After I read a newspaper report about the state of drought in Maharashtra and how man and animal were both at the mercy of the next monsoon, I called up my friend. He is the CEO of a company that is involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) work (including water conservation) in several villages.
“I appreciate your concern, Mohan! We now have someone looking after our CSR activity. I will ask him to speak to you. Catch up later!”
That was abrupt! Was he too busy running the business to bother about CSR? My conversation with his new CSR Manager a day later was revealing.
“Thank you, Mr. Joshi for your interest in my work. To be honest, I am busy with my year-end paperwork. I have budgets to prepare and I need to close year-end issues with our partner NGOs. Your suggestions are great, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to take up anything new. I have just one intern to help me. And the boss wants the impact presentation tomorrow.”
While I commiserated with him, I could not help wondering if the profit centres in my friend’s company made do with one intern and used that excuse: no bandwidth.
Saving 5000 mothers
Around the time the law mandated companies to spend a portion of their profits for social good, some of us were in Jawhar, a remote district in Palghar, Maharashtra. This place had various problems, but the specific issue on our radar was maternal mortality.
It was a familiar story—early marriage, the pressure to give birth to a male child leading to repeated pregnancies, no access to medical care and utter neglect of nutrition. Haemoglobin levels in expectant mothers in the region were at times less than 4 g/dl (whereas in a normal, urban setting a drop below 10 g/dl is enough to set off alarm bells).
Over the next three years, we achieved a fair amount of success—Hb levels rose, maternal mortality fell. Apart from the government, the Indian Medical Association and the NGO Pragati Pratishtan, many shared our work and the satisfaction we derived from it.
I remember interacting with the audit team from one of the companies. They came there to ensure the medicines were being put to good use. They went back transformed, having seen how they were helping transform the very lives of poor villagers and save many mothers and infants.
I shared the Jawhar story with my busy CEO friend as we met at a Rotary lunch. I believed the audit team went back more committed to their employer, more charged up to do better work, I told him. And all of them became ambassadors for their company’s products. The other participating companies too must have experienced the positive change, if they had bothered to keep their customers and employees posted.
I was getting somewhere, but I could see my friend was still sceptical.