Jeroninio Almeida - Inspiring Solid Character – Individual’s Social, Environmental and Political Responsibility

CSR Times: Can you brief us about your book, “Karma Kurry”?

Jeroninio Almeida: Book tells true stories of real heroes. The first book was published in Dec 2013, almost 11 months ago and became a best seller in no time. In fact we have also signed up an agreement for ten more books with a royalty pledge of around 12 Crores by 2020. We will be donating the entire amount for social causes and towards Apeejay KarmaYuga because the whole idea is to cover and create more real heroes. That’s what the Apeejay Karmayuga is all about , to discover and Inspire heroes amongst people who do small things with great love to make a Big Difference.

CSR Times: Tell us about your journey in life till now and how would you rate yourself on those parameters?

Jeroninio Almeida: The journey has been quite fulfilling so far, we’ve started small with equally small ideas which has now become bigger. Like from the “Karmaveer Awards” to the “Joy of Giving” which we started in 2003, and it has now become a huge movement and we had sparked this entire idea.

We spark ideas for social justice. We don’t really like the concept of charity, because it is mindless and arrogant, we prefer humble and involved SOCIAL JUSTICE which basically means fairness and equity for one and all citizens of the country and the world . People talk about doing charity or CSR, especially in a country like India, we have several companies who do LIP SERVICE, after having harmed the community and environment for years and now they talk about how they are feeding hundred children. This is all simply a publicity gimmick and whitewashing of all the wrongs they have done over years and continue doing wrong. This is not social responsibility. You have companies doing fraudulent activities and then they talk about sponsoring Satyamev Jayate. How can corrupt organisations sponsor the truth? How? Pray How? This is where the issue is. And that is why the whole idea of “Right Every Wrong” comes in.

In terms of the journey we’ve been very vociferous about how we take positions and speak out against what is going wrong in the society. And on the other hand, we bring together the good NGO’s to reclaim and preserve trust in the people sector, which are the NGOs. Our focus is more on the citizens because NGO’s alone cannot bring change in the country unless and until the citizens are awakened and begin fulfilling their fundamental duties and become the change. We were the first to start this mission of bringing citizens together to be the change in our country, which people have now awakened to and understand. There are 3.3 million NGO’s, 98% of them have little or no impact at all. Lots of money is spent but no impact. That’s why we wanted to fill in the gaps, not just as a rating or an agency but as a facilitator, where we want to mainstream smaller NGO’s and more than that, we want focus on community led initiatives which are led by simple ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary work. So the focus has been shifted maximum to social justice and fairness.

That has been the focus of right every wrong from the very beginning because it is not mindless arrogant charity that is wanting in our world, but humble involved social justice. Just by giving a little money to a child’s face, we cannot even change the life of the child, leave alone changing the world. How can change happen when we do not even bother to look into the progress of the child and ask for accountability? Until and unless the citizens participate in the process of progress and democracy, India cannot change. India cannot change just because you give money to a child and then say that you have saved the world. In fact you are not even saving the child because you don’t bother to even look into the child’s welfare. So that’s the basic thing. NGOs would like to cash on that because that’s the easiest way of fund raising. We refrain from doing that. Right from the time we started “Joy of Giving” and the whole process, we have got people involved in the process of change.

So whether it was taking students out to clean the streets during the ethical leadership program or with the Karmaveer Puraskaar, where we say let’s felicitate people who are doing something to make a difference in society. They need not be NGO leaders only; they could be from any sector. They could be corporate leaders, media professionals, students, home makers, slum workers, sex workers, auto rickshaw drivers, basically anyone who does something to make a difference. That’s where the journey has been fulfilling because we have always created path breaking ideas and movements and have never walked on the path which is less travelled. We started the entire process of getting people involved in the process of change by practicing human values and fulfilling fundamental duties as citizens and by going beyond just giving a little money as charity.

CSR Times: As you had mentioned about social business model on the website, now you have pool of NGO’s and we have mandatory CSR in the country and we have methodology of social business models. So till now it was only planning and implementation was going on in India and there was no scope of monitoring and evaluation, so are you working on that?

Jeroninio Almeida: We have the omega ratings which does exactly that, we highlight the work of NGO’s which are doing good work. Since the question is pertinent to social business models or social ventures, I don’t like the word social ventures. I prefer using Missionary Ventures, and the reason is, many social ventures have turned out to be business ventures. Whether it is SKS Micro Finance which has done everything wrong towards the community and was only focused on making money. Or other business models where so called social entrepreneurs don’t talk about community and environment at all, but only talk about making profit. Profit should be incidental; it cannot be the main thing, especially, when you talk about social ventures.

So I say you should treat it like a mission that would really benefit community and environment. If you only start a venture because you get some funding, then the purpose is lost. It should be driven by resourcefulness and determination. And we can say that we have done that at iCONGO as we refused to be incubated by CII. CII wanted to incubate iCONGO when we started in 2004. We refused the incubation only because if you incubate us, will you allow us to talk against any of your industry members? There was a lot of talking about industry entities which are playing it wrong and harming the community and environment. Example- we speak very strongly against companies like Vedanta, Coca Cola, Sahara, Reliance and other companies of their ilk who are doing everything wrong. There is more of lip service in the industry. Coca Cola is probably doing the right thing internationally, but in India they are driven by sales people who have become directors so their only focus is on targets and how to get monetised. But that cannot be the only interest of a business. So CSR has become a lip service in this country just like social ventures. It should be integrated into the business model that doing good is a part of the business model and not just an incident. And if you are talking about social ventures when your focus is not on community or environment and only on making money then it’s a lost cause. Hence I’m very clear about these aspects. Like I said SKS micro Finance, Vikram Akula was one of our first award recipients. But we revoked this award because of the things they did wrong in Andhra Pradesh. So we are very strong and disciplined about that. If you do something which is harming the community then you don’t deserve our honour and even the organisation need not exist at all since it is not focused on the public good but only to create private wealth by stealing from poor people. Especially when you disguise yourself as a social venture and are nothing but a money making machine by looting poor people. I am now told that Vikram Akula has formally been fired from SKS also for all his self serving ways. We took action immediately years ago when we did our diligence and found out about Akula’s crooked ways.

CSR Times: So what according to you should be the evaluations process of any organisation who is working in community? How to evaluate if they are doing good or not?

Jeroninio Almeida: The evaluations process for any social business model should be purely on the impact of the work on the community, society and environment. Making money should not be the only evaluation. Then how is it any different from any profit venture? Like we have SEBI as a body for the shareholders where they check if companies are doing value to the shareholders? Here it cannot be just the shareholders; it has to be stakeholder value. There are different bodies which have been disguised to get grants and funds and call yourself a social venture. That is the sad truth of social entrepreneurs of today. They only work for their own motive and interests.

So while making profit can be pivotal part of the business model, it should not be the number one on the agenda. No.1 should be society, No. 2 Environment and No.3 should be profit when you talk about social or missionary entrepreneurship, and all three have to work because you can’t just focus on profit, without focusing on people and planet. If that focus is not there, then how are you any different for other businesses? It’s a very clear and a no brainer concept. It’s shocking why people can’t see through this simple and obvious concept.

CSR Times: As you have clearly mentioned that CSR should be implemented in business policies of any company, and when you have a new lot, wherein 2% money of India Inc will be coming into the market, so how do you think this money should be utilised?

Jeroninio Almeida: Honestly speaking, that 2% is a lot of noise level and a big bubble and lot of companies have already started agencies and foundations to cycle up that money. At the same time CSR agents have mushroomed with the time and are increasing by the day. iCONGO was the first to organise the Humane Capitalism Conclave and create the Humane Capitalism Rating. We said lets go beyond CSR and look at the overall governance model of the company itself. Is it a humane business and is that being led by a humane business leader? We started this in 2008 and now several other people have started the CSR forums and things like that. If you go into these CSR forums you will see that these guys are very clearly there to siphon the money and also to white wash companies, that are doing absolutely wrong, by calling them responsible companies. For example: “CSR Live Week” – It’s a rogue’s gallery and the entire community there is doing everything wrong towards the society and environment. And everybody who is a fraudulent company is in that gallery. And then they had gone to publish something on “CSR Good Book”. So how does that kind of really help CSR? You can actually see the agencies which have mushroomed in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad –which are only looking at getting a piece of the pie. And that is the sad part of it. And like I always say, how does it sound “Reliance industries sponsors to…....”? Does it sound right? Like Reliance industries sponsors “Satyamev Jayate”. It sounds nonsense.

CSR Times: As you and your iCongo team-mates are much more focused on the people, so how can one individual create a difference in a community?

Jeroninio Almeida: That’s exactly what the Apeejay KarmaYuga movement is all about. We’ve been doing this for many years now, and we have understood the fact that one doesn’t have to do anything big to make a difference and small acts can also go a long way, like, taking bucket baths instead of shower baths; it could be sweeping and cleaning the streets or surroundings. I’m very proud to say that the entire concept of cleaning the streets, which has become the “Swach Bharat Abhiyan” now, is something which was triggered by us. I worked very closely with Manohar Parrikar in Goa, and we had started this entire movement to clean up the creeks. In fact for the past 10 years we’ve been taking the students out to clean the streets. So when we got to know that Mr Modi was planning to start “Swach Bharat Abhiyan”, I influenced Manohar that we should include a challenge in that and we actually triggered something called “Keeda Hai Kya” challenge. The original concept was for Manohar Parrikar to challenge Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and so on. But he said he will do something better and get the challenge to be a part of the model itself and he influenced Mr Modi to do that. Manohar Parrikar has been involved with us to clean the creeks around Campala, and he was the first minister to actually come down with a broom in his hand and clean those creeks. This was first started in 2011 and then through Manohar and several other friends in BJP we’ve got this entire “Swach Bharat Abhiyan” challenges going now.

And even though the Prime Minister picked up the broom, people are still a bit embarrassed to pick up the broom themselves. So if you cant do this much for your country and community then why are you complaining about the dirtiness in the city? People come to Goa, in their BMW’s for Sunburn and other festivals and they litter the streets. So Individual Social Responsibility is what we always focus on at iCongo. Right from when we started “Joy of Giving” in 2003 till now, the focus is always been going beyond the giving money as it’s not just about mindless charity but humble involvement of social justice which is wanted in the world. And also the reason we want people to pick up the broom is to understand the dignity of labour also. And that they should understand that the Janitor is also very important to the society because if it wasn’t for that person then the society wouldn’t have been that clean. We have been doing very small things very silently.

We are proud and happy to say that entire fight against corruption, the fight for electoral reform was started by iCongo in partnership with the UN and another organisation back in 2007. We started this under the patron ship of two chief election commissioners -James Michael Lyngdoh and Mr Krishnamurthy. The entire policy document on how we have to move away from first pastor post in our election reforms to proportionate the representation was put together with feedback and with ideas from electoral reforms experts from all over the world. And this was given to chief election commissioner Mr Qureshi, who within a week implemented a committee to look into those ideas so it can be further implemented. So we’ve been doing this work much before Anna Hazare and Kejriwal started theirs. We believe that it’s better to influence from behind rather than do Dharna and do Anshan, which only helps you to get media mileage and political attention but it doesn’t really help to influence policy. That’s what we’ve been doing at iCongo, we’ve been trying to focus on how we can worship on governance level and at a citizen’s level. How can citizens exercise the social individual political responsibility?

CSR Times: So is it more focused on the people?

Jeroninio Almeida: Yes we are much more focused on people than on system. Democracy means people power, so it’s time we reclaim and preserve that. So whether it is a campaign which says, Do not vote for thugs and thieves in Goa, which became the landmark campaign which made Manohar Parrikar win with a huge landslide in Goa. We did that campaign. It was planned by us and the entire structure and strategy was done by us. So with just 2.5 lakhs we educated people by asking them not to vote for thugs and thieves and criminals. Because the entire cabinet in Goa before Manohar Parrikar came in was full of criminal, thieves, rapist, murderers, like Mickky Pacheco, Churchill Alemao, fraudster like Babos Montserrat, so I actually went on forums and spoke against them. It was considered to be very dangerous at that time. And people responded because they saw through them and at the same time, people like Manohar Parrikar, Hubert Gomes were smart and that experiment today is replicated around the country. People now doing no criminals campaign which proves that slowly the awareness is happening. In Goa before Manohar Parrikar, the entire cabinet in Goa was like “Alibaba and the forty Thieves.”

So as I was saying if citizens start doing small things only then there will be big difference seen in the country. We can’t expect a “Mahatma” to come and clean up the country. There is no Mahatma or Messiah and that is what I wrote in my book “Karma Kurry” also. That each of us needs to be a Mahatma and do whatever small act we can to make a difference. Those little things will add up to make the big difference. But at the same time if you are embarrassed to pick up a broom and clean your own neighbourhood then don’t blame the country for being dirty, because you are responsible for creating this mess in the first place. Whether the dirt is in the form of unhygienic condition on the street or in the form of corruption, eve-teasing or hunger, we are all responsible for that and need to claim ownership for that too.

I remember I cited the example of a B- School boy in my book. When I took the students out to clean the streets, but didn’t give them any certification or brownie points for that, he came up to me and said, ‘Sir I’m meant for better things, I’m an intellectual’. I just had to tell him that it’s ok if he doesn’t want to clean, but then I also pointed out to him that the Dean and other students had volunteered to clean the streets. So then technically he was learning from a non-intellectual. This shows the kind of puerile, immature mind-set we live with in this country. If we don’t get rid of this mind-set then the country can’t change. The entire focus is also on how we change the mind-set at a collective level.

CSR Times: We agree on your point, because people buy a juice pack from the shop and the moment they finish drinking the juice, the pack becomes government’s responsibility as they have to take care of the litter.

Jeroninio Almeida: Yes that is true, in fact we have a student who has contributed a video for us about how these small things can be done that makes you a hero for the community. So start making things like these then we will award you. We want citizen power to come to forefront now. It is time to stop feeling embarrassed and do the right things. Since we started with “Keeda hai kya-Dare to clean India?”, now next is “Keeda hai kya Corruption saaf karne ka?”, “Keeda hai kya Hunger saaf karne ka?” We want to extend the entire movement now. Mr.Karan Paul , Chairman Apeejay Surrendra Group, was the first captain of the industry to volunteer. Mr Modi made it mandatory for all the ministers and all the bureaucrats to start cleaning the streets through Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan which was triggered by our campaign. But again lot of ministers have still not done that. We had chosen Arun Jaitley as the first one to get this challenge, but he has still not done that. But Karan Paul along with his life partner, India’s supermodel Indrani Das Gupta, voluntarily came out and cleaned the streets. They have set examples for other captains of industry to do that. They were the first to do that. So we are trying to SPARK and SPREAD THE KEEDA as an integral part of the Apeejay KarmaYuga and “Right every Wrong” movement.” KEEDA in Mumbai parlance, means, the zeal and passion to do something different and walk the path less trodden.

Right from the Joy of Giving, Right every Wrong, KarmaYuga, KarmaVeer, Kurma Kurry, the whole idea is how we inspire solid character, and that in fact has become our line now. “Inspiring Solid Character”, cause that’s what has gone missing in this country. At the same we make people aware that they need to practise human values also and respect every human being no matter who they are.

CSR Times: From these three words “Inspiring Solid Character” we would like to know how you’ll define the word “Solid”?

Jeroninio Almeida: “Solid character” means you need to be the change you want to see in the world, otherwise don’t complain. If you are not doing something then you don’t have the right to comment about it either. You can’t expect somebody else to change the country cause that’s not going to happen. Every citizen is responsible for the condition of the country. Of course nobody wants to say that as everyone has their own political agenda, like Arwind Kejriwal didn’t want to tell earlier and went on to blame 543 parliamentarians for what was going wrong. But the truth is we all are equally responsible for what is going around us. And we are not doing anything about it. That sense of responsibility is just not there. That’s basically what “Inspiring Solid Character” means, individual social responsibility, perform your fundamental duties and fulfil human values.

CSR Times: You had been advocating about fundamental rights and duties.

Jeroninio Almeida: Yes, exactly. That’s what we are focusing on. Because we all have duties as citizens and nobody is fulfilling those. So then how exactly are you enjoying your rights? The constitution clearly says that you have to fulfil your duties to enjoy your rights.

CSR Times: As a matter of fact our fundamental rights and duties have just become the textbook stories for students to read, they are not really practising them.

Jeroninio Almeida: Yes everything has become lip-service. Like I always say that you have not taken the best practises like volunteering from the west. We have only taken their reality shows, pop music, dance shows, cheer leaders, we have not taken the best practices. We have not taken human values and human dignity. In fact those people are practising more of our values and tradition than we are. Like Yoga, which has become more popular there, than India. We have lost our identity. So we need to reclaim that. The country is not going to simply change by giving little money in charity, all that is just a feel good factor. It just helps us nurse our guilt. That’s exactly what the Apeejay KarmaYuga movement is all about. You need to do something extra to make a change happen.

To know more about Jeroninio Almeida and iCONGO please visit www.icongo.in

Community Posts