Letter from Chennai
From Alan Kay, formerly a SAN Director and activist for social accounting and audit
I retired from full-time work in June last year in order to focus my energy in travelling to different places and exploring art and culture a bit more.
After a visit to Sri Lanka to catch up with one of our sons who lives there, my wife and I flew to Chennai which used to be called Madras. It is a sprawling, coastal Indian city in the south-east of the Indian continent. Noise, colours, dust, smells, traffic chaos assault all the senses!
Chennai is where SAN India is based and over the last week I have been catching up with old friends and colleagues.
SAN India is run as a project of the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) which was founded by Mr P N Devarajan and a group of socially committed individuals in 2001.
CSIM is an extremely interesting organisation and has tended to concentrate on women’s health and well-being in rural areas across India. Over the years they have become more and more involved in the development of social enterprise – using economic activity and business methods to achieve ways of addressing social need.
I arrived in Chennai just in time to attend CSIM’s annual general meeting and it was interesting to hear what they have been involved with and what their plans are for the coming years.
Although we are essentially on holiday, we inevitably have been hearing about what SAN India has been doing.
They have been active in promoting the concept of social and community enterprise but they have also addressed a demand coming from the private sector who by law have to provide a percentage of their pre-tax profit for social good.
In order to track this many companies have been in contact with SAN India to learn how social accounting and audit works. This consultancy work has enabled SAN India to subsidise much of its outreach and training work. This is a different operating model from SAN UK but in India, it seems to work well.
In the development of SAN India, a number of things have been learnt…
Firstly, the overall Social Accounting and Audit framework is thoroughly understood, but the examples and some of the actions and methodologies have to be adapted to the Indian situation. This is particularly the case in using case studies and examples. The role of SAN India in interpreting, adapting and promoting has been vital.
Secondly, the training delivered by SAN India can benefit greatly from links to colleges and other tertiary institutions and this is beginning to happen more and more – especially as universities and educational institutions are now offering courses in social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.
Thirdly, the business culture is different in India. The principles are essentially the same but how they are carried through into practice varies. SAN India are fast becoming experts in the field of impact assessment and they have armed themselves with a variety of different approaches, tools and techniques that can be applied to meet the needs of their customers. They are currently trying to develop an App for social accounting – the end-users being businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility and social enterprises. Many of these companies are keen to address social needs in Indian society.
We are planning to travel a bit more in the Chennai area and then move on to Kerala before returning to the UK.
Alan Kay from a hotel room in dusty, but warm, Chennai