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Philantrophy: Brands’ Holy Chalice

The divide between the rich and the less privileged is dangerously unsettling in India today. Not that we need to be socialists and condemn the ones who are rich and successful: but we must exhibit a moral compass which can quickly help us direct help where needed.

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The Holy Chalice for believers in Christianity, is the vessel that Jesus used at the Last Supper to serve wine. It is believed that Jesus shared this cup of wine with the Apostles, saying it was the covenant in his blood. While theologists across the ages have interpreted this differently, I have often said that the Holy Chalice, in many ways, is the symbol of sharing.

And sharing is becoming a critical brand reputation driver in modern times.  As it should. I was the most trenchant critic of the mandatory 2% spend on CSR because I believed then, as I do now, that you can’t force percentages on matters of the heart which deal with compassion. Companies need to be compassionate from within and not because some Government mandate forces them to. I have observed with pride how many Indian brands today have placed CSR at the heart of all they do. 

The House of Tata has been a global pioneer. Long before the Buffets and the Gates’ came into the world, the Tatas have shown exemplary foresight and vision and the present Chairman of the Tata Trusts, Ratan Tata has made it his life’s purpose to give back to society and strengthen the weakest link. The Tatas started doing this 126 years ago; when you needn’t have done it because no one asked you to. It was and remains in their DNA: to share with care. In a manner of speaking, they’ve been privileged to serve and serve they have done with outstanding efficiency. Ratan Tata spends more time ensuring that the Trusts deliver on the heartbeat with they were founded and again, this is a labour of love. Not one that will get the illustrious Ratan Tata any more allocades than he already has. But this is not something that has helped only the Trusts. In fact, the corporate brand of Tata has been constantly burnished with consumer affection only because they’ve given back in full measure.

Of late, even individuals have shown the path towards philanthropy in India which seems to suggest that both individuals and brands understand the enormous impact that ‘giving back’ has on reputation. A case in point is the sterling work that Shiv Nadar is doing in the area of education: from primary to secondary to tertiary and his wife Kiran Nadar in the realm of art. 

There was a time when education and healthcare was almost completely funded through philanthropy: as were temples and churches. But I guess then we got into legacy building or did what was strategic to do. When you do CSR around your plants or offices, it means nothing. It is when you go beyond the pale of what will help you, does real philanthropy work. Or mean much.

There are many unsung heroes in India who continue to give back and go unnoticed. Many years ago I averred, India would benefit more from a Give List rather than a Rich List but I guess it wasn’t fancy to pursue. I hope someone does take heed and institute these awards. Not that people who actually do this amazing work, wait for rewards or awards, but there is an inspirational quality to such awards which will help galvanize the rest to give back to society as we all must.

The divide between the rich and the less privileged is dangerously unsettling in India today. Not that we need to be socialists and condemn the ones who are rich and successful: but we must exhibit a moral compass which can quickly help us direct help where needed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Suhel Seth

The author is Managing Partner of Counselage

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