Tatas, Reliance, Adani, Hindustan Unilever and a host of companies and individuals have come forward with donations of cash and infrastructure to help society meet the coronavirus challenge. Their interventions offer many lessons on how to businesses can tackle humanitarian crises in future.
Many Indian businesses have opened their purse strings to mitigate the social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s largest conglomerate, the Tata Group, has donated $200 million and launched several other schemes to help stakeholders cope with the losses they have suffered over the past year and a half.
Other corporate houses like Reliance Industries, the Adani Group, Hindustan Unilever, ITC, the Bajaj Group, the Mahindra Group as well as individuals such as Microsoft boss Satya Nadella, several Bollywood personalities, cricketers and others have also pitched with cash donations as well as infrastructure support.
As the second wave of the Covid-19 virus rampages through the world, it is causing social and economic disruption in its wake. India, which had managed to thwart the worst of the first wave, found itself in the cross hairs when the virus mutated and returned for a second run of destruction.
It has also focused attention like never before on the “S” of the “ESG” (Environment, Social and Governance) paradigm that many businesses swear by.
The Global Risks Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) says: “Underlying disparities in healthcare, education, financial stability and technology have led the crisis to disproportionately impact certain groups and countries. Not only has Covid-19 caused more than 2 million deaths at the time of writing, but the economic and long-term health impacts will continue to have devastating consequences.”
This is prompting many companies and businesses to take a closer look at the social side of their conduct vis-à-vis their employees, customers, shareholders and the wider communities they are part of. This can fundamentally alter the way at least some businesses interact with all their stakeholders.
An ORF study on the impact of Covid-19 has found that many survivors and/or families of those afflicted as well as many other impacted by loss of jobs and livelihoods, undergo the following emotions:
* Sense of isolation and despondency
* Social ostracism
* Perceived neglect by healthcare workers due to fear of getting infected
* Intensification of physical distress: primary disease + COVID-19 (sometimes associated with a comorbidity) and
* Financial distress
A McKinsey & Co. study says: “… corporate leaders are recognizing the need and opportunity to carefully re-consider their community investment and corporate social impact strategies. Seeing their company’s future success as even more closely intertwined with the health and economic well-being of their employees and their communities, they are asking a range of questions, including: ‘What new business risks and opportunities do we need to address?” “How and where should we invest? “What should our company’s social impact efforts look like in the Covid-19 era and for years to come?’”
Tata Steel, which has several global firsts to its credit, including the introduction of the 8-hour working day in 1912, free medical aid in 1915 and workers’ provident fund scheme in 1920 – much before they were introduced in Europe and the US – has led the way by designing a social security scheme to ensure that the families of all employees who succumbed to Covid will continue to receive the last drawn salary as well as medical and housing benefits due to them till the age of 60.
In addition, the scheme provides that the company will pay for the education of children of frontline workers contracting Covid on the job till the level of their graduation in any Indian institution.
“Tata Steel has taken the path of Agility with Care by extending social security schemes to the family members of the employees affected by COVID-19. While we do our bit, we urge everyone to help others around them in any capacity possible to get through these tough times,” the company said on Twitter.
Other Tata companies have also announced several measures to help combat the challenge posed by Covid-19.
Then, in a series of tweets, industrialist Anand Mahindra of Mahindra & Mahindra has announced that he is opening the group’s 5-star resorts as temporary care facilities and that the group’s project team will work with the government to set up Covid care centres for patients.
These are a few examples from dozens of such instances of corporate altruism. They offer some important lessons for businesses that want to make social interventions that have the maximum impact.
* To make a strong social impact, the relief programme must have clearly stated social and business goals.
* The business must allocate adequate resources to achieve those goals.
* Businesses must be ready to create cross functional teams that include their best human resources in fields such as CSR, operations, community development, marketing, finance, IT, etc.
* The team leader should have proven execution capacity, be of sufficient seniority and be empowered to take decisions on the spot.
These are just some of the ways in which businesses can help mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on society.