“I am appealing to a little bit more than altruism”

by Jamsheed Gandhi    Feb 25, 2011

As the social development arm of Nasscom, the Nasscom Foundation has undertaken various social initiatives to help the underprivileged. In an interview to CXOtoday, Jaithirth (Jerry) Rao, Chairman, Nasscom Foundation shares his thoughts on how CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities are for real and how they can help us to build a better society.

What are the various social initiatives undertaken by the Nasscom Foundation?
The Nasscom Foundation started as an afterthought, but now has acquired a life of its own. What I like about some of our initiatives, are that they seemingly small stuff but they have a big value. For instance, the several thousand NGOs in India can buy hardware and legitimate software at deep discounted price. We also have some volunteering where employees from Nasscom member companies can participate such as www.mykartavya.com. We’ve got some training programs going on in different parts of the country where we train underprivileged people to get in to the IT and BPO industry. So we are doing a variety of things which are combining quite nicely, I would say civic society needs with corporate out reach.

Is CSR taken up seriously by companies or is it still lip-service?
This is always a question. Are we doing this as a PR gesture because we are accused of elitism and so we should do something? We must understand that these are early days, the results of our initiatives cannot be seen over a short period. The impact can only be seen in 5 to 10 years. So we should be very careful while measuring the outcomes and not get too far. For instance, if we train a few hundred people, it is not going to have a big impact on an industry which is hiring tens of thousands people.

I think we have to go back to crack two issues, one if there are more people using computers, mobiles phones and more people are connected, it has to help the industry. Getting the digital divide out means inclusive use of computational technologies and this goal remains. This is good for us economically, good for the country and good for the people. Secondly, the human capital development, it is good for us economically if we have more trained people the better it is. Now we have enough evidence that without human capital development forget our industry, the country at large is not going to prosper, which means this whole demographic dividend will go waste and all of us will suffer. These two over arching will continue. But then giving NGOs low cost software, how does this tie in? We have to work that out, because these decisions can be justified by themselves. The danger of getting caught in this micro good initiatives is that you forget the over arching theme. So you have to go back and forth with good tactics and good strategy.

Yes, the person who started the sms-based mohala, he has now become pretty big. I think he is self-sustaining, cash flow positive, he has gone abroad etc.

I think there are two, one is to try and embed in your business strategy itself, something that is inclusive, if you can make a product at lower price point to expand you are doing something inclusive. The second is to understand and be sensitive to the fact that in the absence of a good eco-system we all suffer. There is no point in having a great office, in a great campus, if there is dirt on the street, stray dogs, disease, uneducated children begging at the street corner. How we translate this sensitivity in to actual action? Different people can try different things, I don’t think there is one panacea. But I am appealing to a little bit more than altruism, I am appealing to what the Adam Smith called the external spectator looking in to you. And I think if a Martian were looking in to contemporary Indian today he would say these guys are stupid, they have great offices, great campuses and right outside they have stinking sewage lines, why don’t they do something about it. This external spectator we need to internalize.