what the customer wants. What kind of skill-set the person should have and skill development is the most important thing.
"Skill development only takes place if you practice the skills that you are taught in the class, they have no way to practice because they don't know what the industry is like. But we are going to take some of these people as interns in our company and train them, so we will have enough interaction with different types of companies.'
Welding instructor, ITI, Kirpal Singh adds, "Children are taking interest too - we made them visit the factory. Children visited Sona Steering, and other factories. Children also took interest in these visits and they felt that in the future, they want jobs in factories."
Although, Sona Koyo has been involved in reshaping ITI only for three months - small yet substantial differences are beginning to show. There is better infrastructure for staff and students to make the process of learning more friendly. Rusted unserviceable equipment is being replaced by well-oiled state of the art machinery, for students to train on and there is enough raw material for the students to use - this was not the case before.
Kapur explains, "'We have actually formed a society in Nagina and this society is now running the institute. This means that government interference has become less, in terms of the bureaucracy that is required to make changes in ITI.
"So, we can hire people in the ITI on our own and through this society, we can contribute to the society. So, I have gotten a group of our society suppliers to make contributions, so that if we require new equipment or new repairs to be done, we don't have to worry about getting approval from the government."
And it is not just raw materials and funding that Sona Koyo has provided. The Nagina ITI has until now, never had a teacher for the sheeting trade. Students who spend a year at ITI pass out with a paper certificate and no real practical training. Sona Koyo has initiated that change.
Every trade now has qualified, motivated teachers to aid the process of learning. The emphasis is also on teaching them best practices, keeping safety in mind. Kirpal Singh adds, "We have complete staff - just short of 3 or 4 people. We are finished with the process of recruiting and they should join us in a week or so."
India has often downplayed the importance of the services sector from an employment generation point of view, but the number of jobs created by technology sector alone, outpaces the number of jobs created by the manufacturing sector and fortunately there are some companies within the services sector, who understand the need for skill enhancement and training, here is the story of one such company.
India's largest pharmaceutical company, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, employs over 950 scientists across the globe. This Hyderabad-based company is a pioneer in drug discovery in India and is known globally for its proven high quality low cost products.
While the company has been expanding its portfolio through high profile acquisitions and innovations, it's never been at the cost of its conscience. Dr Reddy's Foundation, the company's social arm is working to alleviate poverty and improve employability.
Vice chairman and CEO of Dr Reddy's Labs, CV Prasad says, "Dr Reddy's is committed to sustainability as a way of doing business, so we are integrating the triple bottomline approach, which is our way of doing business and we have adopted the triple bottomline-driven sustainability concept into everything that we do."
Dr Reddy's Foundation, through its flagship programme LABS (Livelihoods Advancement Business School) ensures that under-privileged youth gets an opportunity to make more of their life. Founder Dr Anju Reddy started it in 1999 and LABS trains young adults to take up jobs or even become an entrepreneur.
Managing director & COO, Dr Reddy's Labs, Satish Reddy says, "As a company, we contribute mainly financials, since the beginning we have contributed close to Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million) to this organisation and this is something that we have done also in partnership."
"The foundation works with several organizations. It is mainly to do with a corporate network, where these companies also employ people who are trained. We have also companies who actively participate by partnering with us, to take these modules and implement it themselves. We then have NGOs and banks partnering with us and we have the government, who is the major partner."
The Foundation's initiatives don't end here. On one hand, the Foundation is providing livelihood to Indian youth and on the other hand, they are determined to improve the quality of school level education to the disadvantaged.
Bharti Airtel's social arm the Bharti Foundation is the Mittal's way of doing business with a conscience, while the Foundation is working on setting up quality primary education infrastructure. It's also doing its bit to provide specialised skills to some of the brightest minds in the country.
"It is within the IIT campus, run by them and the faculty of IIT and so our contribution was to give the financial grant and give some broad overview of what the telecom industry needs on a go- forward basis."
Aside from training and skill enhancement, there is something more that these social initiatives are delivering to these capable but underprivileged students - something less tangible - a sense of satisfaction, motivation and above all the right to dream. It is this mental revolution, complemented by vocational education that is making this effort worthwhile.
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