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While corporate social responsibility is being questioned in the U.S., a recent Harvard Business Review study, featured in the recently published book  The India Way, reports that Indian businesses are reinventing the role corporations play in the welfare of its country’s citizens.

A quartet of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business interviewed CEOs from 98 leading Indian companies. What they found is that being responsible and sustainable are core values for Indian companies. CSR is not seen as a side project, like it is for many companies in the developed world, but rather as an integral component to their operations.

India is in a unique position: its economy is growing at a rapid rate and there will be no shortage of labor in the foreseeable future. India is on track to become a major economic power. The power to reinvent the way business is done lies in the hands of these companies. And they way they do business differs dramatically from their Western counterparts.

Infosys is one of the largest IT firms in India with more than 100,000 employees. In 1996, its leaders started the Infosys Foundation, which, among other initiatives, has built and staffed entire hospitals in different regions of the country. The company also started the “Catch Them Young” program to expose urban youth to the IT sector. Not only is Infosys contributing to the welfare of society, but it is also training the next generation.

The Tata Group is the largest private corporation in India and consistently appears on international lists ranking the most respected companies. More than 65% of the profits from this huge multinational corporation go to charity.

Meanwhile, Dr. Reddy’s, India’s second largest pharmaceutical firm, provides for the health care needs for 40,000 children.

Even multinational corporations with operations in India are getting in on the act. Recently, seven companies—Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Mars, PepsiCo and Unilever—took  an “India Pledge” to not advertise unhealthy beverages and food to children under 12 on TV, in print, on the internet or in schools. Could you imagine any of those companies doing anything similar in the U.S.?

These companies are proving that CSR does not have to be a side project; when responsibility is at the core of a company’s values, the payoff applies to everyone.

Many CEOs and academics believe that in order to engage in CSR activities, a company must forfeit some of its profit-making ability. Studying the leading Indian companies—ones that have managed to increase profits and improve society—could do corporations a world of good.

Related Reading
Harvard Business Review Blog: Imagining the Future of Leadership
Harvard Business Review Article: Leadership Lessons from India

Book: India Way: How India’s Top Business Leaders are Revolutionizing Management

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