Since time immemorial, the only question that has tormented management gurus has been: what is the main purpose of business? Is it to make a profit? Generate returns for shareholders? Or serve the community? While the jury is still out on the answer, last month in India we got closer to the truth.
For those who don’t know, April and May 2021 saw an extremely deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic engulf India. Despite its large size and population of over 1.4 billion, the country had managed to survive the first wave of 2020. At the start of 2021, the situation appeared to be under control. And rulers and ordinary citizens seemed to have been lulled into complacency. Then suddenly the virus spread rapidly.
The result was tragic. After a rapidly increasing trajectory, the number of daily lives lost crossed the 400,000 mark at the end of April. In a country where health care standards vary widely between urban and rural centers, the consequences for people, especially at lower economic levels of society, have been debilitating.
Corporate India lives up to the occasion
It was then that some of us in Indian companies saw something that we had never seen before. We have seen an organic movement that has spread contagiously much like the coronavirus it rose up against. She strengthened each of us and illuminated hope in our tired hearts. So what exactly did we see?
We have seen Indian companies seize the opportunity by deploying their ingenuity, resources (human, technological and financial) and power to complement the government’s efforts in the war on the pandemic. Here are some of the main support mechanisms that stand out:
Organizations have loosened their wallets like never before. While some already had their employees covered by group insurance plans, others stepped up their deployment. Special COVID treatment insurance packages introduced by some of the big insurance players were quickly offered to employees. Apart from this, organizations have also allowed reimbursement of expenses not covered by restrictive insurance plans. Not only that, but many organizations have also made free donations to causes and institutions serving the needy. India Inc. has also seen the introduction of the “mourning policy”. Deployed by many large companies such as the renowned Tata Group, this new addition to HR policies was intended to support family members who have lost a salaried member due to this horrific virus.
The second wave also revealed a huge gap in the country’s medical infrastructure. This is quite strange for a nation considered to be the “pharmaceutical factory” of the world. There were inadequate beds and a shortage of essential drugs and life-saving equipment. Once again, global organizations have activated their international links to procure devices such as oxygen concentrators. These were hastily imported into the country and sent to their employees’ doors. Bigger computer giants like Wipro has converted some of its sprawling campuses into makeshift Covid health centers. They have worked closely with authorities to ensure that non-critical parents do not clog traditional hospitals that are already overcrowded.
With the immense pressure on the healthcare ecosystem and the resulting shortages, even securing basic facilities like home COVID testing or purchasing essential drugs has become an ordeal. For caregivers who are already tense and worried about the inflicted patient (s), this is a big hurdle to overcome when trying to help a loved one or loved ones to recover. To address this issue, organizations such as the Global Marketing Solutions Provider, Interpublic, set up internal “working groups”. These functioned much like a call center. Employees could call and make a request and an army of their coworkers would use the phones and scour the internet to find a solution for them.
Senior executives in India’s industry quickly realized that their employees needed emotional support. In many cases, HR staff became the conduit that provided this support to their colleagues. Techniques used include regular recordings, wellness seminars by experts, and extra holiday pay. In many cases, companies have partnered with specialist organizations, providing 24/7 consulting services.
Optimism for the future of Indian businesses
More encouraging, however, is this fact. Employees aren’t the only ones to reap the benefits. Many organizations have also made free donations to causes and institutions serving the needy. One of the country’s largest and most respected organizations, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), a subsidiary of global major Unilever, launched Mission HO2AT. In partnership with the nonprofit KVN Foundation and Portea, India’s largest home health care company, HUL has made free oxygen concentrators available to anyone in need.
Essentially, for anyone employed by private sector organizations, it is reassuring to know that Indian business employers are supporting them. For others, it signals that help is just around the corner. He gave hope to the people of a nation. In my opinion, hope can make us move mountains. It gives us the courage and stamina to move forward even in the most difficult situations. This is what the benevolence of Indian companies ended up doing.