Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

Give Something Back

I begin with a heartfelt salute to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.  Not because they are on the richest of the rich list, with the Mittals and Ambanis breathing down their backs. No not at all. And not even because they have, by giving away all their hard earned wealth for the common good, become the ideal mahapurush  of our Sanatan Dharma. The reason lies in the latest news, news of their   calling others on the Forbes list in the US to pledge giving away half their fortunes and for making the pledge public. It is not in the earning of wealth that nobility lies, but in giving it away to alleviate the miseries of the world.

Umm. Come to think of it, our own Forbseians seem to be turning a very deaf ear to these moves. Otherwise imagine this scenario. Given the ongoing blame game and scuttle and hide that is going on on the shameful Bhopal episode, suppose the fifty richest Indians/Corporations were to give one percent of their profits to the actual sufferers to help them with a better life…. the hundreds of thousands of sufferers would be able to look after themselves and get a new life. And the respect for these richies in the world of business would go way up – as it would amongst the sensible and sensitive amongst this country’s population.

In giving away profits the Tatas are perhaps the only group who have charity written into their charter.  Current controversies notwithstanding, all the Tata companies give 66% of their own profits to trusts set up by them to donate money to various causes.

At the recent conference on humanizing globalization that I was at, this is what Don Dungarjee was at pains to explain to the audience. (I was thinking of the jobs offered to locals by the Nano and the farmers made landless but kept my council). And then I met Mike Hannigan.

Mike was a typical 60’ child on the West coast of the US. Flower power was in, action against the Vietnam war was mandatory, love not war was the cry of the generation. Then suddenly he was old enough to be on his own and he started thinking of what everyone else was doing – earning a living that had little in common with the beliefs and values of their growing up years. Why could he not create a business which was close to his beliefs, close to his values, which ran to help others, to change the world, to make it better for everyone.

With a tiny capital of $20,000 he set up an office supplies company and named it Give Something Back. There were no outside share holders to give future profits to, so he decided that all 100% of profits would be used to fund NGOs that he and his customers felt were making a difference to the neighbourhood. Like with most companies the beginnings were tough. Customers assumed that a do good company’s products would be more expensive – but by keeping the company lean, by not having any retail outlets, by running everything paperlessly through e mails and many other innovations he made the business a success. Today 20 years later the company sells 40000 products, 6000 of which are green, through many depots across the country. They advise companies on cost cutting and sustainability, have an e waste and old boxes pick up service to help recycle both of these, and have their customers vote where they want the profits of the business to go. They even have Green Guru, the in house sustainability guru to help companies go green. And over these years they have given away over 4 million dollars to NGOs. Mike gets a salary as do all the other employees. “If we are well paid, why should we need more?” is the mantra there.

IF the proof of the pudding is in the eating Mike Hannigan has been eating his pudding for twenty years and goes from strength to strength. And he is living example that capitalism does not have to equate greed. One can do well and do well by society at the same time



June 20, 2010, DNA


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