15 July 2010

Agents of change

A recent news item about the Finance Minister to tell CEOs to tone down their lavish lifestyle, had a quote from Tarun Das of CII :
"People in India think the corporate sector is not doing enough for the society,” he said. It was time, for instance, that the top 10 Indian corporates set aside Rs 1,000 crore each for providing safe water, good quality education and medical facilities for the poor, he said.
“More than money, the corporate sector has the management skills to execute programmes without leakages. They must join the government in its efforts,” Das said.

Perception-wise this is correct, the general feeling is that the corporate sector can do much more. Yet public perception of the government not doing enough either is also very strong.
However, mandating limits is not the right way to go about it, it is in fact a rather bureaucratic solution and it is doubtful whether public perception will change much even if such amounts are spent.
What would prove more useful would be to see how much does the corporate sector actually do, and here a study by the CII would be valuable as a benchmark.

More interesting though was his second point, that the corporate sector should join the government in its efforts and help execute programmes without leakages - now that will be a big step ahead. There are of course instances where this is already happening, e.g the UID project - Nandan Nilekani has opened the doors to volunteers :What we are finding in many companies there are a lot of youngsters who want to do something meaningful for a couple of years in the social world. So we have volunteer sabbatical programme. We generally want this to be a public participative project because it is not limited to a few people. It is about getting everybody energized. So anyway they can help we’ll be happy.

Another example of the corporate sector aiding the government in raising efficiency is TeamLease Services, which has tied up with the Karnataka government to revamp the defunct employment exchanges in the state:
According to TeamLease, India currently runs about 14,000 government employment exchanges with about four crore registered candidates. Only two lakh jobs were created last year.  Under the new public-private model, TeamLease would set up the building and infrastructure to run the service, and government would contribute to the training costs. This means registered candidates will get trained for free.
Small steps maybe but in the right direction.

And then there is the news that Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze are back with the National Advisory Council. What is heartening is that 'Both see the state as part of the problem, not the solution. Dreze frankly says he continues to find the government and its functionaries “elitist” and “repressive”; Roy, that ordinary people and their concerns are far away from the priorities of those in power in Delhi' Yet, there they are, working with the government, doing their bit to get a better system worked out.

Of course, all these efforts will work only if the government is open to such assistance and is willing to work out change in its own functioning. As PK Dubashi points out in a piece on dealing with the Naxal challenge,'Dedicated leaders and selfless people like Baba Amte and his sons, Vikas and Prakash, spent years in tribal areas, providing them medical service. So do the couple, Abhay Bang and Rani Bang. They are respected by the tribal society but the government does not feel it necessary to consult them and take their guidance. Instead selfish leaders from the tribal communities rule the roost and instead of helping their own community they promote their own interests and those of their families.'
His solution: 'We will have to refashion our administration of the tribal areas. A large number of young people with dedication and idealism, conversant with tribal language, culture and way of life, would have to be put in service in administrative positions in the tribal areas. The sooner such a new approach is adopted, the better.'

 There is no dearth of such people, but the question again arises, will the current administration allow such a change..or rather to phrase the question more constructively - what will it take for the current administration to allow such a change? If we look at the examples of currently successful efforts like the UID, the change has to come from within, whether it is the corporate sector, social activists or volunteers ready to work, they cannot work with the government unless the government works with them. It is when the hand of help is accepted that public perception will change, for both the government and the corporate sector.


  1. Yes, the fundamental problem is the bureaucratic,elitist and colonial mindset of the those who govern,execute and administer justice Unless this mindset becomes 'people-centric" and the govt.becomes of the people,by the people and for the people good governance cannot be ensured.
    Development and progress must be from bottom-up and not top down with well known 'leakages' in the process and failure to of the results to reach the target group.The system lacks transparency,sensitivity.accountability and responsiveness to genuine public needs.Participation of the target group in the process at every stage is essential if we are to really make development meaningful and effective.

  2. You are right, Sripattoo. While democracy is supposed to be for the people and by the people, the way things stand now, government can be responsive only when it actually works with the people and takes into active consideration the viewpoints and advice of non-political citizens.