Last year, India launched an ambitious mandate requiring companies to give two percent of their net profits to charitable causes as a means to share the cost of development in support of India’s growing economy. Businesses and non-governmental organizations are now establishing how this law will be implemented locally.
Seizing an opportunity to investigate the evolving role of business in society in India, a group of WMU business students led by Dr. Tim Palmer, professor of management, toured parts of India with business and social work students and faculty from Christ University in India and Griffith University in Australia, who teamed up on not only the logistics of the trip but also the curriculum.
“Our goal was to expose students to the spectrum of social stratification across India, giving them the opportunity to critically analyze the role of business in society,” says Palmer.
The trip was purposefully designed to focus on corporate social responsibility by integrating social work with business perspectives. “The insights of these two diverse groups were invaluable to helping understand the depth of the social challenges in India that business can help address,” adds Palmer.
During this short-term study abroad course, students toured one of India’s largest and fastest growing cities, Bangalore (officially known at Bengaluru); attended and participated in cultural events; and visited non-governmental organizations as well as businesses to learn the many forces at work in this expanding economy.
“India has the opportunity to make change on a very large scale, and businesses are poised to do that,” says Audrey Frank, who graduated with a B.B.A. in accountancy in December.
That change is taking place in many ways. “Whether we were visiting schools and programs trying to ensure that children made their way through school and on to higher education or work, or companies such as Infosys with a state-of-the-art global education center, we saw a strong focus on the development and long-term success of individuals,” says Joseph Williams, a WMU electronic business marketing major.
During the trip, students toured a mix of large and small companies that are conducting business while remaining mindful of the world around them. “From the microenterprise, Anuspandhana, that uses recycled materials to create and sell products from a small room to Akshaya Patra, which mass-produces healthy meals for 1.3 million school children daily, we saw a wide range of roles that business can play,” says Williams.
Students were also exposed to societal issues and learned about their influence on the business environment in India. According to Palmer, it was an important challenge for the group to see, firsthand, the living conditions experienced by segments of the global population, often referred to as those at the “bottom of the pyramid.”
“Seeing people live in harsh conditions was eye opening but really sad,” says Ryan Bird, who studied management and interdisciplinary health sciences, and also graduated in December. “With that said, the people that we crossed paths with were hopeful and positive about India’s corporate social responsibility initiatives.”
Students also noted social issues impacting operations. They learned how in Bangalore women are barred from manufacturing jobs after 6 p.m. due to safety concerns and how this impacts the human resources practices of manufacturers in India that require 24-hour production.
The key challenge of the trip was the pace. The two-week trip was filled with opportunities to examine both corporate structures and social issues in India. Highlights included visits and tours of the following:
- Parikrama Humanity Foundation (non-governmental organization)
- Sustainable Development and Green Building
- Visit to BOSCO Mane (non-governmental organization)
- Visit to Janakiramnagar Community (non-governmental organization)
- Visit to Anuspandana- A Microenterprise setup
- Visit to Hosekote Village
- Tour of the colonial city of Mysore
- Visit to Infosys Limited
- Visit to Company Himalaya Drug Ltd.
- Visit to Toyota Manufacturing
- Visit to Dell Call Center
- Cultural Program by Christ University students
- Presentations by participating faculty and students from all three universities