Most corporations regardless of their ownership patterns have a problem of capacity building in the role and functions of wp and sustainability. While by way of a routine some elementary training is given to new recruits for wp, it is nominal and insignificant in view of the massive requirements of qualified and skilled manpower required for engaging effectively in the social sector development process.
The moot issue is that wp training is not just another management development program for executives. The nature and type of wp activity itself demands newer approaches and creativity as the managers are undertaking corporate wp function for the first time.
What are the other critical issues and challenges for such capacity building?
First and foremost the supply side question; most institutions of higher learning have recently started organizing a two day event with a mixed training design which is too generic to convey any meaning. But the situation is compounded further by inexperienced and disinterested faculty who have resorted to wp training as an add-on and for their survival in a competitive setting. They have neither the research credentials nor credibility in the filed for undertaking such a training activity. In fact often top management of some business schools use wp training to recruit their associated and contacts on the fatal assumption that anyone can do wp training. So in such a manipulative context the supply side dominates on training design, teaching and delivering such activity; and now that wp budgets are made mandatory a new breed of fly by night operators have entered the training market in wp; this is the negative implication of mandating wp budget in a country where companies are not prepared nor the educational colleges have the capability to do so. Hardly any business school or a leading University has pursued wp training seriously as they have neither the expertise not the intent to develop core competence in this emerging field.
Second, there is no evaluation of such limited training activity in India. Neither the stakeholders nor the institutions are interested in assessing how such training could enhance their social performance. Even when limited formal feedback is sought on the training program it is usually a process of polite conversation.
Third, there are problems of content and delivery of such training. For instance, the design adopted from the internet promises too much and the organizers who adapt this lack the ability to deliver. Topics are available on the internet and so are listed, and then the search starts for speakers. This is another serious problem, in India we have a serious dearth of speakers who can deliver the content. Some ‘eminent’ speakers are invited, their names splashed across the print media, who break into a song and dance sequence about their company’s excellent work in wp. But these are self-congratulatory speeches (often styled as case studies of prominent companies). The local faculty of management colleges has a limited role as they do not desire or risk any further exposure.
Fourth, no research precedes such training activity, nor is there any visible effort to compile from the available literature. No detailed case studies are developed by the faculty to really learn from corporate experiences. So in this sense training is organized as an event, it’s not a serious affair. Moreover, unlike the West, there is no tradition of the industry sponsoring research and case development. The very fact that in a country with more than 300 universities and 3000 business schools we do not have a single Chair Professor for wp speaks volumes about the so called social relevance of such institutions.
Fifth, who will train the trainers? There is presently no answer to this pertinent question. The supply side institutions never anticipated the need to be socially relevant and hence they are totally unprepared for training the trainers. In a country where professional faculty development courses are so limited and of generic nature how do we prepare trainers to train staff of wp departments? Clearly it is too much to expect corporate HR departments to do so as they have no clue of the subject, nor passing on the responsibility to the corporate communication departments will be of any worthwhile help. Like the Civil Service, the country needs to develop a separate cadre of professionals for the social sector that India requires in large numbers and whose demand will increase in the near future.
Sixth, the supply side has to be authentic and credible if it is to generate demand for wp training which is not only limited to corporate houses but also to other key stakeholders like the NGOs, local organizations and local self-government agencies operating at the grass roots level. Unless the training analysis is attempted regularly we will never know who requires what type of training and at what phase of wp implementation and management? wp after all is creating durable stakeholder value: how does a company create such value by too generalized a training module with hardly any trainer expertise?
Seventh, unfortunately the supply of wp consultants is growing rapidly and inexperienced groups without any real commitment for the social sector (barring of course a few exceptions) have joined the avoidable race for earning a quick buck from such training. Not only the NGOs and the public agencies but also some private groups aspiring solely on the basis of social media contact seem to convey that a network of personal contacts will get them some consulting and training: while some may initially succeed in a limited way it would seem too premature and foolhardy to announce such coalitions of overnight wp experts from the rooftop. A consulting and training assignment based on real research attracts more clients than sheer contact networks manipulated on social media and corporate public relations.
In the last decade I was invited by the concerned Ministry for public enterprises as a trainer and delivered three national level seminars where the total number of participants from the public enterprises was more than 300. But even with their accumulated experience and good wp work, the central public enterprises find it difficult to collaborate with management schools or university as none of them can positively prove their claim to wp expertise.
There is too much duplicity and demonstration effect which is responsible for the clumsy bandwagon effect, and training in wp is so trivialized which in itself a great disservice to society and in fact anti-wp activity. A capacity building program of whatever duration is not a social get together to share limited, irrelevant and incomplete information by inexperienced self -declared professionals. What compounds the tragedy of the capacity building program presently in India is the painful absence of realization that wp and corporate sustainability are subjects having contributions from several management and social science disciplines and the self-styled experts in an indecent hurry to earn fast buck do not realize such criticality of the multidisciplinary contributions.
I have cautioned many near academics and other groups fresh from the institutions of higher learning against joining the training bandwagon without prior field research. Research, consulting and training are so interrelated but the groups are eying the 2% of net profit formula funding from the eligible 16,000 companies; so essentially their concern is how to share the ever growing kitty of budgets earmarked for wp. It is also the fault of many companies who fall into the trap of engaging such inexperienced groups; they do so for fulfilling raining targets and utilization of funds on annual basis, an approach which is self-defeating and anti-wp. Never mind the quality and direction of wp in the economy.
We have so far offered a critique; now let us offer some potential solutions for these problems. The following may be useful pointers for the future direction:
- Corporate communication and HR departments should form a group of experienced managers from within and outside their companies to debate the possible wp agenda building.
- A separate department for wp should be set up and care has to be exercised in recruiting and selecting young professionals who are interested in social sector engagement. For many startups who showed initial promise went for the corporate jobs because the development sector was not meeting their compensations requirements. After recruitment the staff needs to be exposed to ground realities and sent for field assignments; it’s not a posh corporate office job. At the corporate office one does not need more than one or two officers; the rest should be deployed in plant and field office locations.
- Recruitments need not be from labor welfare or social entrepreneurship diploma holders; the candidates with prior rural development, NGO experience should be selected. It would be a gross mistake to recruit fresh MBAs from the leading business schools as they are groomed (if at all) for executive positions who would not like to soil their hands in the field.
- The top management should take more interest and supervise HR policy for the social sector departments. They should link corporate governance, corporate strategy and wp to follow a realistic policy on wp as also to train the officers accordingly.
- Companies should sponsor research to identified lead academic institutions based on which they could plan their strategy for wp and corporate sustainability. Companies can also collaborate on training of trainers.
- Further wp and corporate sustainability syllabus should be made mandatory in all technical, engineering, management schools as also universities. In fact business ethics and wp foundation courses should be started at high school levels.
- Companies should regularly organize training for staff and senior levels and make assessment of their effectiveness at the corporate HR function.
- Companies should disseminate case studies and relevant stories of wp activity as presently their websites do not say what they have not done; there is no SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).
- Companies should also document and undertake disclosures such that the same could form a part of the training agenda.
- Companies should be careful in nominating officers for training; they should verify the credentials of groups offering such programs and avoid the familiar trap of treating such programs as routine ones.
- Whether it is an open market program or an in-house program on wp, it is necessary to train the faculty coordinators in preparing case studies and background papers because presently all that we have is practice of photocopying materials from published sources; copyright violations galore in such a practice so there is no connectivity between wp teaching and business ethics. If faculty members make effort and prepare material they will equip themselves in this very exciting and emerging field and even may have potential to aim for intellectual excellence over time.
- The diverse groups of sake holders should demand specific expertise, experience and contributions from the trainers; only in such a case there will be pressures on the institutions to update their knowledge, skills and attitudes to meet the articulated expectations form various key stake holding groups.
- The other significant advantage of stakeholder demands is that only the genuine institutions with longer term wp vision and strategy will survive; the predators will vanish into thin air as it were. The institutions of higher learning should treat wp education as a source of competitive advantage and accordingly engage in innovative curriculum design and delivery process.
- Indeed, its time the institutions who have a desperate and disparate claim to be global leaders in higher education realize the key issues and challenges involved in capacity building because wp and sustainable development imply social capital development, and human capital development which are not possible in the absence of intellectual capital. Knowledge generation and dissemination are critical in achieving the goal of intellectual excellence; as against the mindless pursuit of dissemination of internet based information; for websites and social media cannot substitute and supplant the original production process and content of scientific knowledge.
Professor C V Baxi has more than three decades of academic experience at MDI Gurgaon; his areas of teaching and research interests are social economics (wp and Sustainable Development), Strategic Management, Corporate Governance and Business Ethics; presently he is a visiting faculty to MDI, IIM Ranchi, IIM Kashipur and FORE Business School. He has been a trainer in the field of wp for public enterprises on behalf of SCOPE and designed and delivered management development programs for public and private industry including the MNCs.