Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Corporate vs NGO

I had a long argument with one of my friends on whether us fatted calves in the MBA elite segment can make a difference to anyone’s life in India. Or do we have to join NGOs in order to actually help someone.
My point was that corporates in India wield a lot of power today and the right people at the right levels can make a big difference. Infact if there is someone who can make a bigger difference than even corporates then it is the government, since they have not just the funds but also the administrative mechanisms in place to improve living conditions of people. But that apart, corporates today wield enormous power in terms of the funds they have and the say they have.
I have seen two ways in which they can make a difference. One, in terms of business strategy. Granted ITC’s e-choupal gave the company easier access to cheaper grains. But it has benefited entire communities where middlemen no longer rule the roost with exclusive information on demand-supply. Similarly ICICI’s big leap into rural banking would probably be able to help smoothen the finance system, which even today continues to be a nemesis for most people.
The other way in which I see corporates helping are in terms of setting aside money and time for community initiatives. The most obvious examples are of course the Tatas who actually put people in charge of setting up relief centers and schools and usually don’t seem to be giving money to a NGO and sitting quiet.
Of course what a lot of corporates usually do is to give money to NGOs and ask them to manage the show. This is good too but it means NGOs need to have well qualified people working in them to ensure that the money is well used.
Which brings me to the question my friend and me were arguing about – Can MBAs of our generation make a difference to people’s lives by staying in corporate life or are their skills needed more in NGOs.
I would be interested in hearing answers to that.

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