Panel on “Rethinking Sustainable Growth: New Ideas and Approaches”

Panel on “Rethinking Sustainable Growth: New Ideas and Approaches”
at the ICC Regional CEO Forum on “Globalisation and Inclusive Growth”
Delhi, 4th December 2009

The Panel was chaired by the well known Professor of IMD Mr Jean-Pierre Lehmann. He set the stage by underscoring “poverty and sustainability’ as two of the greatest challenges identified by ICC as part of its agenda covering five dominant themes in all (which include ethics, values etc). He also suggested that India has to succeed if world has to succeed in 21st Century; and India will succeed if its “inclusive growth” strategy succeeds!

Economist Surjit Bhalla (Oxus) who spoke before me, recounted per capita income statistics over time (from around the world; and India & China in particular) and said he was skeptical of any improvement. He provoked the Panel by saying “Inclusive Growth” is a sequel of the same movie with similar unhappy endings of a rich and a poor world each time! First the world called it “Poverty Alleviation”, then “Bridging Inequalities”, thereafter “Pro-poor Growth”, and now “Inclusive Growth”

I had combined the points made by the two opening speakers, to argue that (1) Great challenges are big opportunities for business, and (2) Because Business is participating in the “inclusive growth” paradigm, there is hope for a different ending this time 🙂

In the context, to me “inclusive growth” meant (1) including the poor in the growth process, by bringing them access to basic services viz. education & health, and empowering the producers among them to participate in the value chains to raise their incomes (2) including the people from our next generations in our thinking and actions, in a manner that we don’t aggressively consume non-renewable natural resources that belong to them, while we work on economic growth and superior quality of life of this generation

I highlighted three approaches and several ideas (primarily illustrating ITC’s actions) whereby Business can enmesh its financial objectives with the societal objective of “inclusive growth” defined as above…

Approach A: Product / Service innovations serving either or both dimensions of “inclusion”

Idea 1: Platforms such as ITC eChoupal that leverage ICT and Social Capital to deliver an end-to-end solution to small farmers and empower them by improving information flow, market signals, decision support, reducing transaction costs, raising productivity and improving quality. Extending the same platform to deliver end-to-end solution in non-farm employment space now.

Idea 2: Weather based Crop Insurance Scheme for yield risk reduction

Idea 3: Smoke less, energy efficient “Oorja Choolas” of BP Energy, now transferred to First Energy

Idea 4: Solar lighting and Cooking products developed by several companies

Idea 5: Micro finance with customized repayment cycles

Idea 6: Relevant applications (e.g. Nokia Life Tools) on low cost mobile phones

All these products / services are delivered through ITC eChoupal platform, so we know how appropriate these products are in “inclusion”.

Approach B: Process / Business Model innovations that extend along the whole value chain

Idea 1: Process innovations that reduce negative impact on environment , while improving efficiency or reducing costs of manufacturing (e.g. Wind Energy project of ITC Paperboards business)

Idea 2: Green Supply Chains (e.g. ITC Hotels, Sustainable forests integrated into ITC Paperboard business)

Idea 3: Recycling Waste: (e.g. WOW – Wealth out of Waste – initiative of ITC to recycle paper in urban areas)

Idea 4: Integrating rural people into the sourcing and / or marketing activities (e.g. ITC eChoupal)

Idea 5: Promotion of Conservation Agriculture through ITC eChoupal (viz. practicing minimal mechanical soil disturbance through Zero Till, managing organic soil fertility through mulching, crop rotation to minimize pests & weeds)

Approach C: Improve Corporate Governance & Transparency:

Idea: Publish Audited Sustainability Reports (as ITC has been doing for several years now) using GRI guidelines, to be accountable to all stakeholders beyond financial investors

Bottomline: I am very optimistic that the “inclusive growth” sequel will have a happy ending because businesses are driving this paradigm. More companies have to adopt this approach and do on a larger scale to be able to deal with the magnitude of the challenge. And this can only be done in partnership with Governments and Communities 🙂