March 2007

Social Commitments Reaffirmed – NASSCOMs conclave identifies healthcare as key area of action : G. Kalyan Kumar

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That India’s social problems are high on the agenda of  technology companies was in evidence at The Global CSR Conclave, organized by Nasscom Foundation in Mumbai, on 9th February. The event was significant for its exemplary focus on social issues pertaining to livelihood, healthcare, and education, with the CSR track having a theme, “Community Development: A Social Investment and Economic Exercise.”

If initiatives by Nasscom Foundation are any indication, the technology companies, mainly those in software, are keen to shed the elitist sheen and seen tackling complex social issues that perturb the underprivileged sections of the society.

The conference brought lot many perspectives in focus and touched a plethora of issues where corporate social responsibility has a stake. This holistic objective reverberated all through the conference, with the desire to enlarge the role in social space and gain an edge in global markets.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who delivered the keynote address, lauded the new effervescence in the IT industry and called it a “step in the right direction”. Laced in humour, Amartya Sen noted that when he received the invite, he had “wondered why Nasscom was inviting an economist like me and I doubted whether it could have been a case of mistaken identity.”

On a serious note, Sen reminded that the IT industry was obligated to the Indian society because, if not for the focus on technical education after Independence and the liberalization that happened in 1991, the IT industry would not have been in a position where it was now.

IT sector has a big responsibility towards making India a more equitable country. One of the huge obstacles to the development of the local market was the low priority and investment in literacy, schooling and healthcare.

Making a comparison between India and China, Sen observed, “One of the reasons for the larger domestic reach of IT in China is its much wider base than India, borne out of good schooling.  The same goes for a much wider base of elementary healthcare in China, though this has been going through a turmoil, after the Chinese economic reforms started in 1979 and abolished free healthcare and asked citizens to rely more on privately purchased health insurance”.

Looking at the healthcare scenario in India, Sen called for sustained action to expand its reach and quality, where technology industry can contribute substantially because of its resources and pool of quality manpower. Quoting a historical anecdote, Sen observed that
the Chinese traveller Fahian had recorded, centuries ago, after a visit to the then Pataliputra and now Patna, that the “Indian medical care was much better than the Chinese medical systems in terms of quality and reach.” Sen quipped that now the truth is in the opposite.

Amartya Sen released ‘Catalysing Change’ the annual publication of Nasscom Foundation on the occasion. The publication compiles the CSR survey,  entailing Indian IT industry’s social commitment and the roadmap towards societal development with an explicit CSR-focus.

Nasscom Foundation is already working on healthcare as a key CSR area. It may be racalled that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is already working with Nasscom Foundation in the realm of HIV/AIDS eradication. Last year, they held a conference of CEOs of leading IT companies in Mumbai, and deliberated on HIV/AIDS issue and the roles that corporates can play. The conclave has resolved to galvanize the domestic IT industry towards HIV/AIDS policies into workplaces, which are to play an active role. The joint statement on HIV/AIDS by U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 mandates private sector and corporate partnership on healthcare related actions, under the ‘Indo-U.S. Corporate Fund for HIV/AIDS’.

Other stalwarts who spoke on the track included Dr.Paul Ackerman, Advisor, Accessibility Practice Iridium Interactive Limited; Nandan Nilekani, CEO & Managing Director, Infosys; Kiran Karnik, President, Nasscom; Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman Nasscom Foundation; Dr. Lavanian, Former Co- Convener, Sub-committee on Standards, Govt. Task Force for Telemedicine; Dr. Ganapathy, Head, Apollo Telemedicine Foundation, Chennai; Dr. Kim, Arvind Eye Hospital, Madurai.

Nasscom Foundation is already working on healthcare as a key CSR area. It may be racalled that the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) is already working with Nasscom Foundation in the realm of HIV/AIDS eradication. Last year, they held a conference of CEOs of leading IT companies in Mumbai, and deliberated on HIV/AIDS issue and the roles that corporates can play.  The conclave has resolved to galvanize the domestic IT industry towards HIV/AIDS policies into workplaces, which are to play an active role.

Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman, Nasscom Foundation, explicated the commitment of Nasscom members towards social sector goals through application of ICT, to transform and empower the lives of the underserved.

Working in the twin areas of ICT for development and corporate social responsibility, the organization, according to Srivastava, “is playing the role of a facilitator, connecting the IT industry with the underserved population, in helping them access information, services and opportunities to build their capacities and realize the potential.”

Nasscom Foundation and its CEO Rufina Fernandez can be proud in having done a good job, that of communicating the CSR cause forcefully.

The grand finale of the summit had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attending it, winding up the two-day leadership summit.

G. Kalyan Kumar

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