March 2007

Social Commitments Reaffirmed

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That India's social problems are high on the agenda of  technology companies was in evidence at The Global CSR Conclave, organized by Nasscom Foundation in Mumbai, on 9th February. The event was significant for its exemplary focus on social issues pertaining to livelihood, healthcare, and education, with the CSR track having a theme, “Community Development: A Social Investment and Economic Exercise.”

If initiatives by Nasscom Foundation are any indication, the technology companies, mainly those in software, are keen to shed the elitist sheen and seen tackling complex social issues that perturb the underprivileged sections of the society.

The conference brought lot many perspectives in focus and touched a plethora of issues where corporate social responsibility has a stake. This holistic objective reverberated all through the conference, with the desire to enlarge the role in social space and gain an edge in global markets.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who delivered the keynote address, lauded the new effervescence in the IT industry and called it a “step in the right direction”. Laced in humour, Amartya Sen noted that when he received the invite, he had “wondered why Nasscom was inviting an economist like me and I doubted whether it could have been a case of mistaken identity.”

On a serious note, Sen reminded that the IT industry was obligated to the Indian society because, if not for the focus on technical education after Independence and the liberalization that happened in 1991, the IT industry would not have been in a position where it was now.

IT sector has a big responsibility towards making India a more equitable country. One of the huge obstacles to the development of the local market was the low priority and investment in literacy, schooling and healthcare. 

Making a comparison between India and China, Sen observed, “One of the reasons for the larger domestic reach of IT in China is its much wider base than India, borne out of good schooling.  The same goes for a much wider base of elementary healthcare in China, though this has been going through a turmoil, after the Chinese economic reforms started in 1979 and abolished free healthcare and asked citizens to rely more on privately purchased health insurance”. 
 
Looking at the healthcare scenario in India, Sen called for sustained action to expand its reach and quality, where technology industry can contribute substantially because of its resources and pool of quality manpower. Quoting a historical anecdote, Sen observed that
the Chinese traveller Fahian had recorded, centuries ago, after a visit to the then Pataliputra and now Patna, that the “Indian medical care was much better than the Chinese medical systems in terms of quality and reach.” Sen quipped that now the truth is in the opposite.

Amartya Sen released 'Catalysing Change'

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