Can We Do Better than CSR?
In India, Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act (2013) relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR). For a few years now, it requires companies clocking over a certain turnover or profit, to spend 2% of (their three-year annual) net profit on CSR activities each financial year.
Allotting profits to CSR in general, and to the environment in particular however, seems more a post-mortem thing to do. Especially now that we humans have brought the world to the brink, with regard to the climate, animal and plant life.
Because that is how CSR seems to be designed. Conduct business in any manner you please. And at the end of the year, give 2% towards corporate social responsibility initiatives. And you are absolved of ecological sins committed inadvertently or otherwise, in the course of business. The 2% seems like a ‘no-questions asked’ opportunity for redemption, irrespective of the damage done.
What if, instead, companies could be made to be responsible from the time they start business? If every action, employee, step and process for an existing business was also committed to align with environmental needs?Not in a punitive way. But maybe a set of guidelines that businesses could introduce towards becoming more holistically responsible from the starting line. Perhaps the corporate ministry could help.
What if companies could be made to be responsible for every action, employee, step and process?
Patagonia, the American outdoor clothing company. Founded in 1973, it has been striving to align increasingly with environmental needs. It commits 1% of total sales to environmental groups, and a few years ago, donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental organizations. This company should provide for some inspiration. A close friend recently shared this interesting article about its founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his views on sustainability, and why it’s not too late to save the planet. Interesting read.
Build responsibility into the corporate or startup value system and into everyday actions of all employees of the company. That’s the only way we can collectively grow without triggering global catastrophes each year.
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This amusing but perhaps effective picture I saw in this tweet last month got some thoughts rolling.
We could all use some personal space in public. Especially in countries like India. Where the population, combined with the general lack of regard for other’s personal space can be quite a challenge. Growing up, I have been in several queues, where, people behind you are far too much in a hurry. So they stand next to you. In rare cases, they might even try to get ahead of you when you finally reach the counter. Or they’re peering over your shoulder, as you ask the bank teller something, or pay for your train ticket, or are about to place your food order.
But that said, have you ever been to a restaurant where you had to share a table with strangers? Where, if you walked in alone, or with two other people, you could only occupy that many seats at a table. Because other customers would sit in the remaining available seats. Or they would ask you to scootch over.
And did you feel an invasion of your privacy? Did it make you uncomfortable? Or did it make you think, ‘what the hell, it’s just for a snack, so why not go with it?’
There are a few such places in Bombay, that I visit from time to time.
I am still confused if these are times of personal space, or the conceding of personal space to technology…But while we’re in that confusion, I have found such restaurants to be something that keeps us social. Even if for the brief time we are there to gulp down a milkshake or eat a quick bite between legs of shopping.
At such tables, we finally notice other people, even if for a brief moment. Out of curiosity, we might even peep at what they’ve ordered, how they’ve dressed, or how they eat. Some of us might feel a mental nudge to eat faster, so as not to hold up others queuing up outside. We might be polite to pass on the menu to someone seated at the same table. Or pass the salt or a paper napkin. We might even start a conversation, or join in for a shared laugh about something funny that occurred.
Most importantly, we notice other human beings almost uninterrupted, for a brief moment in time. And it is without the invisible glass walls around us.Something that otherwise takes an accident or mishap or an argument for us to perhaps notice.
Some of us might also be inclined to be a little more civil, and less noisy than we ordinarily are.
But in all, I think such places do the opposite of what technology is doing for us humans. These places bring us closer.
I’ve created a list of the few restaurants I have visited, that have the shared table format. Here’s the list.
If you have come across this kind of a format in your own city or country, or during your travels, you could enter details about it below, and I’ll update the list above. That way, perhaps with time, the list could provide us with details about shared table establishments in different parts of the world.
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Lose Your Illusion
Sometime last year, I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s girlfriend who is a psychologist. Between drawing inferences from my handwriting to discussing human behaviour in general. She also mentioned the acute dearth of mental health personnel in the country (India) at the moment.
I did some reading around that. The most recent global statistic on number of psychiatrists and nurses in the mental health sector was by WHO. The study dates back to 2014. According to it, 30.4% of the world’s countries had less than 1 professional per 100,000 population. There’s also no data available on another 35.5% of the countries.
And while Monaco had a commendable 40.98 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, in India, that number was a shameful 0.30. That means, there’s one psychiatrist for every 300,000 of the population. Or a total of between 3500 and 5000 psychiatrists in the country.
Then there are psychologists (they council, and focus on treating mental and emotional suffering but cannot prescribe medications; unlike psychiatrists, who mainly focus on treatment with medication) As per Sindhu BS, a Mental Health Therapist on Quora, the Indian Psychology Association, of which she is a member, has less than 10,000 members in 2018. Another source mentioned some 14000-15000 psychologists in India. India is already on the higher end of the spectrum as of 2016 when it came to suicides. At 18.5 per 100,000 population.
And here’s why this will be even more concerning going forward. The world is seeing a steadily growing impact of automation on jobs across sectors. India has been shielding employment in every way possible. Resisting industrial automation to maintaining average quality of work worked well for a section of average skilled, low-cost labour. But how long can it continue to do so before it starts feeling the negative global impact of it? Additionally, India is on its path to soon being the largest population in the world. It is also on the verge of being the youngest population in the world.
Young Indians are pouring into different sectors which will have a steadily shrinking job base. This could lead to a spike in the depression and suicide numbers. But is the country and its government anticipating and doing anything to build a safety net for that?
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Actions With and Without a Face
Even today, you can see people of some races cringe or gasp at the sight of the swastika, the symbol of Hitler’s party. Even though the swastika has much older roots. And Hitler himself, continues to be collectively and strongly hated today, over 72 years after his death. And rightly so. He and his people were the cause of unspeakable oppression and death. Collectively, around 42 million deaths (soldiers and civilians), and even more as per some historical estimates. What probably makes it most glaring, is the short span of 12 years across which this happened. And as the leader of the Nazis, Hitler remains the face of all the death and destruction by his people.
Going back again in time, the British atrocities in their colonies is another story altogether. In India alone, their rule lasted around 184 years. And this time too, was witness to unspeakable oppression and the death. Approximately 40-54 million Indians. Dead! Due to starvation. Due to manual labour; and worse, through artificially created famines. When we compare the British kill report card with that of Hitler’s, it happened over a comparatively much longer 184 years. But there is no single face of the oppression. Which is also perhaps why it lasted so long. And was so much more deep-rooted.
In present times, the world citizens should always be on the look out for the second kind of mass-murderers. Eaters of countries. Because the world is a dynamic flow of information, even if a lot of it is manipulated by whorish media, the world citizen is still aware, and will not tolerate a single face of oppression for too long.
However, the second kind of oppression won’t have a single face, or perhaps have one that appeases a section of the masses, speaks directly to their concerns and hopes; while the arms of the organization carry out deep-rooted decay.
Many of us have heard of the myth around the frog and hot water experiments. While frogs aren’t so tolerant to heat, history bears testimony of human ignorance to oppression without a face.
British colonies were a live example of it. Albeit not the most subtle example, given the difference in race/ colour, etc. But imagine the harm a domestic movement with ulterior motives can do. Let’s ensure we guard against history repeating itself in other forms, but using similar tactics.
Democracy has rested on four pillars. The legislature, executive, the judiciary, and arguably the most important, the press. All the pillars need improvement, some far more than others. The world press, for instance, has really become dirty. When in reality, it should be a transparent communication channel between the citizen, the country, and the world.
In an increasingly connected globe, traditional media surprisingly continues to wield disproportionately high power. And it has been responsible for numerous crimes, the world over. From keeping entire populations in the dark, to convincing them about who the good guys and bad guys are. By encouraging unsolicited violence on other countries. Press has made large sections of otherwise peace-loving populations completely convinced of the need for war. Not always because any country was under attack. But because politicians and industry stood to benefit from tricking citizens and getting them onboard. And with business people and politicians ever interested in wielding influence over large media houses, it makes one wonder how we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to lies.
The Indian press too, continues to scale new depths by doctoring news or hiding it altogether, to favor various political parties.
Anyway, interestingly, the Congress, among the bigger corrupt parties, recently figured a simple way to fix the distorted media problem. After taking a lot of bashing by two leading TV news channels for some time, the party recently banned the channels from their press conferences. How much is a TV news channel worth if it doesn’t have access to a certain section of national news? Not as much as it had before, right?
Think about it. Let’s assume these two channels got a reality-check after this banning. Imagine then what we the people can, and must do, to get the press functioning the way it is meant to, not the underhand way it is paid to. The day the masses stop consuming lies served to us by these media, we will have withdrawn the right we gave them, and which they continue to abuse.
India has seen an almost meteoric rise in the number of SUVs and compact-SUVs in the last few years. Perhaps the size fits in well with our gradually growing economy, disposable incomes, and egos. Among things that haven’t grown, is our sense of driving and responsible presence on the road.
India’s roads are getting more dangerous. And the higher seated position makes it tougher for SUV drivers to see, especially around the vehicle. Add to this the narrow, blocked or poorly-lit (and therefore unsafe) footpaths/ sidewalks, and you have more and more pedestrians choosing to walk on roads instead.
This is why it becomes even more important for pedestrians walking with small children, to keep them on your side that is away from the traffic. This also means moving them from one side to the other on dividers, when crossing bi-directional traffic. Or carrying them when crossing roads. It is tough enough for drivers of hatchbacks and sedans, thanks to the lack of lane discipline and distracted pedestrians. But it will be more dangerous if pedestrians bank on just the cautiousness of SUV drivers, given their limited proximity view from their high seats. And slightly more so with women drivers.
The image above shows how you should never cross the road when accompanying children. You should be between the children and oncoming traffic.
Here’s an older post highlighting the risk [link here]
Our Right to Privacy
Towards the last week of August this year, here in India there was a landmark Supreme Court verdict that a lot of you must have heard/read about. It had something to do with the citizens of India, and our right to privacy. After the initial petitions that were filed long ago, a panel of eminent judges finally ruled that privacy is in fact, a fundamental right.
In an age where information sharing is growing at an astronomical pace, an attempt to safeguard privacy almost sounds ironical. And though our smartphones and apps make it difficult for a lot of us to even fathom if and how much we need privacy, we must be grateful to this bench of judges for thinking on our behalf and ruling in favour of the citizens.
Of course, the ruling wasn’t a no-questions-asked-right, but it does safeguard the core.
Chances are most of us would never get to reading the 547-page report ever. However, I do urge you to read just the verdict given by each of the judges. The choice of words and sentences are almost melodious. The depth of the analysis, and the absolute fairness and clarity of thought, is simply admirable. And it is something we should appreciate; it is your privacy and mine that they were safeguarding after all.
Here’s the link to the article: SC Verdict on Right to Privacy – What Each Judge Had to Say
And in case you’d want to go through the report too, here’s the link: Right To Privacy
China – The Punishment Due
It is another, and rather unfortunate matter, that all our politicians since independence, have not reflected the necessary concern for our borders and our people who live near it. But, it would be foolish to continue to push your luck, using the Sino-Indian war as a yardstick to compare powers. Back then, we were a young, relatively unaware, 13-year old country post-independence. If you really need proof of our military prowess, look no further than the Battle of Longewala of 1971. It remains, among the only battles in the history of the world, where an unimaginably outnumbered army faction held on, and won. That, is the Indian defense forces for you.
India’s Roads and Bottlenecks
Bottlenecks and traffic jams on the streets. Are they an unavoidable phenomenon, or something we caused or created? Same with the lack of lane discipline in Indian drivers. Are drivers always to blame? Or could it be, that some part of the problem is because of how our roads are designed?
Living in Bombay, I notice a few problems with our roads here. And if they exist in India’s second largest metro and financial capital, I suppose they exist in most other cities. Except perhaps in some planned cities like Pune.
Driving around Mumbai, one quickly notices that many roads do not have lane demarcations. And the ones that do, the lines are faded and almost invisible to the average driver. Then of course, there are those who think it’s easier to drive between two lanes, making this so much tougher for the rest of us.
If you live in some city or town in India, make sure to check if roads you frequent have lane demarcations. And also try to see how stretches that don’t have demarcations tend to make a driver’s lane discipline random.
There’s another thing I noticed about the roads. They didn’t seem to be planned such that, in a particular area, say you have a three-lane main road, which, while going through a broader junction, widens into 4 or even 5, and then narrows back, which is still alright. What is a pain, however, is where they have randomly taken patches of road, such that for a short section, the road would suddenly widen an additional 2-3 lanes, and then go back to its earlier width. And knowing how we fill each available inch of road with car or bike, drivers squeezing in to occupy the suddenly available extra lanes, only to cause a slowdown as the road narrows back, going ahead.
The above image is of a stretch of road near the National Stock Exchange building at BKC in Mumbai. The road itself [blue] seems to progress from left to right in a relaxed wave-like manner. It feels far more curved on the actual stretch. And here’s what makes it interesting and amusing. The road has varying width, waves along, and even has gradual rises and drops in terrain. Add to this mix, the average Indian driver’s Formula 1 driving technique, where they always choose to maintain good racing line over lane discipline. That makes this stretch especially tricky to drive on. Especially if you try to stick to one lane, while speeding vehicles veer dangerously close on both sides, at different parts of this stretch.
Hoping this post helps some team in the municipal corporation take note and do something to fix the problem.