Corporate Responsibility and Community Development

Towards a Creative Integration.

Key Perspectives

Human development process in a community; corporate interventions; business as a catalyst for social transformation; towards integral prosperity.

The aim of community development cannot be exclusively the poor and under privileged, but the development of the community as a whole with an emphasis on empowering people, equitable growth, communal harmony and progressive evolution of the community towards it highest and integral potential.

Most of the CSR concepts and practices in business are focused on the poor and disadvantaged section of the society. Though this is very much necessary, a broader and a more holistic perspective which views corporate social responsibility as a social intervention for felicitating and participating in the development of a community as a whole will probably lead to a better result in the long-term

The 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.

One of the major aims of this third stage of development is to fully internalize the triple values of French revolution in the mind, heart and soul of the people so that the outer civic liberty, equality or fraternity becomes a spontaneous expression and organization of the inner liberty, equality and fraternity, firmly established in the consciousness of the community. As the outer needs of the body and life are reasonably fulfilled, the predominant thrust of development has to shift from economics, politics or external machinery to the awakening and fulfillment of the deeper, higher and inner needs of the mind, heart and soul through education and human resources development.

The execution of this integral vision of development requires a network of institutions and organization working together in close co-operation for the total development of the community. The main players would be government organizations, NGOs, donor agencies, business, local institutions which represent the will, voice and wisdom of the people and other organizations which have specific expertise in dealing with the various stages or aspects of development. The administrative organ which governs the development process should contain representatives from all these institutions. Management of the development process requires an apex body which draws the strategic plans and goals, co-ordinates and monitors the activities of the various institutions and directs them to the targeted goals. Each institution involved in the development process, especially its leaders and managers, should have a clear perception and understanding of the integral vision and its specific role in it, even while focusing its attention and effort on some aspects, domains or tasks of development. In other words, community development has to be a co-creative process in which all the stakeholders contribute to the evolution and growth of the group. The distinguished management thinker C.K. Prahalad has more or less similar conception of development in the context of poverty-alleviation. In one of his influential books on a market-driven approach to elimination of poverty, Prahalad states:

“The vision that is presented in the following pages is the co-creation of a solution to the problem of the poor. The opportunities at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) cannot be unlocked if large and small firms, government, civil society organization, development agencies and the poor themselves do not work together with a shared agenda.”

The Corporate Interventions

What is the role of business in this vision of community development? The task of business is two fold: First is to provide products and services which correspond to the progressive and evolving human needs, and in the process earn profit for it, 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 and 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, business is much better equipped than other stakeholder and therefore can make a crucial contribution for accelerating the development process.

Business as a Catalyst for Social Transformation

However, business can also take one more step beyond community development to become a catalyst for the transformation of the human society as a whole. But why business? Because, business has certain unique competencies which the other social organs do not possess. Willis Harman, a leading New Age thinker, describes some of these unique competencies of business:

“As the dominant social institution on the planet business and industry will play a key role in shaping the future of the globe. Business corporations are far more flexible and adaptive than government bureaucracy, education systems or other institutions; the ability to respond quickly to changes in the environment is part of their very nature. Further more, business has attracted into its leadership positions some of the brightest and most competent persons in society. For these reasons the role of business is crucial in addressing the extremely difficult times ahead. Furthermore the dominant institution in a society needs to take the responsibility for the whole.” (Harman. W, 1993)

But the most important competency is the capacity for execution of ideas. Among modern social organs business has the most efficient, innovative and productive executive force with a great capacity to convert an idea into a material reality. If the idea is sufficiently potent, creative and transformative, business can become a great instrument for social transformation.

Towards Integral Prosperity

What is the idea which can lead to a total transformation of the society? It can be a new paradigm of management based on the concept of Integral Prosperity.

Modern economic systems and sciences like business or management are concerned mainly with outer prosperity. This is a legitimate aim of economics and for a business organization which is part of the economic life of the community. But the main problem here is that outer prosperity is pursued rather exclusively and at the expense of the inner well-being and progress of the individual and the collectivity. A more integral approach to management will strive to correct this imbalance; it will aim towards integral prosperity which means inner as well as outer prosperity.

Inner prosperity means a rich and harmonious development of all the faculties and powers of the human being from the lowest physical to the highest spiritual. When this inner prosperity is channelised harmoniously and integrally into the outer life and every activity of the outer life, it will lead to an outer prosperity which will be of a much higher quality than the one created by modern corporate culture.

The prosperity of modern nations and the corporate world is the result of a highly developed scientific, technological and pragmatic mind of the community expressing itself in the outer life. Development of this part of the human mind is a part of the ideal of integral prosperity. But in the modern economic and corporate culture, the other and higher faculties like the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual do not find sufficient opportunity and encouragement for self-expression. The integral approach will give equal opportunity and encouragement to the development and self-expression of these higher faculties. This will lead to a higher quality of corporate life which will be suffused with the creative vision and values of the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual powers of the human being. Thus, in this integral approach to Management, the inner development and fullness of the individual will be the foundation, and the outer progress and prosperity will be a spontaneous expression of this inner progress and fullness.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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