Is the Indian IT industry giving back to society as much as it takes ? The Government of Karnataka has lagged in infrastructure investment, but what have the big IT firms done, on ground ? The debate is not simple and the answers are not in black and white. Big IT (read Infosys) distinguishes between personal and corporate philanthropy. For firms like TCS and Satyam, the distinction is blurred.
In his discussion (not speech), at the India Leadership Forum 2006, Nasscom 2006, three days ago, president Dr APJ Kalam made a longish reference to the rural information technology work being done by the Byrajju Foundation. The foundation is run by Satyam Computer’s B Ramalinga Raju. A passing reference to a project by someone like Kalam would make most people blush and glow in pride. This was a full-blown dissertation.
But Raju, possibly with the wisdom and experience that makes successful people what they are, appeared unmoved. Instead he gazed stoically at the plasma screen on the ground. The screen had the same visual as the six giant screens that hung on the Grand Ballroom wall of the Grand Hyatt in Bombay. Of Kalam with a cute hair cut mostly hidden behind the lecturn, making his presentation. And then Kalam paused, looked up from his notes and said, "You can ask Raju how he is doing it. You can ask him." Like you stopped him in some corridor and wanted some quick advice. Raju smiled, so did everyone else.
"Hey Raman, Is It You ?"
Kalam, to digress a little, has a habit of breaking out of structured presentations, usually to the glee of the audience. Like he did same time last year at the Nasscom 2005 Leadership Forum, also at the Grand Hyatt. This was a video conference. We could see him and he could see us. He had hurt his leg and hence could not make it to Bombay. Then too, he challenged the IT industry to do more.
During the Q&A session, a middle-aged gentleman at the rear stood up and asked a question. It was something to do with defence and information technology I think. From the other end, Kalam said suddenly, "Hey Raman (or such), is it you ?". The gentleman looked thrilled. "Yes, yes." "How are you ? Are you doing okay ?" Kalam then waved out to him. Like old buddies would. The rest of the congregation ceased to exist. I don't even remember if he answered the question !
Last year, in September I had visited Satyam’s offices in Hyderabad. This is the city office, located within walking distance of the airport. One of the things Raju spoke of during our meeting was this effort. He had a simple challenge. “How can we create jobs in villages, reverse migration to cities and create value for us ?” He and his colleagues at the Foundation have made it work. Some of Satyam’s work in its HO now gets done in a village called Jallikakinada referred to by the President.
Executing With Efficiency
The interesting thing is the people working on the project are extremely committed to the cause. And come from industrial backgrounds. This allows them to execute with industrial efficiency. Satyam is not the first to use industrial efficiency in rural work. The Tatas have perhaps pioneered it. But this particular effort is noteworthy. And the possibilities are staggering.
For more, read the original article that Hindustan Times, Bombay, was kind enough to carry in September last year.