In conversation with Anil Agarwal about Vedanta’s ingress into Corporate Philanthropy…
Many of us may be confused with the term Corporate Philanthropy’ as they may argue that history is the testimony to the fact of Corporate Charity’ then why several companies have tried to be associated with the concept so aggressively. The famous saying “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime” aptly stipulates the difference between charity and philanthropy.
On one hand, it is believed that the foundation of charity is often religious or moral in nature. On other hand, philanthropy is broadly inclined to humanitarian principles. Philanthropy derives from the Greek term Philanthropos, which means “love of man” in the sense of caring for, nourishing, improving, and enhancing the quality of life for human beings.
It is not merely giving as means to end grinding it out but in many hidden ways it achieves changing the values of the recipients. In India, the family run businesses have for long handed down the effort of charity purely in altruistic line or as a gesture of a beholden giving back to God.
With time and with evolution of the organization Philanthropy as a concept developed as specialized form of management with an objective of solving the problems of the society as whole, and largely without the intention of hemming a return motive. However, with the impact of globalization a set of business leaders appeared in the Indian corporate scene who emphasized the inclusive growth factor to connect to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). A mark shift from the family run and desi businessmen with chronic yearnings to serve God and humanity to the urbane white collared executives who thinks building groundswell of stakeholders’ perception can be achieved through philanthropy.
That’s the evolution of changing focus from charity to philanthropy. Moreover, several new commotions like environmental conservation and preservation of history and art have become an important part of the philanthropic activities of corporate philanthropy. Over the time, global business environment and stakeholders’ growing expectations have majorly influenced several companies to have a very close attention not only to their philanthropic activities, but also to the measurable social impact of these activities.
Today, companies view their philanthropic programmes not only as corporate resources meant for social development, but also as strategic social investments intended to achieve measurable outcomes and impacts. Corporate philanthropy programmes are often a part of the organization’s mission and are designed to address social and political issues that affect the business.
In this league, Vedanta Group, one of the world’s fastest growing diversified metals and mining company has been adopting it very efficiently. Most of its programs are designed to reach deep rural areas, particularly tribal areas. Chairman of the company, Anil Agarwal is very specific to grow with the development of the society.
Mr. Agarwal says, ‘Whatever you have earned, a portion of it should go back to the society.’ His vision statement that “No child in India should remain malnourished and be deprived of basic amenities, health-education and nutrition,” has brought company’s strong focus on child care. “Let us make India a child malnourished free nation”, he says.
In the same light, he wants to change the infant mortality rate in India and he says ‘I will not sit in peace till every child in this country gets these basic necessities.” The man with full of vision is going to change the whole landscape of Indian Corporate Philanthropy.
However, the scenario of corporate philanthropy has been evolving since long back. In the 20th century American philanthropy matured, with the development of very large private foundations created by titans of industry – Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, et al. – and later in the century with the professionalization of the field led and funded by those great foundation.
Then at the turn of the 21st century, the word “philanthropy” began to re-enter the American vernacular. In 1997 a Massachusetts project of foundations, corporations and donors to increase charitable giving through donor education was centered on a Catalogue for Philanthropy. Classically American philanthropic initiative by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the “Giving Pledge”, used the word with global publicity. But India developed it later on. During the early days of industrialization in India, philanthropy was limited to individual initiatives undertaken by organizations and rich families.
During the independence movement, several industrial thought leaders extended their financial support to leaders of the freedom struggle. G.D. Birla’s financial contributions to the movement and Ardeshir Godrej’s generous donation to the Tilak Fund for the upliftment of Harijans were notable among these. The Tatas and the Murugappas pioneered charitable contributions to hospitals and schools. Mr. Anil Agarwal acknowledges the left-behind of India’s philanthropic background, as he intones, “Undoubtedly, Philanthropy as a concept is more organized and huge in West.
But today, India is at the same juncture America was at 50 years ago. The education system in the US is fabulous, and it’s my dream that we create education cities in India. On my part, I’ve already pledged $1 billion for a large university. It’s going to be a research university and I am willing to put in more money if required. Look around India, there’s so much we can do. In the future, I am hoping to have an education city where we can offer students study in medicine, arts and technical research under one roof.”
In the recent times, Indian corporate philanthropy is going to embark in the history. Chairman of Wipro and the third richest man in India, Azim Premji had unarguably made the biggest philanthropic contribution in India till date. He has made a donation worth $2 billion towards the upliftment of education in rural India. Many believe that history does not repeat. But the declaration that “one forth of my wealth will be enough for my family” of the Billionaire Philanthropic, Anil Agarwal and his pledge that “three fourths of my wealth will be used to educate and provide nutrition to underprivileged children” are going to prove them wrong. As per 2012, he has net worth of $3.5 billion and thus his philanthropic contribution would be more than $2 billion. Vedanta is becoming the new face of corporate philanthropy in India.
It is a personal intervention and focus from Mr. Agarwal, who is prepared to go to great length to achieve his dream. Vedanta is all set to redefine the scope and the scale of corporate accountability towards the society. The conglomerate will be spending Rs 300 crore this year alone on different CSR related activities. In the year 2011-12 the group spent Rs. 230 crore towards its community service programs.
With strong focus towards care for the underprivileged children, Vedanta in close association with the State Governments of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Orissa designed a model that could provide nutrition, health and education to children at early age itself. This model was adoption of Anganwadi Centres from the State governments through partnership model and bring in supplementary nutrition, new innovative method of teaching to children, provide them colourful books, train teachers, new utensils, exposure, and monitor the change in their health. These centres now known as Vedanta Bal Chetna Anganwadi Centres also take care of regular immunization of children. A team of Vedanta supervisors ensures the compliance and Village Empowerment Committees further ensure it.
This initiative began in 2008 through adoption of 400 Anganwadi Centres each in Rajasthan and Orissa. The Vedanta Model for Child Care worked model worked and started showing results. The health of children, their overall development and basic education brought more children to the Anganwadi Centres. In 2009, Vedanta went ahead and adopted 1100 Anganwadi centres each in Rajasthan and Orissa. Meanwhile the company also started 600 Mamta and Parvarish Centres in Chattisgarh.
Recently, in the year 2012, Karnataka government also signed an MoU with Vedanta for taking care of 2600 Anganwadi Centres.
Providing healthy meals to school going children, Vedanta also introduced, in association with State government, Mid-day Meals. The company constructed 8 kitchens in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Orissa which are providing daily Mid-day meals in about 3000 schools.
Mr. Agarwal says, “it breaks by heart to see infant mortality rate in India. Children are underweight and lack basic health. I must do something for these children.” India is a young country and most of the population is in early years. We need to ensure that these children tomorrow become the productive citizens of the country. Vedanta will do what ever possible to achieve this mission,” he continues.
Anil Agarwal is very passionate about involving young generation into India’s vision. In this regard he keeps his agenda of visiting colleges when ever he finds time. He even travels from London specially to meet these young engineers and management graduates, who he believes will drive tomorrow’s India. “These young brigades of India have energy and strong determination. When I meat them and interact with them, I am amazed with their thoughts and their vision for India”.
Rural India has been for long asking for social economic empowerment in women. Important was to organize these women into groups, impart them professional training and link them from banks. The group’s formation was difficult as villages have their own constraints. But Vedanta’s consistent interaction and involvement increased the number of Self Help Groups from mere 50 to 2000, spread not only in India, in Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, but also in Zambia, where company has its copper operation.
Each group has 12-15 women who are now known more as micro entrepreneurs. Most of the groups have support from banks. Some of these women have gone ahead and become Sarpanchs or Ward Panch. They also attend evening schools organized by Vedanta, when they are free from their household work. Vedanta has brought much needed change in their economic condition.
Anil Agarwal realized that rural health sector too needs attention particularly areas prone to some specific problems. Korba in Chattisgarh was chosen to build one of the largest cancer hospitals with most modern facilities and capacity of 350 beds. Provision has been ensured to reserve 20% beds for BPL families. The hospital work is in full swing and likely to be operative by 2014. Another heart hospital in Udaipur in Rajasthan has been already upgraded and now has provision for open heart surgery.
Corporations need to understand that the people they are serving today would eventually become their employees or customers tomorrow. In simple words, the contribution towards the society would come back to them. Anil Agarwal’s humble beginning from the suburbs of Patna where he spent his childhood has much to do with his charitable pursuits – he himself admits that, “I believe that my roots have helped me become who I am today. Giving is, thus, a nature and it comes naturally. I believe that when we help someone, someone else always steps in and takes it forward and it becomes a chain reaction.” “While business and industrial success is great, we must not forget our accountability towards mankind and society,” he said.
“You are a community first and than a businessman. Vedanta has always kept focus on community above the business”, says Anil Agarwal. He says, “my family has been a big force behind keeping the focus on community service always alive. My father in particular has been my guide and philosopher. My wife Kiran is engaged full time in Vedanta Foundation’s activities and a big support.”
People drive motives behind community service and charity, Anil Agarwal replies, “helping community and their children, supporting agriculture of poor farmers, their cattle, building infrastructure, providing drinking water etc. are driven through your individual philosophy. It comes from within and only generates goodwill for the company. There could be no other motives.” “kuch to log kahenge logon ka kaam hai kehna”, he smiles and the man is not perturbed with what people say.
A big chunk of intellectuals and media persons have recommended that private organization should also come forward to actualize the great vision of India. The government through its Company’s bill has proposed to ensure 2% spent on CSR from profit. Large corporates who are spending already crores of rupees feel enforcing spent is not required; rather government should focus on key social issues that need to be addressed in the coming 10 years. Involve corporates and industrialists in this social agenda and let the corporates develop their plans.
Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal has set an agenda and is moving forward along with his business plan. His Vedanta Model for Child Care is a model that can be replicated by any corporate and by any State, to fight malnutrition in India. Similarly the model to empower rural women is also set to bring much needed social and economic status in women.
Concluding in the words of Anil Agarwal, “In my eyes, all these so-called achievements are normal. I believe that each of us is doing exactly what we’re supposed to do. I am doing the best in my position just as another person is doing the best in his. When we give back to society, we must think about the betterment of society and not about getting brownie points with God. After all, even our mythological epic teaches us to help the society without expecting things in return. The Bhagavad-Gita about importance philanthropy as it states datavyamiti yaddaram diyate anupakarine.
There are people who would say, give me power and ill change the world. But when you look at Anil Agarwal, one would only say, move ahead and people will join you. If they don’t, you would always have this satisfaction that at least you were on the right path.
Story Published in “Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch – January 2013”