about us
  areas of expertise
  our projects
  ideas & resources


  Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article


Companies Adopting Villages

Omkar Goswami


This being my first article of the new year, I thought of sharing with you what seems to be both a humane and profound idea. It comes from two people: my wife, Radhika, and Dr. D.V. Kapur, a wise gentleman who was earlier the chief of NTPC and then Secretary to the Government of India.


Both have given a great deal of thought on what we as a nation can do to improve the lot of rural India, especially our villages. Both have realised that most government sponsored schemes amount to precious little because of acute failures of the bureaucracy in design and implementation. Their solution is unpretentious, easy to kick off, and has a good chance of success. Because it involves the corporate sector.


The idea is simple. Within a month or so, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh should invite twenty senior, socially conscious corporate chieftains. With his trademark politeness, Dr. Singh should request each to identify ten villages that their companies can adopt over the next five years. Typically, these villages will be in clusters, located close to their factories, plants, mines or significant hubs. The companies should then take up the responsibility of ensuring that these villages have the basic amenities that they have been long starved off. Such as primary schools that work; text books that become available; teachers who are paid in time and, therefore, teach; dispensaries and primary healthcare centres that have adequate stocks of basic medicine, a doctor or dispenser and a reasonably trained midwife or health-worker; water that is conserved; solar or other power that lights homes; roads that are not so gutted that farm produce cannot be taken to the mandis in time; a public call booth that allows villagers to connect to the wider world.  And other such absolutely basic facilities which we take as granted but which most villages don’t have.


All this requires relatively little funding, but a great deal of excellence in execution with sustained attention to details. For the initiative to succeed, all actions should be routed through the panchayat, so that village community takes full ownership of every initiative. Each company could assign a person — ideally a young MBA or a fresh post-graduate recruit — to manage this initiative, and report to a senior and adequately empowered person in the corporate hierarchy. Other than becoming a more humane and aware person, this young MBA will get to know way more about rural India and its many markets than s(he) ever would sitting in a big city — knowledge that could subsequently be leveraged for profit-making corporate initiatives.


Being result oriented entities, one expects each of these companies to prepare annual and half-yearly plans, with budgets, milestones and deliverables. One also expects each sponsoring CEO to closely monitor the progress in order to showcase the project to the rest of the world and earn kudos. And once a year, the Prime Minster can visit some of these village clusters not only to see what has happened at the ground level but also to give his “Shabash” to the companies.


Radhika and Dr. Kapur feel that such an initiative can cause enormous positive ripple effects. If these clusters show tangible success in the first year or so, the bet is that other corporates would want to get on to the bandwagon. Everybody likes being applauded by political leaders, especially the PM. More significantly, every worthwhile Indian CEO that I have met wants to do something for the nation, and this would be an excellent opportunity for companies to showcase their social commitment. Besides, the initiative hardly costs much. My estimate is around Rs.50 lakh per village per year, or Rs.5 crore for a cluster of ten. Even if one were to add another 20 per cent, it can’t amount to more than Rs.6 crore per year. The government might even add a sweetener by announcing a capped tax write-off for such an initiative.


Unlike the 100-day employment guarantee scheme, this initiative can make a real difference to our villages. Because it will be executed by proper managers who are trained to implement — and not by local-level babus who are trained to pass time.     


Published: Business World, January 2006


                 Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article