Business and Community Development

In recent times social responsibility of business towards people is under sharp focus. An increasing number of companies all over the world gear up to meet this increasing expectation, there is a realization that corporate social responsibility is not just about addressing images of despair. Corporate Social Responsibility is more about a whole developmental process of planned change, aimed at lasting improvement in the quality of life at large.

– Tiki Basu,
‘Light House Stories’
published by Tata Group

Poverty is undoubtedly a great challenge facing humanity. But we must also look beyond poverty towards a more positive and holistic approach where poverty-eradication is a stage and not the aim of development. This article presents such a holistic vision for integrating corporate responsibility with community development.

Key Perspectives

Corporation and the community, human development process in a community; corporate interventions for community development.

Corporation and the Community

A business organization is not merely an economic entity; it is also a social organism, a human community. So one of the higher aims of a business organization is to integrate or harmonise its communal life with its surrounding environment. This must be the next step in the evolution of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement; it has to progress beyond some adhoc or isolated charitable projects to embrace the surrounding community as a whole. In other words, there must be an integration of CSR with the totality of the community development process. There is a natural process of human development in a community which can be accelerated by appropriate, creative intervention. Business has the competence to provide some of the most efficient and effective interventions acting as a catalyst for community development.

There is a concentration of resources, knowledge, competence and skill in a business organization, which it can share with the community of which it is a part. Among business leaders, J.R.D. Tata had a clear perception of this responsibility and also the potentiality of business for community development. He said “Every company has a special continuing responsibility towards the people of the area in which it is located. The company should spare its engineers, doctors, managers to advise the people of the villages and supervise new developments undertaken by cooperative efforts between them and the company.” We must note here that JRD’s conception of corporate responsibility goes far beyond charity or sharing of wealth towards sharing of capabilities. Thus, social responsibility should not remain on the fringe of the organization, as a decorative showpiece or a public relation exercise; it must become an integral part of the strategic objectives of the organization and a continual effort towards improving the quality of life of the surrounding environment. As the redoubtable doyen of management, Peter Drucker, points out:

“Because our society is rapidly becoming a society of organization, all institutions including business, will have to hold themselves accountable for the quality of life of the society and will have to make fulfillment of basic social values, beliefs and purposes a major objective of their continuing normal activities rather than a social responsibility that restrains or that lie outside of their main function.”

But how to achieve this integration? This requires an integration of the corporate strategy with the development needs and aims of the community. The first step in this task is to have a clear understanding of the different stages of community development in an integral perspective.

Human Development Process in a Community

A total human development process, which leads to this integral development of the human potential in a community, is made of three stages. These stages can be pursued simultaneously, but with a predominant emphasis on some aspects or dimensions of development at each stage.

The first stage involves fulfillment of the basic needs of the population; creation of employment opportunities and development of employable, productive and entrepreneurial skills in people; satisfaction of the desire for a better enjoyment of life and also better utilization of the opportunities of life; and finally creation of all other factors which lead to an overall material and economic well-being of the community like for example health, hygiene, nutrition and ecology. Second stage is the realization of the social, cultural and political well-being, which involves the actualization of the triple values of French revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity in the outer life and preservation of all that is valuable in the local culture. Liberty means not merely individual rights but a free participation of the people in their own development, especially in decision making, with maximum freedom to grow from within through a self-directed development and minimum of external rules or compulsion. Equality means equitable distribution of or access to wealth, power, knowledge, resources, opportunities and an equal, full and joyous participation of each individual in the communal life. Fraternity means social cohesion, solidarity, harmony and comradeship. The third stage is the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual development of the community.

In a more psychological perspective, the first stage is the fulfillment of the needs of the physical being or the body. Second stage is the satisfactions of the needs of the vital, emotional and sensational being for wealth, power, enjoyment, status, recognition, harmonious relationship, achievement, expansion, autonomy and mastery. Third stage is the quest of our higher mental, moral and spiritual nature for knowledge, understanding, values, ideals and reconnects our souls with the spiritual source of our own being and the universe, which is the highest aim of religion.

To implement this vision of development requires an integral approach with a balanced emphasis on the inner development of people as well as the outer development of the economic, social, political and ecological environment.

Corporate Interventions for Community Development

What is the role of business in this vision of community development? The task of business is twofold: First is to provide products and services which correspond to the progressive and evolving human needs, and in the process earn profit for itself, create wealth for the society and help the community to grow. The intrinsic function or dharma of business is to fulfill the material and economic needs of the community and strive for a constant & continuous improvement in the quality and wellbeing of the material and economic life of the group. However, as the community evolves and progresses beyond the initial stages of economic development to the higher stages of social, cultural and psychological development, business has to adopt itself to this growth and has to provide products and services which correspond to the needs of these higher stages of growth.

The second task of business is to provide the financial support, technical expertise and managerial competence for executing and implementing the vision. In this task, as we have indicated earlier, business is much better equipped than other organs of the society and therefore can make a crucial contribution for accelerating the development process. Here again, the nature of intervention may differ at each stage of growth. In the first stage when the need and nature of growth are predominantly material and economic, the developmental needs of the community more or less correspond to the core competence of a business organisation.

However, as the community grows beyond this first stage to higher stages, the developmental needs of the community may not exactly correspond to the core competence of a commercial organisation. But this need not be a big obstacle because one of the core competences of a business organisation is the ability to organise, which includes the ability to hire, bring in and organise the expertise which it doesn’t have to achieve the desired objective. For example, environmental engineering or management is not a part of the core-competence of McDonald, but the company hires or cooperates with NGOs which have the environmental expertise to achieve its sustainability objectives.

However, the best way for an organisation to provide effective intervention for the higher evolution of a community is to make a conscious effort to achieve this evolution within itself and transfer the experience, learning and expertise gained to the community. Most of the business organizations pursue growth in the techno-economic level. But as we have indicated earlier, a business organisation is not only an economic organism but also a social, political and cultural organism made of its relationship, power-structures and value-systems. Similarly, an organisations is made of its people who are psychological and spiritual being with immense potentialities of growth in this inner realms of consciousness. When an organisation has achieved a certain level of growth and mastery in the techno-economic and commercial levels, it has to shift its growth more and more towards these higher realms of life, which means focusing on the following tasks:

1. Building a harmonious and empowered community governed by the values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
2. Helping people to grow inwardly in the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual realms and express this inner growth in the outer life.
3. Creating an organizational environment and culture which encourages and fosters these higher growths.

An organization which pursues this higher growth can impart this growth to the community around it by transferring its learning to the community.


The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.

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