The best job ever?

Why is is the best job ever?

I’m sitting here, writing responses to our Trip Adviser reviews. I’m partly avoiding doing the accounts. Lucy is asleep at my feet. We’ve already been for our morning walk. I can hear Manjula in the background. Water is running, there’s swishing and swashing, the team are at it, Manjula gently instructs and actively gets involved. She’s so many good things rolled into one and that includes her tremendous managements skills.

Well it’s a great job because in many ways it’s not a job. It our life, sharing our home, meeting great people, hearing their stories, cracking jokes (which are sometimes understood) and getting the immense satisfaction that people enjoy time with us and have a wonderful time in Mysore.

Here’s just on of our over one hundred reviews and I’ve chosen it because I wasn’t here when the guests stayed.

 

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because we enjoy what we’re doing and we get such positive feedback….

How scandalous, the Prince has an opinion!

I’m a fan of the UK Guardian newspaper. I understand they have recently been successful in gaining court approval for the release of the famous spider memos. These are hand written memos sent by the Prince of Wales (son of the Queen) to serving government ministers.

I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Yes I understand….. he’s supposed to be impartial in his constitutional role assuming he ever gets to be King. But eh what’s the big deal? To me there’s no problem. Ok I admit to a bias. I’ve met the Prince and indeed I have a copy of one of his memos. (It’s the very one that led to me organising Prince’s Seeing Is Believing visits of business executives to India.) I also probably agree with a fair amount of his published opinions.

It’s part of the rich mix, the joshing and jostling, the bishing and bashing of democracy and frankly we need all the help we can get to halt the extremism of the current government.

So I say good on him.

Seeing is Believing.

“yes Steve. But what have your brought us to a construction site? There are so many in London, why have we travelled all the way to Mumbai to visit a site?”

Nevertheless we continued our study tour, they were being tongue-in-cheek but there was a serious question behind this, you don’t waste Company Director’s time!!! The senior executives from a range of multinationals in the UK were led by Ian Smith, MD of the UK part of Oracle Corporation. They saw the wooden scaffolding, the women carrying building waste on their heads, the shanty living conditions of the ‘out-of-state’ itinerant workers. All very different from the safety conscious sites in London but still they didn’t get it.

Then we walked into a dilapidated building in the corner of the site….and the light bulbs began to switch on…

they began to get it.

They saw that the construction worker’s children were being cared for and educated in the safety of a nicely decorated, clean and comforting environment. The NGO Mobile Creches’ staff were doing wonders. They saw the tremendous service and heard from the workers. Of course, many if not most other construction sites did not have these sort of facilities. In those cases children would be often left to roam the site where their parents lived and worked. This was together with the inherent risks and likelihood they would become child labourers. That was the crux of the matter.

more light bulbs went on, it had worked like a charm.

The executives begin to realise why I’d organised for them to come here. They all had suppliers or subsidiaries or their own companies that had construction sites here in India. They, their colleagues and their customers back in the UK would not want to be associated with sites that put children in dangerous situations nor helped provide a safe supportive caring educational environment. So we’d highlighted a potential problem, a serious business risk and an area where they needed to check their current polices and practices. Here was an opportunity to be socially responsible that also served the business and of course we’d also given them a ready made solution, it was one of those win win situations, a no brainer.

That’s how the Prince’s Seeing is Believing works

The executives were on the first event organised outside Europe, in 2006 in Mumbai The Prince’s Seeing is Believing events had been tremendously successful in the UK for over 20 years

It was also featured in article in Ethical Corporation…..

http://www.ethicalcorp.com/content/csr-india-seeing-believing

After a series of similar visits helping bring corporately responsibility alive and to show its relevance to even the most disconnected business, the delegates were to join executives from around India for one of the first sustainability conferences held in India in partnership with the Bombay Chamber of Commerce at the Taj. The following week the team were to deliver a series of interactive workshops to show small business here in Mumbai how being a responsible business wasn’t just about community partnerships and that it also related to all aspects of business behaviour and the big clincher was, it would help the business survive, grow and thrive….

I’d organised the whole thing jointly with Malcolm Lane the Corporate Affairs Director from TCS in London,(an inspiring man and more of him later) with an amazing team from from TCS in India, Bombay Chamber of Commerce, colleagues from Business in the Community and Impact International in the UK and the series of NGOs we highlighted on the event.

The executives would go back and report on what they’d seen and how they as a company were planning to act to demonstrate their own credentials as a responsible business to HRH the Prince of Wale, all very neat, when it works…

Ok so back to the Prince and Vandana (sorry Vandana, I feel we’re first name terms as you’ve had so much influence on my life.) My first visit ten years ago to India, I fell in love with the place and on my return to the Uk was on the look out for anyway to get me back ….. I’d go out for an annual holiday each winter but there was something more….Vanadana’s article and the Prince’s memo to my CEO led to me organising these events in India

me, I subsequently went on to help organize more of these events here in india and then an innovation to help design leadership programs that provided valuable experiential learning experiences through short collaborations with community based NGOs here in India.

thank you to the team Malcolm, Peter, Jo, Simon, Vandana (from BCC and now HSBC), Prema (from BCC then to Vodafone) ( the business executives who came, particularly Ian and of course the others… HRH the Prince of Wales and Vandana Shiva for helping me get so connected to India

Sand – The Great Escape

Sand Karma, from cradle to grave to be born again. The long tentacles of the mafia imprisons the sand by dredging the lakes and rivers, looting the embankments, stealing sand wherever it can, and bribing where it needs to… Dotted around our countryside we see in our rivers, small round boats like metal coracles or Bella (Jaggery) cauldrons or gangs attacking the river banks. These are the starting point for the convoys of bullock carts filled with the precious cargo.
After a sometimes long and arduous journey from river bed or bank, to cart, to truck, to city distribution point (to become official) and then on again (its a wonder there’s no sand travel sickness or maybe there is) to be dumped, unceremoniously outside the mushrooming building sites, found throughout the city. Only then to be reincarnated, as a grey mix, for the greater good of the ‘development’ (some might say ruin) of our great heritage city.

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But this isn’t a sad tail of the demise of sand, the loss of its identity or of its sacrifice to the greater good…..no way.

One or two of our sand grain friends, reunited with water (their very own vehicle) from the previous nights torrential rainfall, seize the opportunity and escape form the constructors piles and become part of a great escape.

This morning the roads are covered with a layer of sand, in time, some might be scraped into little piles and recaptured but some will have managed to reach the storm drains, and on to a new life..

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So next when you notice sand on the road and maybe you feel a bit irritated by the sand on your shoe. Spare a thought for the hard life of sand. Remember the triumphs and tribulations of the grain of sand and its great escape in its long march to the sea.

I owe it all to HRH Prince of Wales and Vandana Shiva

Well that’s not strictly true, but without them really knowing, they were a significant help in my move to India and all that we have here now.

The Prince of Wales, whilst he’s next in line to the throne in the UK, is amazingly ‘in touch’ with key issues facing our societies.. Whether it’s architecture, environmental impact, young people or as in this case, what it means to be a responsible business, he has many ways to keep his ‘ear to the ground’, for example, through an impressive network of contacts. Vandana Shiva, is one of them. Vandana is an academic and activist based here in India that really takes action and brings theory into practice to make a real and lasting difference.

Ten years ago after my first visit to India I returned at the end of a short sabbatical back to my employer who was Business in the Community (BITC). For twenty years BITC had worked to promote responsible business practice (or CSR) amongst UK based corporates. (some might say, its a world leader in the field) My role was to advise, guide and support various corporates in their attempts to be more responsible businesses. While I’d been away in India, Vandana had written to the Prince, highlighting a whole series of issues about business behaviour. Let’s just say their behavior wasn’t consistent with their stated values particularly in an international context. No surprise there then!

So to cut the proverbial long story short….. The Prince suggested that Business in the Community, of which he’s President, should begin to work more internationally. As a first step we decided to pilot his highly successful Prince’s Seeing is Believing events (executive study tours) in India. Wow! Just what I was looking for. An excuse to get back to India and return on a regular basis. I’d fallen in love with it’s people and places. Of course I over-excitedly volunteered. I therefore set up ( in addition to my normal job of course) a series of round table discussions in the UK for businesses who were also operating in India, organised three pilot Prince’s Seeing is Believing Tours, a sustainability conference with the Bombay Chamber and identified partner organisations throughout India.

So through the Prince’s Seeing is Believing events, I’d organised, I became a guide for executives visiting India where we tried to get them to see beyond the AC bubble of their hotels, offices or cars. To take them into communities and help them to begin to think what it meant to be a responsible business, in the Indian context.

Above all. I’d got back to the India I loved, with the promise of repeated visits and had a fab excuse to get to know the people and the country on a completely different level. I met and got to know some of the incredible people setting up invaluable projects to reach out to some of the poorest people in greatest need. In my own small way I’d help engage corporates in partnerships with Indian communities and their organisations.

Now of course, I live here. I’m still a guide. Whether it’s for tourists on my cycle tours here in Mysore or corporate participants in the workshops I deliver in London for the CR academy. So I thank Business in the Community, and indirectly HRH Prince of Wales and Vandana Shiva for that first opportunity to fulfil my India destiny.

Sustainably Cycling

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I moved to Mysore over four years ago and was pleased to discover that there was already some interest in leisure cycling. One of my early cycle trips organised by Sham Sunder, an inspirational guy, who is Director of National Institute of Engineering’s CREST also highlighted that Mysore had a significant movement in the use of sustainable technologies and organic farming. This was proving to be a very interesting place.

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Golden Opportunity

The new companies act in India and the Responsible Business week in the UK are two of the many opportunities for businesses to stop, reflect and, I would hope, work towards being a more responsible company. It is of course a constant and continuing journey.

In this case, in my view, a business needs to look BP –  that is Beyond Philanthropy.

Philanthropy is undoubtedly a force for good and some of the real catalysts and facilitators such as Dasra, Innovaid or Centre for Responsible Business in India or Business in the Community in the UK are helping individuals and businesses look beyond the simple ‘crumbs off the table’ approach to philanthropy, to something much more strategic that can be scaled up and therefore make a significant difference on the social landscape. Well done to them, they’re doing a great job

Its important that philanthropy leads to investment in our communities that has a lasting effect but that isn’t enough. If our businesses in India or the UK or anywhere else for that matter stop there, at what is just a baby step, they are less likely to survive as a business. There are many mature companies that are leading in this field and in the future will thrive partly because they are already looking way beyond philanthropy and so are already doing much much more. Their stories are invaluable to help guide and support us all.

To go Beyond Philanthropy for a business, is to look at all aspects of their business and its behaviors, of course, recognising and responding first and foremost to what’s relevant to their own business and essentially understanding and interacting in a sensitive way to all their stakeholders. In my view its about aligning with the overall business strategy, gaining buy-in at all levels, developing a shared understanding, adopting a straightforward model and continually reviewing, adapting and changing.

I’m now developing (as well as spending sometime with corporates) my very small business here in India and its just as important for me to think about how I serve my customers, treat my employees, and grow my business in ways that are ultimately sustainable. Otherwise other people who are socially and economically excluded will be left behind in the headlong pursuit of economic growth  and if we’re not extremely sensitive I wonder what will be left of the world for us to support our living and for us to enjoy.

I hadn’t quite intended that http://www.meandmycycle.com would so quickly get into this subject but its been asked of me and I suppose its unsurprising now that I’ve just completed working in the field for fifteen years.

 

I’d value your view and if there is the interest could continue the conversation.

Stephen