The COVID-19 pandemic has brought life to a crippling halt across the globe. In India, corporates besides CSR funds are contributing by repurposing and diversifying their products to combat the pandemic. This strategy has the possibility of advancing the way corporates meet their social goals.
Havoc Created by the Pandemic & Response
Seldom comes a point in the world when almost every individual is at a threat of a pandemic like COVID-19. At the last count, 212 countries are affected by this infectious disease caused by the deadly coronavirus. Economies around the globe have come to a shrieking halt and all the efforts are directed towards combating the invisible nemesis. In India, the pandemic has impacted nearly the whole country and a large-scale endeavor is currently on to minimize the COVID-19 positive cases and unfortunate casualties.
Corporate India was swift to loosen its purse strings and contributed generously to fight COVID-19 as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort. However, the contribution of Indian companies did not stop at merely making monetary contributions but the companies have repurposed or diversified their business to fight the pandemic effectively.
Repurposing & Diversification
India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India Limited in partnership with AgVa Healthcare has taken to manufacturing low-cost ventilators, which is a must for COVID-19 critical cases. Mahindra and Mahindra Limited has also started producing low-cost ventilators. Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group created quite a buzz when he announced that Mahindra & Mahindra Limited has developed a ventilator for Rs. 7,500 as compared to a going rate of Rs. 5 to 10 lakhs. Besides, FMCG companies such as CavinKare, Dabur, Emami, Nivea India, Raymond Consumer Care, and VLCC have either entered the hand sanitizer market or are preparing to do so.
They are joined by alcoholic beverage companies such as Bacardi India and Diageo India and sugar companies such as DCM Shriram, Dalmia Bharat Sugar Mills, Balrampur Chini Mills, and Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar in this endeavor. ITC has also repurposed its perfume plant in Himachal Pradesh to produce hand sanitizer. Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) too got involved in sanitizer and masks production. India’s leading garment maker Arvind has gotten into producing protective coveralls and non-N95 masks. Welspun is making masks and disinfectant wipes. Bata India manufactured masks for a short duration for donating to police personnel.
Helping Beyond Monetary Contribution
This is probably the first instance in Indian corporate history when one is witness to a sudden spike in companies deploying their core teams and expertise in developing solutions for a social cause. The approach of the corporates is thoroughly professional and ensuing offerings are bona fide solutions and not poorly put together products in a jugaad like modus operandi, although jugaad has its own rightful place in the Indian context. This would not have been possible in the business as usual scenario but then this is the silver lining in our fight with the pandemic.
This development fits neatly within the concepts of shared value and corporate social innovation being advocated for years. Though this is not the first time that companies have adopted one of the principles of the shared value of “re-conceiving products and markets in a manner that they meet the societal needs, and address unserved or underserved customers”.
Some prominent examples encompass the oft-quoted case of Hindustan Unilever’s helping rural women to earn livelihoods by selling its products under Project Shakti; Nestle India launching a micronutrient-reinforced spice product ‘Maggi Masala-ae-Magic’ targeted at low-income consumers in India, and JSW Steel launching portable steel toilets.
However, there is a difference this time in terms of scale, pace, and apparent close involvement of the principal teams of companies repurposing or diversifying their products to combat COVID-19 given the urgency of the situation.
Possibility of Evolved Future Path
The COVID-19 crisis and corporate India’s response through remodeling or expanding its products has the potential to evolve the corporates’ approach to social engagement. This is probable since the experience of developing solutions swiftly and in-depth involvement is likely to remain etched in the memories of corporates for some time to come.
The companies must not let go of this momentum and use this experience to magnify their social involvement by coming up with innovative offerings by actively scouting for the needs and opportunities in the future. This is also vital since in the coming time, the CSR funds are expected to dwindle in the short-term due to falling profits owing to the long duration of the lockdown.
The corporates can complement their CSR funds by developing innovative social solutions for their communities, which can be offered on a pro-bono basis. This will form the grounds for expansion of these solutions based on an evaluation of their experience and demand for a larger consumer segment for commercial viability, thereby deriving shared benefits for both the company and consumers.
This can create a ripple effect across the sectors spurring other companies to tap the opportunity. In the long-run, this strategy can enable the corporates to effectively contribute to the country’s development challenges through their managerial skills, technology, and innovation. This was what the framers of Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, and Companies (CSR) Policy Rules, 2014 also envisaged.
Dheeraj Kapoor is Social Sector Professional based in Mumbai