Friday, June 25, 2010

Good, not greed, is good–and profitable

From The Inquirer

IN 1987, “GREED IS GOOD” Became the mantra that symbolized the excesses of the decade, an era of yuppies lining up to work at Wall Street, obsessed with making more money, regardless of the cost to society.

How would the children born in this era, whose parents were exposed to Gordon Gekko and the glorification of wealth above all, end up? This year, we get a close look at how these children, now in college or recently graduated, have fared as business schools around the world converge at the Ateneo de Manila this July for the 16th World Forum of the International Association of Business Schools.

India is a particularly interesting case study. This year, around three million will graduate from college to find work in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. India is a world leader not just in business process outsourcing and software development, but also in steel, telecoms, and, with Tata’s purchase of Jaguar and Rover, even automobiles as well.

But prosperity has not been widespread, as students at the Xavier Labor Relations Institute (XLRI) in Jamshedpur, India, found out when they went on a tour of rural areas.

“Our first visit to a village shattered any illusions we had about the progress of our country,” writes Chintan Agarwal, one of the students at XLRI. “What we found was a whole range of cultures faltering to the exceedingly competitive, biased and short-sighted world. A lot of introspection and a few meetings later, we knew we had to do something and we knew we could.”

What they did was a venture called Parichay, which worked to sell the products of rural and tribal artisans from the communities, to the world at large.

The students set up a Design and Learning Center to train artisans in innovative and contemporary designs, as well as to improve their production processes. The products of these rural artisans are now available online ( and the venture now provides direct livelihood to 30 artisans, while giving opportunities to 100 others.

That India, with its huge and largely poor population, poses numerous social problems seems to have spurred, rather than deterred, innovation in entrepreneurship.

Noted management guru C.K. Pralahad cites outstanding cases of Indian companies being profitable by focusing on the ‘bottom of the pyramid,’—engineering products to meet a price point low enough for the poor to purchase, without sacrificing essential quality.

That philosophy—of identifying a social problem and developing an innovative solution - essentially guides social entrepreneurs as they go about with the passion to do good, and to do well while doing so.

The Economist, in a special report on entrepreneurship last March 2009, points out that entrepreneurship is reshaping the voluntary sector as much as the private one.

Rich people have often turned their hand to philanthropy in their later years, but this old story has acquired some new twists. Today’s entrepreneurs routinely apply business techniques to philanthropy.

A prime example of how business techniques were applied to solve a problem can best be seen in the case of Samanvit ( which wanted to provide electricity to villages in remote, off-grid areas in rural India.

Rather than use expensive solar cells, Samanvit, a venture created by another group of XLRI students, developed technology to generate electricity by using the common ox that can be found anywhere in India.

Oxen, tied to a gear and pulley mechanism, walk around and generate enough electricity to light up to 50 CFL lamps for up to five hours. ”

The entire setup can be achieved at the fraction of the cost for solar lighting,” the group explains, while making rural Indians more self-reliant.

Around the world, management education is being influenced by the drive toward social entrepreneurship, as Jesuit schools open the eyes of idealistic and talented students to a new mantra: good, not greed, is good—and profitable.

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