World Economic Forum India Summit to Ponder Over Social Issues

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Social issues have never taken up so much corporate and CEO attention since the world wars. Income inequalities, public health, labour unrest, climate change, poverty, ethics, values, the role of business … all that kind of thing.

Suddenly, corporate social responsibility has come to acquire a brand new meaning. It’s not about the Gates Foundation any more, it’s about bankers bonuses. It’s about climate change, green technology, social justice. Developmental and behavioural economics is edging out the discredited mathematical and pure market economics.

This post-modern, socially sensitive world order is something that global business is going to have to learn to live with, for a long while to come. We’re all in it together, is no longer an ideology, but a brutal market truth. If the global recession proved that global finance is intricately interlinked, swine flu proved that pandemics don’t, despite masks and quarantines, respect borders either.

Manmohan Singh and Madame Gandhi can take a few bows – their ’inclusive growth’ mantra has now gone completely global – it’s not just good politics, it’s the key to global economic survival. Here’s just a sample of the ’new’ economic insights that are cropping up all over the place. The emerging market consumer, in China, India, Russia, with her high savings rates and increasing purchasing power will come to the rescue of global consumer companies even as their core consumers struggle with huge debts. And this has to be balanced without wiping out the world’s environment. Sustainable consumption is the buzzword.

The prosperity and growth of even marginal and poor nations isn’t just a matter for charity or social justice, it’s an imperative if wealthy nations want to maintain their own populations in comfort. In India, what we call youth power, and the rest of the world calls a demographic dividend is the buzzword. But there’s a caveat to demographic dividends — young people need food, education, training, housing, jobs, skills. They have aspirations, needs, demands. And when there are so many of them around, you can’t just let them hang around the edges of economic activity getting bored and restive.

Over the next two days, some seriously important international and domestic business bigwigs are going into a huddle in Delhi at the World Economic Forum India Summit. And guess what? Almost half the time, they’re going to be discussing those old, boring, social sector things like women, children, affordable housing, public health and so on. To mix a few metaphors, you can take society out of mathematical business models, but you can’t take business out of society. We look at some of the social issues in the spotlight, women, and health.

Source: Economic Times (link opens in a new window)