[dropcap style=”3″]T[/dropcap]he last decade has seen a rise in philanthropic businesses and big businesses investing in the society. The worldwide depression brought on by the wall street, stricter laws about environment, and the rise of laws about corporate social responsibility have contributed to this. There is also a growing awareness among businesses large and small that screwing over people and the environment is bad business in the long run.
Arun Maira, in his book Transforming capitalism, improving the world for everyone, makes the case that
- Capitalism, if practiced laissez-fair, is harmful for everyone involved.
- Businesses can and should do the right thing from a moral point of view when dealing with people and
- People/businesses with a lot of money should see themselves as custodians or stewards of their money and resources and so should help people with it.
Arun Maira is a journalist, for a large part of his life he was a business manager. Over the past decade, he has written in most of India’s top business magazines, as well as in the magazine Civil society about the various ways in which businesses can, do and should help people beyond the narrow confines of material profit. This book is a collection of these articles. This is probably why, though the book is divided into four sections, a clear progression or continuity cannot be felt in the writings.
This is not a progressive apologetic, this is not a case for marrying socialism with capitalism either, this is a cross section, through the writings of someone who has been in the field long enough to know what he is talking about.
What I like about this book the most is that instead of preaching or a prescriptive style of writing Maira exhorts. he points to what is happening, suggests gently and with authority that instead of formulas both sides have, what is needed, foremost is dialogue open, honest and constant dialogue. this behavior is quiet uncommon in columnists these days who are eager to preach, eager to repeat over and over how their ideas are the best and why the world will go to the dogs if they don’t follow their brilliance.
It would be foolish to think that leaders of environment killing or people-hurting businesses don’t realize that what they are doing hurts people, but a fundamental belief, a one in the free market ( and some healthy greed) keeps them and everyone down the chain chained to their course. They believe that the free market, which enables everyone to take part equally in wealth creation and ultimately in the pursuit of ones happiness without the state directing what one ought and ought not to do is the best way to eradicate poverty. And lets face it,free market creates wealth. Anyone who has lived through pre and post liberalization India can attest to this.
But what apologists of capitalism often forget to preach is that when it comes to creating wealth for the ultra poor, the trickle down effect is often like eating leftovers from a rich mans table. with our new humanist understanding of human rights, I don’t think it is acceptable anymore to knowingly let people suffer based on one’s belief in the market. The non-profit groups or the civil society who typically are the champions of the poor operate under a completely different set of beliefs. To many of them the idea of making profit for the sake of profit is abhorrent. And practically all of them believe that human beings cannot be trusted to do the right thing in an unregulated system. Their idea of regulation of course is not peer regulation but strict almost socialist regulation. What Mr. Maira does very well is explain why both sides of this divide need to have a sustained conversation that helps us achieve the goals of alleviating poverty,social justice etc.
To me this is probably not a book written for the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This is also not a book for someone who has been following the social business/enterprise sector for the last few years. This is the book for the MBA student or the new manager, for the young Indian who wants to enter the markets but still stay good.
A recent survey showed that the worlds highest number of social businesses or socially minded businesses of the last few years have started in India. This is a clear sign that a lot of young people in this country are interested in doing good and Mr. Maria’s book can serve as a good starting point showing that it can be done.
The only worrying thing is Mr. Maira’s adoption of Gandhian ideas about wealth and businesses.