As a nine year old, I remember my grandmother telling me “If everyone did their bit for the community, we would have solved half of the world’s problems." Now when I look back, I realize how much truth her statement held. The term ‘Social Responsibility’ in the dictionary reads as “an ethical ideology or that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act to benefit society at large.” Over the years, the face of social responsibility in India has changed manifold. From protesting against unsafe food, campaigning for animal rights to educating slum children, a whole range of the country’s individuals and organisations are taking it upon themselves to work towards their country’s future.
Today, social responsibility is on everyone’s mind and for most of these people, it is an integral part of their lives. I recently interacted with a starry eyed bicycle commuter who believes that cycling can tackle to a large extent, the environmental problems that city dwellers suffer from. Dapoon Rai Dewan is a 28 year old animator in Mumbai who often uses animation to reach out to people about critical social issues. “I tend to choose subjects I feel strongly about and voice them through my line of work. Hailing from the Northeast, I've always been in love with nature and deforestation being a serious problem there, I wanted to do something about it.” His love for nature resulted in the making of Timber, an animated short film for children on the importance of trees.
Like Dapoon, there are others who are inspiring people to do their bit by taking strong initiatives on their own. Azam Siddiqui, a cameraperson with broadcast media, has been advocating animal rights issues for the past ten years in Northeast India. Recalling a success story of mass public participation, he says “For the Kaziranga Centenary Celebrations of 2005, the state government had planned activities like elephant mock fights, tug of wars and elephant dances which I objected to but since it was a mega event supported by wildlife experts, and the state government, nothing positive came out of it.” This led him to start a signature campaign along with three young activists at the end of which they succeeded in garnering the support of hundreds of people to stop cruelty of elephants. He adds, “Finally a day before the event, an announcement was made by the state government that they have decided to scratch off the events.”
When we hear of stories like these, it is impossible not to feel inspired. And today’s individuals drive some of the most vital issues by their sheer passion and enthusiasm which rubs off on most people they come in contact with. Brikesh Singh, a public engagement manager at Greenpeace India, a global environmental campaigning organisation tells us more about these individuals. “The primary motivation for most volunteers is giving back something to the planet apart of serving their selfish motives. Everyone at some point feel bad about environmental destruction they see happening around them and they all want to do something to set that right,” he says.
In India, there is no dearth of issues one can choose to work on but not everyone will have a clarity on how to go about it. This is where organisations like iVolunteer, an organisation that brings volunteers and organizations together to work towards social development, come into play. Shalabh Sahai, Co-founder & Director of iVolunteer gives us a little background into the world of volunteering. “Causes associated with children often have the 'Top of the Mind' recall. But Environment and rural development are also popular. “Two-third of iVolunteer's own network of volunteers belong to the group of 20 to 45 years of age, of skilled professionals, aspiring to or already doing well in their professional lives,” he says.
But individuals are not the only ones that are taking an active part in developmental work. Today, a large number of corporate houses have transcended beyond mere charity and have taken corporate social responsibility (CSR) heads-on with their CSR programs. Biswaranjan Sethi, a software engineer from IBM India is also a part of the On Demand Group of IBM that provides opportunities for it’s employees to participate in community development. Sharing with us his take on community work, he says “Over the years, I have engaged with children from orphanages as well as slums and the experience has been beautiful. I believe that we get so much from the society and giving a little back to the community will not only enrich our lives but also help an underprivileged lead a better life.”
With a large number of individuals and organisations taking the plunge into social and environmental issues, trends say these numbers will only rise in the next years. After all, with the innumerable number of issues to work on and a vast majority of people striving to bring about a positive change, there’s every reason to! And as Brikesh Singh said, “We live in a country which gave birth to Civil Disobedience, the land of Gandhi who inspired thousands more to stand with him. If we want to live in the country of Gandhi’s dream, each one should bring out the Gandhi’s in us when ever time demands and only then can we be assured of fresh air, clean water and a safe habitat for all creatures on the planet.”
First published in the Eclectic Magazine, July 2011.