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With the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has indicated that it is crucial to engage with the private sector. The SDGs now reflect the concern of the UN that the governments alone won’t make up the pie, and perhaps it is sending a strong signal to governments that they must involve the private sector in the development process too.
That concern was something that we in India started to reflect around 2010-11; and in 2013, when the CSR mandate came, we engaged directly with private sector. India, therefore, precedes the UN in engaging by act, by law, by rule with the private sector on corporate responsibility. Among the emerging economies, we are number one, and what we do sets the benchmark for many others.
A question that arises here is, how can the elements of business responsibility be made sustainable and effective? It is important to look at development in inclusive terms. If I want to reach out beyond my company, to whom would I reach out? How can I include them as part of my business model? If I cannot include them, how can I engage with them as an externality? This is the thought process companies should follow while developing business practices.
As ambassadors for Indian business abroad, Indian multi-national corporations play a very important role in leading the way with respect to good business practices. Typically, an MNC is seen across the world as an avaricious, profit-seeking business entities. The outside world doesn’t trust the MNCs, precisely because of this trust deficit.
Contrast that with the Indian MNCs. While Indian MNCs are a relatively new phenomenon, one of the good things about them is that those that have become multinational already have a very good ethos of CSR and sustainability. For example, the Tatas, who are held in very high esteem and were one of the first companies that became truly multinational. The CSR, sustainability and responsibility picture that companies like Tata conjure up, is a very good advertisement for the Indian brand. The ethos of service, trusteeship, developing a constituency of your own wherever you work, and gaining the confidence of customers and stakeholders before they proceed with business, is the Indian MNCs’ greatest strength.
My message to Indian companies is that as more of them become multinational, they need to follow this ethos because it a picture of India as a nation that they carry with them.