Hello World- Welcome to Data-ism

Welcome to Data-ism

Photo by Simone Acefalo on Unsplash

If there was one definitive book I read in 2018, which I want to refer to in 2019, it was Yuval Harari‘s ‘Homo Deus‘. And as I read this page-turner, a few thoughts stayed with me.

Q: Why do we Gen X’ers and our previous guiding lights ‘BabyBoomers‘ make such a big thing of Privacy?

Because we started and lived a large part of our lives without access to data. If we went to a public library and thumbed through a well thumbed through encyclopaedia ( few Millennials and Gen Z’s will relate), it was our research, our experience. Our physical mailboxes delivered magazines like CSR (Competition Success Review), Science Today, and the almost ubiquitous Reader’s Digest. We would borrow and share within our circles and finding others who were similarly informed was serendipity. That today, is Google, Twitter and Wikipedia, and all show signs of age.

Q: Why do Millennials and GenZ’s share selfies, multiple times a day, when the previous generations would be happy to shoot nature, family, and monuments?

This is where Data-ism comes in. Among the Millennials and Gen Z’s, if it isn’t on social media, it hasn’t happened. It’s almost as if creating data is the sole object of the 2.5 Billion souls using connected devices storing away their lives, emotions and ambitions in the cloud.

And of course, there’s a perverse take on privacy, it’s easier to shoot oneself than ask someone else to pose for a Nat Geo style portrait.

Q: So, where do we go from here?

Let’s face it! People are far more adaptive to technology that is easy to use. Notice the war stories of deals, cash backs, promo codes, offers encashed by folks who don’t know how to negotiate in any language, but are adept at calculating on the fly the best deal on whatever e-com platform, and using the digital wallet of the day.

Q: So what do businesses do?

I remember when ‘Neutron Jack’, the legendary Jack Welch of GE fame, rebooted that organisation and became champion of ERP, BPR and other such acronyms that placed the previously unknown CTO on the boardroom in the nineties. The Noughties belonged to keywords like ‘knowledge management’ and ‘information economy’ and the CIO who had a brief reign, before being ousted by the CDO wielding words like ‘digital economy’, ‘disrupted purchase cycle’, ‘social media’, ‘reputation management’. But that’s so last decade!

As we prepare for the 2020’s, new winds of change are blowing. Much more disruptive than anything we have yet experienced, and a stark divide between people who are shaping tomorrow, and people who will follow.

Q: What the heck are you babbling on about?

Counter question- when was the last time you spoke to someone whose stated known languages are C++, PHP, Java, compiler and ML? If you don’t know this idiom, you won’t know what drives demand, adoption and change. Every new innovation first breaks ground in the tech world, and they aren’t looking for ‘look and feel’ and ‘bells and whistles’, what reaches you is ‘functionality’ that has been dumbed down to work among non-tech. So where does it leave advertising, marketing, PR? Isn’t the whole story about demand generation and reputation management all about people talking to people? It sure is! Except, opinions have already been made, people who know what’s under the hood have already seeded an opinion, and she’s not the ‘influencer‘ you hired for that promo campaign. These ‘dark hats’ are programming your newsfeeds, and writing the algorithms on which your ‘creative communication campaigns’ get discovered at the RoI you set.

And guess what, nothing gives these guys a greater high, than letting their algo’s and bot’s access to neural networks, read your social media, and attempting to create self- learning algorithms- AI, for short!

Q: So what can we expect?

Look at that WhatsApp forward again. That one about someone trying to teach Alexa/ Siri/Cortana/ Google Voice/ whatever else, a new language or a playlist. Notice that 2-year old, or 20, and know that ‘intelligent systems’ are almost ready to provide ‘serendipity’. And many more ‘Wow’ moments when you found answers you didn’t even know you were seeking. As the story goes, Apollo moonshots had less computing power than a ‘smart fridge’, now think of all the connected devices- at home, work or play, and the algorithms all around gathering data about everything.

Now does that give you a hint about what’s brewing and cooking? And if you want a glimpse of the future, and a role if any, in it, find the nearest coder, statistician ( now known as data science guy), market researcher ( now behavioural scientist) and learn. It’s better if they are Millennials and Gen Z’s, you’ll get a hang of their preferences and idioms.

And a hat tip to Harari- Whether I agree or not, Data-ism is here, and all those folks who wrote ‘Hello World’ in their first line of code probably have a ringside view into it. Have a great 2019!

Posted in career advice, communications, consumer research, Corporate, entrepreneurship, Jay Vikram Bakshi, Jaywalking, marketing, mobile marketing, social media, social media marketing, Social networking, social networking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samvat Great- Somewhat Good!

The year 1994! I had just joined the largest circulating pink paper. But, in the previous pink paper I worked for, I was on the markets beat.

And my first, and last news byline story ( news pieces were called stories at the news desk, because reporters routinely made things up), was with a peculiar market trade which though banned by the newly constituted SEBI, was what traders used, to book forward off-market hours trades.

So, here I was, no longer on the beat, the editor of the pink daily, had expressly told me not to write on the markets because the bureau chief was a veteran and he would have been threatened by a young twenty- something hungry for news and bylines (those days, bylines were only given to reporters willing to go beyond press release copy and those the news editors thought were worthy of seeing their names in print).

And what I saw at the trading floor will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The electronic trading systems were still being put in place. BOLT and COLT ( Bombay Online Trading System) and Calcutta were still WIP. A decade later, I met the geeks who designed and coded the system for trading on smartphones, and I remembered the day when a stock market trading floor resembled a Diwali Puja.

I was invited by the chairman of the stock exchange, a privilege I later gathered. And at the appointed hour, after the customary Lakshmi and Ganesha Puja, the men- stock brokers, not their usual substitutes, moved to the trading floor below while the women folk ( mostly, wives, sisters and mothers) dressed in bridal finery, showered rose and marigold petals from the visitors gallery above.

The men, some of whom, were personal friends, followed the ‘outcry’ system, which I had decoded with a lot of help from all of them- as they used English, Hindi and Marwari slang to book trades.

Those days, Marwari brokers held sway over Calcutta Stock Exchange, while Gujarati traders dominated BSE.

And as the session went through, with loud calls for Bank (SBI- State Bank of India), Lever (later to become Hindustan Unilever), Motor ( Hindustan Motors), I glanced at the watchers from the gallery showering flower petals.

And that was my epiphany moment: the Muhurat Trade on Diwali isn’t done for gain, it’s a bring-your-family-to-work date!

When I looked below, I noted all my sources and contacts, were yelling at the top of their voices, not to win the trade, but to impress on the watchers- this is what we do!

Outcry trades have long been replaced by software and code, but am sure somewhere, some trader is still wanting to do a show and tell for their loved ones, on what they do, when they are away at work.

Here’s to all of you!

Happy Diwali 😊🙏

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Not the Usual Yada Yada- an Open Letter to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all digital platforms


The gloden record that was sent into outer space onboard the Voyager spacecraft to tell all other worlds about our world!

This post is provoked by an interesting elevator conversation. There are a bunch of odd-jobs men who serve in various capacities in the condo where I live. Not unusually, I often engage in swapping ideas, understanding perspectives, across the digital divide. Except, the gap has been closing very rapidly.

Today, for instance, one of them pulls out his smartphone, a high-end Samsung set, and asks me, “How do I post pictures on Facebook?”, and then he promptly showed me the picture he was posting and the warning message that followed. I read it out in English and then translated for him in Hindi and his native dialect. It seems Facebook has restricted him from publishing content because they infringe on community guidelines. I gave him a short lecture on what he shouldn’t post, i.e. pornography, inflammatory content, etc. and then he showed me, all he was posting was a good morning message with a flower. I got off the elevator, telling him that the message also mentioned he had been blocked for 3 hours, so he could attempt to repost later.

This has set me thinking: Clearly, in their rush to show investors high growth, all the above digital, social channels and platforms are perhaps, not really concerned on who joins these networks, and what they post. It takes a few seconds to set up a social media account, it takes longer and more documentation to get a SIM card for mobile data access in India. And then, just a few ‘I agree’ buttons later, you are good to go, and can start posting on all channels. On a smartphone, am not even sure, if the standard disclaimer text (as Google used to put up in its early beta days, the ‘Usual Yada Yada’ is even shared). So, we have a phenomenon, where neo-literates, who have trouble signing their name in any language, participating in sharing and creating content on social, digital channels.

Here is, for instance, the Facebook Community Standards. Couched in comfortable, non-offensive language, are various kinds of threats that the social network recognizes and acts upon. Similarly, here’s the YouTube community charter. And then the place which gave life to the word: “Internet Trolls” and sustains most of the abusive behavior online- Twitter too, has community guidelines. I haven’t checked but am sure Instagram and Whatsapp have similar text in their T&C space, as also perhaps, Snapchat. Doesn’t make the cut! In hashtag speak. #Epic #Fail.

I have an issue with all the above! None of them have even considered the need to create a graphical guide. With the next billion coming online, in many new languages, dialects and sensibilities, there seems to be no attempt being made by any of these networks and the folks who work there to bring out a code of conduct.

Let me put it another way. Since, all these companies are US based, I assume all of them have ethical compliance standards for all the behaviours that infringe on corporate governance and conduct. I know this first hand, having spent all my corporate days, in MNC’s ( American, British and Finnish) where an ‘ethics training’ and annual refresher was a must-do, as standard HR practice.

Am appalled that a similar video hasn’t played out on any timeline/newsfeed/on any social digital network/channel- ever! Worse still, running a digital media consulting firm over the last decade, I have come across zillions of acts of impersonation, abuse and trolling, where CEO’s, comms heads, celebs, and private profiles have been cloned, and repeated requests by the affected to these networks haven’t succeeded in bringing down those offending pages.

And now to the point of politically, and communally inflammatory content, the misuse and abuse is so rampant that online abuse is leading to on-ground retribution. And not a word of contrition from the networks, which have legally couched community guidelines, which save the corporate entities from punitive action across the globe, and not even a fig leaf to educate, protect and guide their communities on socially acceptable ‘decent’ behavior online.

The least I expect, is a graphical guide, maybe like the one suggested by astronomer physicist Carl Sagan, and then adopted by NASA on all its galactic probes, to tell the other worlds, about our world. The image above kept space cadets like me, enthralled, through the 70’s.

And I insist that all the networks, mentioned above, start seriously working on a common code of conduct, which keeps people safe online. And it starts with people understanding what they can share, and what they can’t when they sign-in, whether they can read English, or any other language or none at all. If we fail to do this, we agree to wake up to “Fake News” on Google, “offensive” language in all dialects on Twitter, and of course, temporary bans to Facebook posts like the odd-jobs bloke I started this post with.

I have two thoughts to end this note with, but I think Stan Lee’s paraphrase of Voltaire in SpiderMan captures it aptly. Here’s the comic strip, and clip from the movie.
With Great Power comes Great Responsibility!


Over to you social digital network bosses!



Posted in communications, content, Corporate, Jay Vikram Bakshi, Leadership, politics, social media, Social networking, social networking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Questions for CSR Game Changers


courtesy: HEC Paris

I was at a meeting with Dr. Bhaskar Chatterjee, Director General and CEO of IICA. Dr. Chatterjee is known for the Chatterjee Model for CSR reporting in India’s public sector undertakings. This model, after much change, debate and deliberation passed into law as section 135 of the New Indian Companies Act, on April 1, 2014.

Dr. Chatterjee pondered, “It’s almost 24 months since the Act has become law, do you have 24 complete case studies to share for the students”.  The question is of import to me, as I am a trainer, and contributor to CSR content for the National Foundation for CSR, IICA, set up by India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

These students, are aspiring CSR professionals, who would be engaged across the corporate and development sectors to envision, strategize, implement, monitor and report on the CSR policies, projects, and programs, that corporates would undertake in compliance with the law, in partnership with the development sector.

In addition, CRISIL’s CSR Yearbook, states that 1,300 of the 3,850 companies listed on BSE qualify for CSR reporting under s.135, and 1,000- odd have filed their reports.

Can it be that difficult to find 24 cases of excellence? 

So, this then, is an open invitation. And the reason why I am writing about it is three-fold:

  1. Because I will be supporting the team which is writing the selected case studies
  2. Because case studies that are selected will pass into the CSR courseware of the IICA, as well as the ‘CSR Good Book’, no small recognition for the organizations that have already started working on this new paradigm
  3. The Indian law has no parallel anywhere in the world, and any corporate or development organization which has already started reporting in this manner, will have already established themselves as game changers.

Interested in being known as a CSR Game Changer? What then do you need to do to get yourself and your company/ organization onto this list?

Here’s the cheat sheet:

A. Your project should have started after April 1, 2014. If it started earlier, you need to be able to fill in this form with the information about your project. See Page 9 on this link: http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/CompaniesActNotification2_2014.pdf

Or view slide 15-16 on this link: http://www.slideshare.net/jvbakshi/the-21st-century-corporation

B. Once, you have filled in all the columns, with the numbers reported in rupee terms, you need to share the story in about 2000 words.

  1. Start with where did the project begin, as in who on the board, the 3-member CSR committee, germinated the idea.
  2. What triggered the thought? Was it an internal consensus, or from an NGO, or did anyone from the executive team like the CEO bring this to the board?
  3. When was this taken to the Board? How was it prioritized? How was the approval given?
  4. How were the beneficiaries identified? What baseline assessment or survey data did you gather before prioritizing on the project?
  5. What are the objectives of the project, in physical and financial terms? Share the numbers that you would like the project to achieve
  6. Who formed the project team, were they in-house, or were they from an NGO/ implementing agency? Describe them and their involvement
  7. How did they implement the strategy? How did they choose the implementing agency, whether it was a corporate trust or foundation or otherwise? How did they engage with the agency?
  8. What was the monitoring systems put in place? As in MIS reports, progress reports shared with the 3-member Board committee, who on the Board did it go to? What suggestions came from the CSR committee, if any?
  9. How did you involve the community where the project was implemented? How did you assess the progress, and who did it, was it internal, or did you have a 3rd party assessment agency?
  10. How was the documentation done? Did you share the reports on your internal newsletters, or via press releases on media, or were video clips shared on social media, was it captured in your company’s annual report?

That’s it! Just 10 questions to create a case study that captures the good work you and your team in your corporate/ organisation have already done. If you need help articulating your answers, let me know and I will get someone across to help you with it.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in Corporate, CSR, Jay Vikram Bakshi, social enterprise, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Free Basics vs. Net Neutrality:What Ashok Jain may have said

FBvNNWay back in the early 90’s as a journalist, my photographer colleague who was a few decades my senior would regale me with stories of old media lore. One of the protagonists that I remember Monada (Mona Chowdhury, may his soul Rest in Peace!) mentioning was the Late Ashok Jain. The first Indian owner of the Times of India Group, which later became a megalith through the efforts of his sons, now media doyens, Samir and Vineet Jain. But, I digress!

One story that I remember and today becomes particularly relevant in this public domain debate between Free Basics vs. Net Neutrality revolves around Ashok Jain. According to Mona-da, there was a fearsome debate between an editor and a business head in his office, with his company secretary sitting around taking notes. After listening to each chieftain, Ashok-ji (as he was referred to by his inner circle) nodded sagely, and said, “You are right!”. At which point of time, the company secretary looked up from his notepad and blurted out, “Ashokji, both of them can’t be right. One of them has to be right!” Ashokji, thought for a moment, and told the company secretary” You know, YOU are right!”. And with that, all further discussion ended right there.

As TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) searches for a solution or rather, weighs in to accept or defend the cause of Free Basics or Internet.org OR Net Neutrality, I am reminded of this episode, re-told with great dramatic flourish by my photographer mentor.

And yet, as far as I can tell there should be no debate. Here is Facebook’s defense to the points that Times Of India, the media megalith raised. And interestingly, I agree to all the points. If Facebook, Google, Amazon, Flipkart want to bring down or remove access costs for people who are still without internet access, and they want privilege entry into their ‘walled garden’ am sure no consumer will complain.

So, what’s this hoo haa about Net Neutrality? Firstly, it’s not new. The debate is almost as old as motherhood and apple pie. And the same set of appeals are being made here as they have been in front of FCC in the US. See this Link.

Now, here’s where my Point of View (PoV) starts resembling Ashok-ji’s. If Facebook says its internet.org or Free Basics will give access to another billion users who can’t pay for data connectivity, I laud them for their altruism and vote for free enterprise. On the other hand, if the advocates of Net Neutrality are fighting against the subsidy of free access, which translates into policing of views on the internet, or even paying the price later, I congratulate them for their fervor in upholding the first right of free democracy- the right to free speech, without fear of distortion or deletion.

And then when the third party asks me why I am saying both are right, I know that a third option is actually already open. You see, my career journey also spanned the start of the mobile revolution in India. In 2004-5, we used to say that 2 percent of India’s GDP growth is actually because of mobile penetration. And there was good reason for that. Way back then, the New Telecom Policy 1999 had devised a revenue sharing plan for mobile operators instead of paying upfront for air waves, and create a Universal Service Obligation Fund with TRAI as the administrator, this is a practice that global regulators have upheld as a “Best Practice”. Unfortunately, like in every other space, the Government has been found lacking in implementation, and till 2013 just 30% of the levies collected had been spent on affordable rural connectivity.

Assuming that the private sector will deliver telecom, and more relevant to the topic, data access, where the government fears to tread, is a pipe dream. At least in India, in every industry sector, including IT and ITeS, the government or rather its business entities were the first to enter and expand the field for the private sector to follow. In recent years, the government has found value (such as the sale of VSNL and CMC to the Tata group) and political brickbats for selling those organisations to the private sector, but the job had to be done.

Even as recently, as last week, the new aviation routes to tier 2 and 3 cities are first being opened up by Air India, instead of private players.

And then, when I look at how Microsoft faced anti-trust legislation in the European Union, for bundling Internet Explorer in Windows 95, or even the flak that Google faces for its almost monopolistic positioning for its search and adwords combined with its Android OS, it’s no surprise that suspicion of business interest will prevail among folks who believe the basic tenets of equality, liberty, fraternity are being infringed upon in the digital space.

So, here’s my solution, inspired by what Ashok-ji may have said. Let the ISP’s and TSP’s who are providing the access, and who are being subsidized by Facebook, Google, Amazon, whoever else, deposit the said amounts (assume it’s 0.5%) with a common authority (say TRAI). Let that money actually be spent, via BSNL and other government owned organisations, on providing access to the under/ unserved. And let that be audited, and reviewed by the ISP/TSP and the Facebook, Google, Amazon combine alongwith the Net Neutrality lobby.

After all, if it’s for common good, let all the stakeholders in, and allow all citizens equal and rightful access to services, which are based on their common assets (land, airwaves, energy, and water).

Posted in communications, content, Corporate, CSR, entrepreneurship, India marketing, Jay Vikram Bakshi, marketing, money, politics, social enterprise | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

7 seconds or less: Attention span versus first impressions on social media

Marilyn Monroe poster by Andy Warhol

“In the future everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame”, thus spake psychedelic guru, Andy Warhol. That was 1968! And the flower power hippie movement was the backdrop, as was network TV in the US.

Cut to 2015, and social media inspired micro-celebrities ( or should we say nano or pico celebrities) and you have New York Times carrying an article on 15 seconds of fame.

The article, total read time 15 minutes online ( with graphics and images on) and 5 minutes on mobile ( Reader View Available) dwells on last year’s heartthrob, “hot mug shot guy”, a felon who trended on pretty much all over social media and jumped the chasm into TV, and print.

But, that’s hardly news! The article goes on to mention the “nanofamers” about 200-plus stars with a million-plus followers on Vine (that 6- seconds bite-sized content sharing platform). And then there’s #Instagram, #where #everything #hashtagged #gets #instalove, #instafame, #in #the #hope #of #instasponsors. And did I forget Pinterest, Snapchat, or now the grand old dame of short digital video formats Youtube by Google.

And then in comes this Microsoft study on attention spans, and I quote: “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention” – Satya Nadella

The intro goes on to say” The average human attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds, but by 2013 it was only 8 seconds (1 second shorter than a goldfish!)”. Read that again, one whole second shorter than a goldfish, disreputed as one of nature’s most distracted sentient beings.

​With news reduced to 140 characters and conversations whittled down to emojis, how is this affecting the way consumers see and interact with their worlds? Read the Microsoft study here, even though it’s about Canadians.

Now with that noise and news in the background, what can you do to make the most of the First 6 seconds, leaving you a generous 1 second to decide to post/like/share/RT or NOT.

Think First Impressions, like the movie “50 First Dates”, where the hero Adam Sandler as a lothario veterinarian romances Drew Barrymore an amnesiac. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been on social media, every tweet, post, snapchat, vine video, pinboard, is a first impression, and your million-strong followers want to discover your content afresh every moment.

Now think of real life situations, you have just 6 seconds to make that first impression, before the client, recruiter, investor, date or parent of date, supervisor or competent authority goes back to what s/he was doing, checking out their own newsfeeds on social media on their mobile device, and multi-tasking in a state of “constant partial attention”.

Here’s the first impression tip list from Forbes:

  1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody.
  2. Straighten your posture. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence.
  3. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.”
  4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, make a practice of noticing the eye color of everyone you meet.)
  5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
  6. Shake hands. This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It’s also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.
  7. Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

But then again, this is for US job seekers,  for deeper query, I found this rather interesting.

Know Yourself gives you the “what” – when you Know Yourself, you know your strengths and challenges, you know what you are doing, what you want, and what to change.

Choose Yourself provides the “how” – it shows you how to take action, how to influence yourself and others, how to “operationalize” these concepts.

Give Yourself delivers the “why” – when you Give Yourself you are clear and full of energy so you stay focused why to respond a certain way, why to move in a new direction, and why others should come on board.

More at the six seconds site here!

Hope this helps make you ‘nano-famous” in a socially constructive way.

Note: it’ll take you 4 minutes to read this piece on making a 6 second impression, irony!  

Posted in career advice, communications, consumer research, entrepreneurship, recruitment, social media, social networking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CSR: What you didn’t know about Section 135 and didn’t bother to find out!

Manika works at READ Oceanic Center’s Solar Shop – a social enterprise designed to provide an income to sustain the center while delivering solar lamps as a clean, affordable energy alternative to kerosene lamps for the community.

This post is in response to a column by a media person and friend featured in First Post.

The reason, of course, is to dispel the myths and mythology that seems to be surrounding common knowledge and understanding of Section 135, of the Companies Act, 2013, which makes CSR ( or much criticized  as the 2 percent tax) which companies have to make as part of their reporting.

Not to mention, the complete unawareness of the developments in the space of CSR by the esteemed columnist, and the perpetuation of myths that make the Greek rendition of a Minotaur (Half Man, Half Bull) into complete bull!

Myth 1: 2 percent tax

Reality: there is none. Companies simply have to report that they have spent, or failed to do so, in every financial year, at least two per cent of the average net profits of the company made during the three immediately preceding financial years, in pursuance of its Corporate Social Responsibility Policy. If they haven’t, that’s upto them, but the mandatory part of the law is the reporting, and that’s it. As of now, while there are consultations afoot to make spends mandatory, but that will require an amendment of the law. To put things in perspective, it took 10 years to get this version of the Companies Act out as law.

Myth 2: Companies and their heads, or better halves, can choose whatever scheme they want

Reality: Section 135 lays down that the CEO’s, their wives, or related family members, or even heads of departments like HR, marketing and Corporate Affairs have no role to play. Read that again! You read that right. Nada! Zilch, Kuch nahin! No role, period.

The law clearly states, that the first responsibility of the qualifying entity (companies with net worth of INR 500 crore or more (approx.USD 100 million  or more), or a turnover  of INR 1000 crore or more (approx. USD 200 million or more), or a net profit  of rupees five crore or more (approx. USD 1 million or more) during any financial year,  is to report that a CSR committee with at least one independent member, has been formed.

Why? Clearly to take out the abuse of the system, so aptly described by the columnist quoted. No longer can there be CSR in the form of CEO philanthropy or “Noblesse Oblige”, or political patronage in the name of CSR.

So what will this board committee do? Simply, set out the CSR policy framework for the company. To quote, “This committee needs to formulate and set out the Corporate  Social Responsibility Policy which  shall  indicate the activities to be  undertaken by the company as specified in Schedule VII of the above act, as well as recommend the amount of expenditure to be incurred on the activities referred to in clause (a); and monitor the Corporate Social Responsibility Policy of the company from time to time.”

Somehow, I don’t see the role of HR, corporate affairs, or marketing heads here. And that is by design. The new Companies Act, which drew more debate on this one section than any of the others, has put the onus of responsibility at the level where it belongs, the representatives of investors, read Board members. And that one independent member, has the responsibility of upsetting the whole underlying assumption of crony capitalism, of parking money in local politician funded NGO’s, and CEO’s wives favourite ‘selfie’ moments, and taking the impact of CSR into where it really matters, into the lives of ‘the poorest of the poor”, “Daridra Narayan” as described by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as per the recommendations of the board committee.

Myth 3: CSR funds are another form of buying favour

Reality: do you really need to? Schedule VII gives ample scope for companies to demonstrate their own understanding and imperatives. Have a look at the Schedule:

  • Activities which may be included by companies in their Corporate Social Responsibility Policies:
    (i) eradicating extreme hunger and poverty;
    (ii) promotion of education;
    (iii) promoting gender equality and empowering women;
    (iv) reducing child mortality and improving maternal health;
    (v) combating human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, malaria and other diseases;
  • (vi) ensuring environmental sustainability;
    (vii) employment enhancing vocational skills;
    (viii) social business projects;
    (ix) contribution to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government or the State Governments for socioeconomic development and relief and funds for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women; and
    (x) such other matters as may be prescribed ( and the latest notification allows setting up technology entrepreneurship cells within academic institutions)
  • If you knew your meat from bull, you would notice the similarity with the UN’s Millenium Development Goals. But, obviously, the pre-meditated notions of people the columnist refers to having spoken with, or his underlying presumptions won’t allow for the need to read anything beyond 140 characters.

If you spend 2 percent of your average net profits, in any of the causes above, any and all politicians will be happy to oblige. Heck, you, your company, the project and people responsible would be touted by the UN, B20 summits, and the WEF, no less.

And now let me focus on the real power and implications of Section 135, which has confounded the columnist, and is the reason why corporate India and its minions are busy at work discrediting this legislation- unprecedented anywhere in the world.

  1. The CSR policy will decide activities which will consume two percent of average net profits of the previous three years. How?
  2. There will have to be a project. A measurable and benchmarkable project. For instance, your company decides to spend INR 100 Crore, or USD 17 Million dollars, at current exchange rates, on Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, as part of your Board’s CSR policy around say, reducing child mortality, or combating diseases, or environmental sustainability.
  3. The report will need to showcase a baseline assessment survey. Is there a need to sweep a city street which is already well served by the municipal corporation, for which your company pays taxes, or to take it where there is none, and your company’s board believes it is more effective.
  4. Not just a project, but with yearly monitoring and evaluation. For instance, the justification that comes out of spends on #MyCleanIndia program is that more children will be healthy and be able to attend school. The data that will be needed to be monitored by the board is “what percentage of children in the area where our project is, are now, for instance, able to do Class V math”. And this has to be monitored and reported, year on year on year, just like corporate profits. Call it what you may, project or program mode, I call it “mission mode”, and am sorry corporate boards now have to wake up and smell the coffee.
  5. Rupee denominated social projects. This is perhaps, the first time anywhere in the world, that corporates have to demonstrate their social commitment in terms of rupees spent. Most global corporates and a few of Indian origin, have fallen into the trap of compliance reporting, I call it checkbox reporting. Try doing it with PR , or branding but avoiding any mention of any real percentage of corporate profits. After all, corporates and their investors are simply interested in the profits, the market cap and dividends these enterprises provide, right? Now, wake up and smell the masala chai! The country which will be making the highest investment in renewable energy anywhere in the world, in the next 10 years, is India. Is that CSR or a compelling business case for social investment in times of climate change?

But, there’s a caveat. The same telecoms and retail giant quoted in the column ran in to trouble with tax authorities when they tried to claim the signboard at their school toilet project, a brilliant input from their hugely competent marketing team, as part of its CSR spend. And so will a number of others, who think that the advertisement for a tournament for disabled, or monies spent to bring a filmstar to inaugurate a slum cleanliness drive, or even high spends on TV for sanitation will pass off as CSR under section 135. The answer, my friend, is baseline impact. Did that money change any of the metrics the Board set out to monitor, or was it pure fluff?

The questions, that will be asked, as part of the report filling in process will be:

  1. What was the ground necessity for the project at that location? Did you do a baseline assessment of requirements
  2. What is the CSR project expected to achieve? What goals are you shooting for and by when, and what will you report every year
  3. How much money will it cost? How are you monitoring and evaluating your investors’ money being spent (can you afford to be irresponsible with CSR funds carved out of you investors incomes?)

And here’s an example of a large, say, public sector giant with running average net profits of INR 30,000 Crores, or an annual CSR fund commit of INR 600 Crores ( Above USD 100 Million). This is no longer the flower show, or local jagran sponsorship level activity, it’s almost as much as an annual budget of a major product line, and it will be the Key Responsibility Area of the CEO with Board committee oversight.

Am sure, HR, Corporate Affairs, or marketing heads, will not have these answers, or even the data points or projects to develop and sustain such projects year on year. And yes! Maybe CEO wives and movie stars could look good on annual reports and while inaugurating the programs, but make no mistake, the law as it stands is designed to ask tougher questions from the Board CSR committee, and the quicker they learn to upskill and design their policies for their own growth and sustainability the better it will be.

So, the question is no longer whether the CA, or the CEO, or the auditor can design or drive CSR reporting in India. It will require a completely different level of understanding among company directors, those who are Board members, and also require companies to access or develop the design, monitoring and reporting skills required to comply. And am afraid no traditional MBA program can help with those. As I said earlier, this law is unprecedented anywhere in the world. The speed, skill and scale required to comply will have to be developed in India, for India, and then the world.

Disclaimer: presently, a digital entrepreneur, I have nursed my connections with the CSR space throughout my corporate and entrepreneurial career. I am founder Trustee of READ India ( an NGO which supports rural education projects via local social enterprises), I am also co-author of the then International Business Leaders Forum report on LEADERSHIP IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD- How business leaders in India are reframing success, and more recently, master trainer with the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, set up by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, having co-authored the courseware for creating a new cadre of CSR professionals, who now will  be better equipped to fill the need gap on CSR policy formulation, project design, monitoring and evaluation, to provide support to India’s corporate boards.

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Road to a Digital Nation starts with building toilets

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day Address

Its India’s 68th Independence Day, and the first address by a Prime Minister who was born in independent India.

And while,  Narendra Modi made his way through a speech that would appeal to a new India. An India of the 21st century, and almost a decade and half post millennium, his speech brought out issues that dog the daily lives of common India.

The three themes in Narendra Modi’s address ( full text here in 18 Indian languages) were Clean India, Skilled India and Digital India as a vision for Made in India appealing to the needs, wants and aspirations of a people 50% of whom are less than 30 years of age. Mr. Modi is a practical man, and he knows the linkages between the keywords.

And, there is a personal connect here!

Cut to 1999, when I was the comms head in an MNC Telecom software company. Among the portfolios that landed on my lap, and which I embraced was CSR ( corporate social responsibility).

Enter Mathew Cherian, then CEO of CAF ( Charities Aid Foundation), and presently, the CEO of HelpageIndia and author of book (A MILLION MISSIONS – THE NON-PROFIT SECTOR IN INDIA)

Mathew and I, after putting in place, possibly the first intranet-linked auto-deduct payroll giving scheme in India ( where employees can contribute a part of their monthly salary to a charity of their choice, with the company giving a matching grant) for raising relief funds for the 1999 Odisha Super-cyclone, and the 2000 Rajasthan drought, decided to turn our attention to a project which could be on ground and sustained by the corporate over a long time.

Based on discussions with the CEO and Head of HR, we decided on ‘bridging the digital divide’. In other words, setting up a computer lab in a local village school, so that underprivileged kids from the community could aspire to, and come and work at the MNC software company.

Enter Col. Taneja, the man was all of a sprightly 80 when I first met him. He had been helping out in the neighbourhood villages in and around Palam Vihar with funds from friends and relatives. Col Sahab, as we called him, spoke British English and Haryanvi, and his towering frame commanded respect among the villagers and sarpanches of Carterpuri and Choma villages. The NGO he set up was initially named, Friends of Carterpuri and Choma villages.

Truth be told, the first time I laid eyes on the Carterpuri Village Government High School, I was appalled. I grew up in a steel town in West Bengal, and used to cycle to villages around, but here was a village and a school, right in the middle of a suburban colony, but with only the boundary wall and the principal’s office standing.

There was a large banyan tree in the central yard, but since all the roofs had collapsed, classes were held in the open with the black tar paint on the boundary walls serving as blackboards. I counted about 80 kids, of all ages from toddlers to teens attending class, with 3 classes being conducted on adjacent walls.

The teachers were doing what was then routine, teaching by rote and repetition. So the combined cacophony of Hindi, English and two times tables rhymed into a unique blend of sounds.

But, what was even more startling was the smell from one wall behind the principal’s office, which was the public loo wall. Boys did it standing up, girls squatting, and close by was a tap for washing hands, drinking water, but no water.

We were allocated that wall for the computer classroom we had in mind. Col.Taneja knew the impact this would have on an impressionable mind, and when we returned we changed the plans, completely.

First, while we had the computers ready, this was a software export unit, so we had very high-end PCs which were imported at subsidized customs duty. At that point of time, no piece of equipment was allowed to be taken out of the development centre without the permission in writing from the customs authorities. When the cause was explained, rules were amended to allow donations of PCs to government schools. That process, however, deserves another post.

Second, what do you do about electricity? Haryana, then, had power lines but with very little trickling down to the switch. That was easily solved, the investment plan was updated to account for a generator and fuel, and the air-conditioning then mandatory for old PCs, was scaled down to a locally- made air cooler system with a dehumidifier.

Third, what do you do about the wall? Fact one, there were no loos, or segregated drinking water and washing taps. Teachers and the principal were non-committal about the placement of loos in the original plan. One of them rued the fact, that the fields that were being used earlier, had been allocated for housing plots, and now it had become difficult to defecate in the day. People, men and women had to do their stuff either early morning or late at night.

So, this is what we did.

We updated the plan to build two separate loos on either side of the computer room. One side would have urinals for men and boys, as well as ceramic potty. The other end would have potty’s and a closed wash area for women and girls.

Meanwhile, Col.Taneja found leverage out of our commit to rope in other friends to fund re-building and furnishing classrooms. He personally designed wood top bench-seats, with wrought iron frames, since they were virtually indestructible. “Bakshi, these folks use the school grounds, for all kinds of events, and tie cattle with benches”, he used to say.

The much- awaited computer lab was inaugurated a year later, but the moment the building with toilets and running water was in place, there was a sudden change in the school.

First thing I noticed was the kids started looking smarter. Cleaner clothes, better turned out. Teachers started landing up, beyond the three I first met, we found there were a dozen more, who started taking classes, and the classes started moving indoors, thanks majorly to Col.Taneja’s other funders, who funded the re-roofing of collapsed classrooms.

We created an employee volunteer group: “ReachOut” to go and teach a class of all who were interested on how to use computers, with a special session for the Principal and teachers. 

Eight years later, when I visited the school with Toni, chairperson, READ Global, an NGO I am still associated with. The school was unrecognizable.

Of course, development all around had all but removed all memory of the village shacks around the only “pucca” wall in the place. The school had been fully developed, with class rooms all around the walls, with a yard and tree now at the center. The classes were busy, so we stopped only at the crafts center, where village women were making and selling knitted and stitched household furnishings.

After, the usual round of greetings, namaste’s all around, the tall young woman, who was drawing designs on a PC, came across and started bending down to touch my feet. A gesture that so surprised me that I stepped back with a start. Disappointed, she straightened up, smiled and asked how come I didn’t remember her. And then the penny dropped, the only girl in the first under- 10 years class at the computer lab, had grown up, with her familiar grin, and was standing right in front of me.

And, then in fairly good English told the gathering of visitors from California and the local NGO volunteers. ”This sir, put in the computers, and taught us how to operate PC”, “that was when our school got the toilets with doors”.

Cut to present date, and announcements by many leading corporates committing CSR funds to building toilets, in answer to the Prime Minister’s call, and I am reminded of that journey.

And my personal take-out; The road to building a digital nation starts with toilets with doors and clean water.

Update: Mathew on reading the blog, told me that a number of those students are currently employed at the software company. The circle is complete!

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The Leadership Legacy Mindset: lessons from observing leaders

Leadership legacy

leading from the front

Political leaders, social leaders, business leaders, have a decision to make. What after they have achieved all their professional and personal goals? Most try to do more of the same, perhaps in the hope that what worked well before will lead to better results with greater efficiency and execution.

A few, however, reflect on what their success meant in the context in which it was achieved, and deliberate on what can create a sustainable road for their organisation, company, or even belief system.

In other words, what is the Leadership Legacy that remains embedded within the minds, beliefs, operations and Eco-systems long after they have exited.

I call this the Leadership Legacy mindset. And I find many, many successful leaders wondering about the secret recipe to ignite the imagination, drive the execution and create a belief system that sustains organisations, teams and Eco-systems.

Some others, on the other hand, have a well thought out path to progress. Take, for instance, M.K. Gandhi, the mahatma who created the doctrine of non-violence as a collective action for protest. While his execution focus was clearly on winning India her independence from British colonial rule, his conviction in his approach found him commenting on the Russian Bolshevik revolution, Germany’s fascination with Nazis, as well as the means and methods adopted by the Allied powers in winning World War 2.

And while in a famous exchange of letters, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, urged Gandhi to take the world on the path of non-violence, Gandhi, always a practical man, reverted with his belief, that his role was primarily in the context he was familiar with, leaving his doctrine to be followed successfully globally by leaders like Martin Luther King jr. and Nelson Mandela, amongst thousand others.The doctrine and approach is Gandhian, the flavour can be as local and adaptive as possible.

For business leaders, in a corporate context, the legacy mindset is typically surrounded by a set of goals, or value systems which sustain beyond them. For instance, Steve Jobs’ in his biography by Walter Isaacson, is found agonising about the Apple culture, an approach to innovative thinking in personal mobile computing lifestyle, which made the company and him an icon in his life time. I would like to have taken the names of ‘neutron’ Jack Welch or even the original BMOC ( Big Man On Campus) Lee Iacocca in the same breath, but I can’t.

The reason is simple, while both these leaders were iconic in their own way, none of them created a sustainable legacy which took their organisations, teams, or even industry Eco-systems from strength to strength. And the jury is out on Jobs as well!

Closer home in India, we do hear similar stories, but the one which catches the imagination is the leadership legacy of J R D Tata, and the reason is simple. In each and every instance, the key message that stands out is a story of contributing to building a nation. What are you doing today that means something to every life in your context? I wrote a tribute to the Late Russi Mody last week, recalling a series of interviews I did with him in the early 90’s, and what stood out was the footprint that JRD had embedded in the Tata organisations and its impact on the next set of leaders.

When you view legacy from this prism, people such as Charles Schwab, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and J. P. Morgan stand out as folks who envisaged their enterprises contributing to a nation by becoming relevant to the man on the street. Perhaps, the leaders of the computing and Internet era would also be viewed in similar lines. For instance, Bill Gates at Microsoft, or even the partnerships such as Hewlett and Packard, or Page and Brin at Google.

But truth be told, these visionaries will be remembered for, in the application of their doctrines, a set of values, beliefs and behaviours that are applicable beyond the context of their discovery. Bill Gates is already doing that in the world of healthcare and learning, the Google founders have already marked their footprint in home and health space. But am equally certain that without this mindset, founders and CEO’s are likely to disappear into the mounds of public records as the world discovers new ideas to explore and follow.

The next question is the set of behaviours, the meme-s these leaders create which are picked up by folks around them, and the mythology that connects with people.

If Gandhi hadn’t been thrown off a train, would his story of self transformation  and the discovery of non-violence as a protest method been as effective. Similarly, had Gandhi not been a great organiser would he have been able to coax, cajole, convince and corral people around him to participate in the rallies, protests, and fasts?


Firstly, as a leader you need to articulate your doctrine which can be learned by everyone.

Secondly, your success in execution will determine others attempting to follow. 

 And Thirdly, and most importantly, making your success principles easy to imbibe and follow.

what is your Leadership Legacy?

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The Retail Remix

Last weekend was about entrepreneurs! Its become some kind of a habit for me to spend a day each week with startups. Saturdays turn out to be the best days. VC’s, and PE’s are winding down their mad travel schedules…a bad economy is a great time to place medium to long term bets! Entrepreneurs, usually a self-obsessed, jittery lot, try to consciously stop to breathe in intoxicants other than inhaling their own exhaust fumes.

So a friend said, there’s a new chai bar we must stop by. He was impressed with the name and signage, and the fact that a man was wearing the sign- walking signboard style- in the parking lot of the market.

So we went, the place which had opened just a month back had a new paint and furniture smell mingling with the North Indian conception of chai- Karak ( Strong) with a whole load of spices and boiling milk. I instinctively said, this place is gonna rock, noticing the offer of free wifi and a few creative individuals sitting with their Macbooks open.

Question: How do you make out a creative individual? If it’s a man, he’ll either have a shaved top, with a stylish beard, preferably with thick shell spectacles. If it’s a woman, she’ll have tattoo ink peeking out, and neon accessories. Both will carry a backpack.

So, we go over, pore over the menu and decide a few samplers, my friend is a member of the city’s gourmet club, and takes his role seriously, and after the customary Facebook food shot, FourSquare Check-in and Twitter shout out, we start looking around, trying to guess how much this startup might be making. Suddenly, the Barista slides across a sampler, this is a mini-sandwich with bread and Maggi. I detest the wheat on wheat combination, would rather have a straight-laced BLT, but they don’t have it on their menu. So, I invite the young 20-something to join us at the table, and ask him what? How? Why? When?

It seems the coolest thing today at IIT Delhi is to do a startup. Young man here, got into an online education startup with 3 friends straight out of college. The venture lasted less than a year. They had over estimated interest in better results, and hadn’t worked out the gestation period and funding. So, this chai bar is a second venture. Not really! Another college senior had started this concept at another location, our young friend joined in as a founding team member to lead this outlet. And the work description includes,

  1. standing as the billboard man at the parking lot, when business is slow,
  2. Getting behind the counter and helping folks discover their favorite concoctions and snacks
  3. Experimenting with the menu- its all on the blackboard, there is no printed menu yet
  4. Managing the money and orders, and the staff

So you’re the CEO of the Galleria branch? I ask. There’s a sheepish grin, and then follows the spiel, how QSR ( Quick Serve Restaurants) are growing in the down cycle, and how folks are investing, and how they have been speaking to angel investors and VC’s to get a look into a new concept. Tea costs INR 41, in a clean paper cup, with Starbucks kind of markings on the side, with free wifi and climate control airconditioning. The 20-cover outlet does 100 tickets a day, which is good for an outlet less than a month old, and about 20 yards from the nearest street corner chai shop which sells chai, as above, on small plastic ( food-grade?) cups at INR 6, alongwith everything else, you’d expec

Later that night, am at a party with large MNC CEO’s, and other C-suite folks, HR consultants, and the conversation veers around to the economy. How bad is inflation? Are marketers spending? Will things change post ( regime-change?) elections? I notice the two PE’s in the room looking smug. PE One just concluded a valuation discussion, and though he isn’t saying, things probably went very well. A down economy is one where entrepreneurs spooked by the falling cash flows, will happily discount future earnings a lot more to get some investment through the door.

PE Two has just invested his own money on a fish retail venture, and is smiling even more broadly. He hands out a card complete with Google map location, and Facebook Page. I ask him what makes a FMCG and Retail honcho decide on opening a Fresh Fish outlet, and he shares the market size numbers. Chicken or poultry is a INR 30K Crore business, while fish is INR 100K Crore. Poultry is highly organized right down to consumer retail, fish is still sold in an unorganized ( ala Unhygienix) way. And I participated in the dream of organized modern retail replacing the neighbourhood fishmonger, just as I heard of the IIT Delhi alumni planning to replace the chaiwala.

If these entrepreneurs succeed in changing the hearts, minds and spending patterns of India’s consumer masses, So what will the chaiboy or the fishmonger do now? A leading newspaper group has an answer. They ran a very high decibel ad campaign on how reading, writing and `rithmetic can make a chaiboy into a server at an organized retail chain. A transformation that could lead to a 10X growth in low-skill income!

So are these entrepreneurs engaging with such prospect employees, and is that leading the change? If the successful experiments of Costa Coffee and now, KFC, in hiring hearing and speech challenged workforce in new retail outlets is an indication, India’s large population of low-skill workforce might just be the beneficiary of this wave.

What does that mean for the traditional street chai vendor, and the fishmonger? As real estate gets more organized, the space for the farmer’s market, the unorganized, mucky space where one would go and test negotiating skills, not to mention, ability to check for freshness of produce via all five senses and a sixth one, reading the retailer behind the counter, is about to become passé. The last time I checked, the street side paratha, sandwich and chai joint had been cordoned off for a fresh block of apartments, and the old fresh produce market is now a swank office complex. One of the chai vendors have become a real estate broker, and served me his special chai at his new office, the fishmonger who hailed from Bengal, I heard has gone home and is now supplying bricks to construction firms.

So finally, just one unanswered question? Why hasn’t education, and its easiest delivery model- online, or its wildly popular version MOOC ( Massively Open Online Course) with brands like Coursera not played out here yet? That way, the IIT Delhi and FMCG Honchos could be adding new layers to the economy rather than trying to replace, at high cost, the old ways of doing things, and impacting traditional livelihoods. Could it be that education in India needs a massive makeover, starting with values, ethics, behaviours first, followed by skills, vocations, and professions?

Posted in entrepreneurship, Jay Vikram Bakshi, Jaywalking, marketing, money, social enterprise, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments