Unpacking the Myth of ‘Shared Value’

The past decade has led to an explosion in tri-sector interaction frame-works in popular business literature with leading American Policy Academic Joseph Nye exalting business leaders to re-frame their capabilities as a ‘Tri-Sector Athlete’; by adapting  the requisite tools required for each sector to maximize shared value.  The Private Sector under the wider conceptual rubric of Corporate Citizenship is working hand in hand with Philanthropic Foundations plus Global NGO’s and diffused citizen grassroots organizations to create an illusion of sensible corporate governance. Some drinking water here, some solar panels there is the current regime of tokenism.  Social Development Professionals who work in corporate funded foundations and think tanks often complain of being sidelined by the marketing team who hijack whatever good can be achieved in a transnational shareholder capitalism context with green washing the naïve consumers. A serious empirical study needs to be done of how effective the rhetoric about ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ in the past decade has really been. The black box of management fluff needs to be deconstructed in order to understand whether the ‘real’ shareholders are being hoodwinked in believing thin air rather than real meat.

How real is the ‘Shared Value’ for the citizen sector? Is the value for the 3rd sector only in terms of paying the flight tickets and hotel costs of top honchos of Green peace?  Let’s have some researcher do some Randomized Control Trials in a Monitoring & Evaluation Framework to know its efficacy.

As of now Shared Value has worked for Financial Institutions, FMCG Majors and Retail Chains to expand rural market share and procuring new targets (Grameen Group in Bangladesh has synergistic operating model- microfinance to dairy to telecom and rural renewable energy). I do not see how the power dynamics will work for the underfunded and undermanned non-profit in West Papua where the voices of marginalised communities are erased and co-opted in the name of Development for all in neoliberal governance architecture. Who is this ‘All’ after all?.

In order to operationalize this rather normative argument, let the corporations begin by making their current CSR initiatives more impactful by walking the talk, after all shared value should not be a footnote in its annual sustainability report, right?


Lessons in Business from a Bottom up Urban Entrepreneur

The Food & Beverages Sector is the most segregated and stratified in the country as it ranges from the street corner fast food joint to a reasonable eatery to the ephemeral star hotels.  An eatery has severe quality control limitations as an authorised eatery will have to get about 70 odd registrations and licenses done to open one. The F&B sector is glamorous with the Michelin Star Chefs sexing it up. Anyway the contemporary business media discourse is about eulogizing and manufacturing the myth of the entrepreneur. This post is about recognizing the potential for bottom up entrepreneurship in the ‘R’uban space and unpacking the black box of what makes an entrepreneur tick! (a term coined and popularized by Iconic Singaporean Architect & Urban Planner Tay Kheng Soon and recently quoted by Prime Minister Modi in his first Parliamentary speech)

The protagonist of the narrative is a certain Mr. Shyam who runs his corner store eatery in Gurgaon’s upmarket residential neighborhood, where he cooks and sells every single dish which the costumer demands. Costumer is King for him. Whether it is catering lunch to the office goer in the next block or the student who comes in for the rather oily fried Indian Noodles for an evening snack.   23 year old Shyam looks like a teenager due to his youthful dressing sense and negligible facial hair. His corner shop tries to deploy a modicum  of a restaurant with the napkin, the silver foil container for takeaways, proper cutlery and outdoor cane chairs. Well, the family run store tries its best to attract quality crowd. Shyam once quipped that even if folks are not eating and simply sitting on the outdoor cane chairs, it will give a signal to the prospective buyer that the store has a clientele and hence shall infuse confidence aka validation in the store, that He/She may try out the place. 

Brilliant business insight from a guy who just studied till Grade 6. Education has nothing to do with ability. Smriti Irani will make a great Cabinet Minister. A degree from Harvard or an IIT does not make for a good Entrepreneur or a seasoned politico (read some Mr. Kejriwal). Shyam left his town in Northern part of West Bengal at the age of 14 for Bangalore where he worked in a restaurant and learnt the tricks of the trade. In a few years, he moved to Gurgaon to start his corner store and moved up the social ladder.

Fire in the belly and being open to learning fresh ideas is the key to entrepreneurship. Humility, Drive and Risk taking ability are the traits that have distinguished Shyam from others of his habitus.

Simple Folks, Massive Insights. Entrepreneurship is a transformative social elevator.


The tough questions for the knowledge sector?

Global Capital is accumulated and dispersed in the hyper-connected superhighways of the ICT Sector-Financial ‘fort’ Industrial Complex. Information Technology, Finance, Consulting are the jobs which the brightest of brains in the developing world are vying for. The Nehruvian Ideal of Industries being the Temples of Modern India are passe. Manufacturing in India has been a non-starter because of draconian labor and land acquisition laws. These sectors are great, but where are the real jobs being nurtured and created?

The knowledge sector’s currency is innovation. But does everyone have the necessary skill-set of communication, analytically thinking and most importantly staying ahead of the curve. Elite academic brands dominate the market, and the elite brand is a network of exclusive contacts. This elite have the key to wealth creation? 

Globalization’s greatest gift is the service sector, but as the world urbanizes, the de-agrification occuring and gini coefficients dipping, is the knowledge sector with its call centres, consulting offices and bank terminals the panacea for growth. Strategic Infrastructure is the key to jobs. Water Supply Plants, Dams, Highways should be the operational hubs of the knowledge economy, and not offices in Palo Alto.

Reimagining the Left of Centre in India

With the triumphant win of the Narendra Modi campaign and the Right riding home with an absolute majority; the Political Right in India has gauged the pulse of the nation by moving away from faith based politics and riding the wave of the strong rhetoric of development and muscular leadership. In contrast, the Left of Centre- the motley bunch of the semi-national players that brandish themselves by secularism, regional pride and somewhat pragmatic definition of secularism were marginalised. AIADMK, TMC and BJD as regional behemoths expanded their space, but the once mighty Congress and the traditional left (read CPM) and quasi-socialist actors in form of the SP, BSP, JDS, JDU, NCP all had to eat humble pie (or halwa for all that matter). The alternative political discourse offered by the Aam Admi Party was silenced by the Tsu-NaMo that wiped it off in the political landscape of Delhi. The indecisive leadership and aborted governance story of Kejriwal was a damp squib. 

The Left of Centre is rudderless such as the BJP after the 2009 polls under an uninspiring campaign under Mr. Advani. The youth factor of Rahul & Co + State Welfarism (i.e Jairam Ramesh administered MNERGA) won the day for UPA. Then it went into self destruct policy paralysis mode and with all the mega scandals time was ripe for a strong decisive leader which the Sangh and the BJP capitalized on. The mood of the nation mandated a message of salvation. A message which was communicated well.

So, What lessons can the Left of Centre political continuum derive to drive its politics in the Modi Age. A few pointers are stated below:

Congress: Rahul Factor was ineffective. With 44 seats, Congress needs a reboot. Priyanka has more charm and will help a lot more. It would be great to have a Jyotiraditya and a Shashi to lead the party region wise, dismantle dynastic high command culture and project a strong leadership orientation. Secularism is a hackneyed horse. Pluralism and Inclusive Growth are values that still resonate. More empowered Regional Leaders and an aspiration oriented message is the need of the hour. In short, wake up or Congress as we know will be history as TMC, NCP and YSRC have more muscle and overpower them.

AAP: A ground up self organised urban movement that had a lot of energy and lost its way in the quest to spread itself thin. Message for AAP; Let Kejriwal be the anarchist and the organizer, and have a Yogendra Yadav lead the political face of the party. Aspirational, Educated, Urbane. Concentrate on a few geographies and expand such as Delhi, Punjab and Haryana where they still have purchase.

Left Front : Ideologue named Prakash Karat is as charismatic as a brick wall. The left is decimated in Bengal and a marginal entity in Kerala. Tripura is a dot on the map with two MPs.  Needs an energetic Young Leader with a national catch phrase. Learn from your ideological cousins in Beijing comrades!

SP, BSP, NCP, JDU : The quasi-socialist gang have exhausted their caste and minority appeasement card. The nation wants a clear cut development agenda. Caste Cauldrons of UP and Bihar have voted for development. Re-structuring of the political message needed.

Values of pluralism and inclusiveness are treasured in the intellectual fabric of the Idea of India. The Demographic youth bulge has spoken. Jobs and Services are tangibles that are political weapons in the gladiatorial theater of Indian Electoral Democracy.

The Left under reformist Buddhadeb won 35 of 42 seats, won urban Bengal in 2004 polls and Left dictated terms for 4 years until the Indo-US Nuclear Deal Fiasco. International Ideological positions over rode energy security. Lessons from History are to be learnt. If the BJP can, i hope the opposition can too.