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.

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