Extending Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) projects, especially to the disadvantage areas of the country, whilst assisting the citizens to enhance the quality of life, is now believed to be an effective Corporate Social Responsibility initiative by the Sri Lankan business community.
John Keells Holdings Ltd. (JKH), one of Sri Lanka’s blue chipcompanies, has embarked on such projects in underprivileged areas of the country. JKH is in the process of assisting Mahavillachchiya, one such poor village, by enabling villagers to earn a regular income. "We provide them work throughout the year and buy back their products offering them a reasonable sum of money. In the meantime, we help them to enhance there business financially through technical know-how and guidance. We see this as an effective project to enhance the quality of life of our rural citizens, while at the same time there is their contribution to the national effort.
"They need not come to the city to earn a reasonable income, which they receive doing something productive staying in their own villages," said JKH Director Sumithra Gunesekera in a short interview with The Island Financial Review. He added that will stop migration to the city.
JKH intends to spread the programme to other villages in time to come.
Gunesekera said that each and every CSR activity of his company is based on sustainable development of various lines of trade or handicrafts.
"It should not be deemed a charity or handout or a patronising gesture, but continuous support for maintaining productivity, the self-respect and dignity of labour and the individual as well as enhancing the citizen’s quality of life. That should be the CSR focus of any company," Gunesekera stressed.
JKH has also embarked on projects to empower village women. One such project is being conducted in Halmillawe, where women are encouraged to earn an income doing petty businesses, whilst attending to household work. " The mother is a lynchpin of the family and a guide to children. If she acquires a sense of personal and social responsibility in being involved in our projects, she will have imparted a worthwhile value to her offspring.
"We go further than that. Our ambition is to create a vigorous and knowledgeable second generation by empowering mothers," said Gunesekera. He said that a number of projects to empower women is in the pipeline.
JKH has an established ‘John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation’, a special unit for its CSR initiatives since 2005. The CSR projects have been handled by a committee previously. The foundation has since then activated more formal projects, according to Gunesekera. The objective of the foundation was to provide financial assistance to the needy, to undertake projects of social and communal nature, to promote science, sports and cultural activities, to promote commercial enterprise and evince an awareness of the environment and earth resources.
"All these initiatives would be based on sustainable development. Our projects would not end within a year or two but be of an on-going process ," said Gunesekera.
Speaking on the expenses of the CSR activity, Gunesekera said that it was difficult to quantify how much the company spends such activities. "Though we have estimates drawn up through the Foundation at the beginning of the year, we have to have reserves for unforseen contigencies that may suddenly arise. Furthermore, every company under our umbrella is involved in some type of CSR work," said Gunesekara. He noted that the company does not use CSR projects to sell products. "It is obvious that we as a company should accrue some benefits through CSR. But, by and large, the sum total of our CSR efforts should impact on the country’s development in a productive manner, be it small or large," surmised Gunesekera.
JKH had embarked on several CSR projects through it CSR Foundation. Its English language scholarship programme launched in 2004 aimed to enhance English language skills among deserving school children has already touched the lives of over 1000 students.
Halmillawe village adoption project is aimed at providing basic infrastructure facilities to improve agricultural products and the marketing system, whilst diversifying livelihoods and strengthening youth development.
It has also embarked on HIV/AIDS awareness initiative among the vulnerable groups around their business locations.
‘Vision 2000’ is another project that the company has embarked on in which cataract operations projects were launched aiming to restore the eyesight of patients scattered across the country.