Joe Phelan: India’s difficulty with being good

Joe Phelan

India’s difficulty with being good

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working with Apeejay Surrendra – a privately owned Indian conglomerate – to launch their new India Volunteer Awards.

“The purpose is to encourage volunteering and volunteer engaging organisations – corporate and NGO – across India,” says Shalab Sahai, founder of iVolunteer, a partner in the awards.

Multinational companies report enthusiastic uptake in volunteering programmes in India, and I have seen first hand the team building power and sense of connection with India’s wider development that volunteering programmes have at companies such as ICICI Bank.

But in India these examples of volunteering being done in public, and celebrated, are very rare.

“The culture is, if you volunteer, you shouldn’t talk about it,” says Apeejay’s Renu Kakkar.

Despite the extent of its poverty and inequality, India is a country suspicious that anyone who wants to contribute must be in it for selfish ends. The result is that companies and volunteers alike downplay the benefits they hope to get themselves.

This is symptomatic of the long-term mistrust that exists between sectors: Government is corrupt, businesses are profiteers, NGOs are agitators.

Whilst there is some basis for these positions, ultimately, they are damaging to efforts to achieving India’s stated aim of creating inclusive growth. Being transparent about motivations for engaging in development challenges, regardless of the sector, is a necessary step in finding sustainable solutions.

Employee volunteering programmes are one vehicle for exposing companies and NGOs to each other in a practical way. I hope that these awards not only unlock more talent and effort for including India’s poor in its growth, but in doing so help companies and NGOs to build understanding of each other and to break down suspicion.

And that will help lay the foundation for wider collaboration based on mutual interest.

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