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More to IT than mere business Business sense

Smaller IT firms can learn a thing or two about social obligations from foreign players

As an unapologetic Hollywood film fan for many years, I could not notice something unusual about the obituaries that followed the recent passing away of Paul Newman, remembered with affection in India for his role in films like “The Sting” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “The Towering Inferno.” Almost equal space was devoted to his charitable initiatives, his drug rehabilitation camps and his brand of gourmet products “N ewman’s Own,” whose profits were fully ploughed into worthy causes. What a way for a celebrity to go... to be remembered not just for his professional achievements but for the debt that he paid back to society.

Let’s face it; as a nation we do not “give” in a routine way, unless our instincts are jogged by a disaster or drive of some kind. This type of attitude permeates all sections of society — and the huge technology industry in this city and State is no exception. Let us for a moment look beyond the big players like Infosys, Wipro or TCS (who have put their money into many worthy causes) and turn our attention to the hundreds of small and medium enterprises that base their fame and name on what Bangalore offers by way of talent and skill. When did you last stumble on an initiative by these small guys that helped changed life for the better albeit in a tiny way for the less advantaged?

They have coined a neat phrase for this: CSR — corporate social responsibility — and there are incentives aplenty including tax breaks for those who show that there is more to IT than mere business. But are there enough takers?

We must in fairness, hand it to the foreign “guests” here: In the six years or so since I have been reporting on the IT scene here, I have seen any number of international companies set up an India base here. Within a year or two of getting down to business, they have “cased the joint” as the Americans say and homed on to a local need towards which their philanthropy might be usefully challenged. More importantly, they encourage their Indian staff to devote a portion of their paid hours to address some socially relevant need. The point here is, “giving” beyond the shrewd goals of business is almost institutionalised. A certain percentage of income is set aside in every geography of operation of transnational players — and CSR is discharged, professionally, with the same care that is lavished on bottom-line-improving core activities.

I know for a fact that when Michael Dell played a flying visit to the city last week, he set aside some time in the one working day he had to review the company’s dozen or so volunteer programmes here: the learning centre for destitute kids run with Parikrma; a HIV rehab centre; an SOS children’s village in Hyderabad; a centre for the visually challenged in Chandigarh... I could go on. Mr Dell does this world-wide where ever his company has a presence (and in a few where it hasn’t).

Some IT players funnel their “pro bono” efforts into directly educative programmes — like AMD. Hector Ruiz, their enigmatic Chief Executive, has left the company; when he came here last year as CEO, he spent 15 minutes briefing me with great enthusiasm about his pet project called 50 by 15: Internet access for 50 per cent of the world’s population by 2015. Thankfully AMD in India continues to carry out his vision — starting with two learning labs in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Intel has long been a strong presence in teacher training: I wear a wristwatch I once got gratis after an Intel media camp. Whenever I am amongst teachers, one will walk up and say: “I see you are wearing an Intel watch. Did you do the IT course?” Sadly I have to admit, I got it for doing nothing, but thousands of school teachers have earned it the hard way by passing a training course and then imparting IT skills to their class.

Almost every international IT player in Bangalore has similar programmes in place. The point is they do it, no matter how “small” they are on a global platform. It is their obligation to society, wherever they operate. How one wishes, one could say “Every Indian company, does it too.”

Today, I can’t truthfully say so. There are myriad local issues that they could address, making a small difference to their host city and its people. Get to IT guys!


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