The rhetoric of the self serving, evil corporation is one we are all too familiar with. It is also one that up until very recently, I completely bought into. I certainly did not believe they served any cause beyond self interest that I could get behind (funnily enough, business school seems set on making me do just this).
My summer internship at the 4th Wheel served to show me just how wrong I was.
The 4th Wheel is a CSR consultant firm in Mumbai that helps corporates do exactly the opposite of what we all believe they were designed to do: make a positive change in the world.
In my time at the organization I had the opportunity to witness some corporations do some really good work, making the world better little by little day by day. My negative view towards corporations had in the past made me suspicious of how much CSR is eyewash and how much truly results in positive social change. The first hand experience brought me hope. The 4th Wheel enables companies to align with Gandhi’s trusteeship ideals, in helping them in their endeavor to contribute to the welfare of the community. In Gandhi’s words;
“Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth – either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry – I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me; what belongs to me is the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community.”
It is reassuring to see many organizations working towards fulfilling their obligation to make a change for good.
One of the projects I reported on was the The Aavaas’ Construction Worker Housing project for our client Nebula, a real estate and construction partnership of Pacifica companies, Kesar group and the Futura group.
In light of the harsh and inhumane conditions that construction workers are generally forced to put up with, Nebula aims to improve the lives of construction workers with the philosophy of “building the future of those who build our future homes”. They currently have three projects under development in Changodar (Ahmedabad), Miyapur (Hyderabad), and Chennai.
I visited Changodar, where Nebula has implemented a construction worker housing project with the aim of bringing up the quality of life of construction workers. The temporary worker housing project implemented in Changodar is a contextual adaptation of an Archiprix award-winning masters thesis design by New Zealander architectural graduates Hannah Broatch and Mason Rattray of Hatch Workshop. Through architectural ingenuity, quality rebuildable infrastructure is ensured for construction worker housing but the focus doesn’t only lie on the infrastructure. To improve to overall quality of lives, NGOs Saath Charitable Trust and Aajeevika Bureau are also partnered with that are responsible for implementation of the children’s educational creche, and the biweekly free health clinic at the housing project. The project checks off a few points from the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and has led to a drastic improvement.
The other project was the development of a case study for the 2-Day Training Program on Social Return on Investment (SROI) of CSR Projects & Programs conducted by FICCI Aditya Birla CSR Centre for Excellence in collaboration with 4th Wheel. SROI is a really nifty tool for assessing objectively (subject to some subjectivity) how impactful social projects are. The general process isn’t too different from the standard computation of Return on Investment, the only difference is the clever implementation of certain economic and statistical techniques to put objectively backed numbers on positive social impact. For instance if a social program is involved in providing hygiene literacy to the underprivileged, a way to put an objective monetary value to the positive impact that the program is creating would be to look at differences in lifetime medical expenses of two sample groups, one of which possess such an education and the other of which recurrently deals with illnesses that could be done away with said education, and then finally assessing how much of it can be attributed to the project and not other factors.
My time at the 4th Wheel has given me a sense of the kind of work I’d like to spend my time doing. I’ve always felt the responsibility to change things in the world for the better because I’ve been quite privileged in terms of the opportunities that I’ve received and now this responsibility has been concretized as direction. Furthermore, it led me to understand how social auditing alters the capitalist paradigm in a manner that makes it more hopeful. Even well-intentioned companies might underutilize the resources going into CSR projects as these are out of their core competencies and expertise. Expert Consultants acting as auditors can help bridge this gap of intention and achievement.
- Nirmanyu Batra, Intern – Indian Institute of Management, Indore