My vision for sustainability is firmly rooted in what the father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi quoted before India became independent in 1947- he had said that the business owners and capitalists in India should see themselves as the trustees (The Trusteeship Model) of the capital that they have generated which should not only be used to expand the business but also enable the important stakeholders in the business (namely the workers and their families, civil society and the masses) to improve their lives.
This was quoted much before Bowen used the term “Corporate Social Responsibility” in his publication “Social responsibility of Businessmen”, published in 1953.
Family owned businesses like the house of TATAs and the BIRLAs have had a rich tradition of philanthropy and support of various social causes for the communities that they serve, with emphasis on women, the girl child and the underprivileged in society. They have never believed that capitalism and social responsibility are mutually exclusive and I endorse this view with strong personal conviction.
I had an opportunity to put my convictions to test during my most recent professional tenure in Africa as the Business Manager for a start up, looking after business in West Africa, including Nigeria.
I had the flexibility to build a team from scratch and this gave me the opportunity to prove my hypotheses- of course I took my superiors into confidence and was given their full support. I wanted to deploy a team of sales merchandisers, comprising only girls.
I scouted for talent in the market communities where I had established my network of retailers and distributors and chose those candidates who were from very poor families, were either orphaned or were unwed young mothers with no support, not very well educated, but displayed an aspiration to succeed in life. I groomed them, trained them personally and built them into a fighting unit that helped me successfully penetrate in markets that were deemed difficult by my peers and seniors. It was a pleasure to see each one of them mature from under confident but willing resources to confident winners with a can do attitude. With success came a desire to learn, and I supported all those who came forward with financial help from the company, besides flexi working hours. All of them graduated and went on to better careers later; I continued this initiative with new batches of recruits.
Many successful retailers and trade channel partners were entrepreneurial women from disadvantaged economic backgrounds who were able to establish sustainable livelihoods and support their families.
The dignity that they achieved as entrepreneurs, partners and team members was priceless.
The product that I sold was a plant based fabric starch that was eco-friendly, and the business has grown at an average of 40% per annum since 2007, generating a profit of 50% regularly.
Profits from the business continue to be ploughed back into growing the team, on the foundations that I laid as the Business Manager for the business.