Corporates have to focus on triple bottom line now: Yuri Afanasiev  

The United Nations has been increasing its efforts on various social issues in India, including promoting entrepreneurship and sustainable development goals (SDGs). As part of its outreach, the global body has formed UN India Business Council (UNIBC). Yuri Afanasiev, the UN Resident Coordinator, spoke to Furquan Moharkan of DH about the inequality in society, the accommodating nature of India's democracy, among many other things.
 
* Despite the economic boom in India, there is still a battle between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. How do you think that can be addressed?
 
Like many countries, this is India's big challenge. In my view, one of the biggest ones. You have rightly pointed at India's growth story. It has grown rapidly in the past 10 years. It is likely to grow rapidly for the next 10 years. Now all countries that have shown growth - China, Indonesia, among others - all of them are witnessing similar problems. We in the UN are trying to address this issue of inequality. But it should not come at the cost of countries like India rising rapidly. To deal with inequality, one can talk about inclusion and redistribution policies. India has been already doing it. There is a system of Direct Benefit Transfers in India. It will rapidly improve the lives of millions. So India is on it. But that said, inequality is getting worse and worse and we have to collectively deal with it.
 
* There has been a lot of talk in India about the perceived threat to democracy. How does the UN see it?

 
In spite of what my Indian friends, both from the right and the left tell me about their concerns, I am absolutely convinced that India has in its system a built-in correction mechanism that allows various extreme positions to be levelled off. It has a system of functioning institutions and I think the UN should not be worried about it. Indian democracy is far from perfect, but you are improving it.
 
* Do you think there should be more participation from the Indian youth in the UNDP Youth for Peace programme, considering the high number of conflicts in the country?
 
I don’t really have an opinion honestly on the subject whether we need to escalate the number of young people. My simple argument is that India is at the level of maturity in its development and its democracy that the UN should not be there as a gatekeeper or an adviser on any issue that you have. Now, we collaborate with a number of states where there are areas of instability – areas of Maoist or other activity. There is a lot of work going on by a number of UN agencies there. But, we don’t advertise it and it's not necessary to do so because honestly, India can, in a slow but evolutionary way, resolve its own problems.
 
* What is the UN doing to assist India on localising sustainable development?

 
On that topic, there has been quite a bit of work actually done because, after the signature of the SDG Summit Agreement, India has started defining how it is going to progress with its SDGs. All the states have now developed strategies or approaches on how they are going to do that. It is called Agenda 2030 or Vision 2030. The developments among states are not equal. We have a number of frontrunners, Andhra Pradesh and Assam are among them. We have a number of states that are lagging behind. But its progressing.

Ultimately, I don’t think of it as a new agenda. I always tell my friends and colleagues in the Government of India that this is not a new ideology. This is not like you need to drop everything that you have been doing the last 20 years and do something different. For instance, you are implementing Swachh Bharath Mission. This is compatible with the goal of sanitation. There might be areas or indicators that we measure in the SDGs that are now measured in Swachh Bharath, which is fine. We can agree on how to evolve a government scheme or state scheme so that it covers more areas than originally conceived. I think the prime minister was pretty correct when he said that India is implementing programmes at the core of 14 SDGs.
 
* Do you think that corporates in India should course-correct the business entities in the context of Thoothukudi protests?
 
I think these conversations in the media always tend to acquire a black or white type of dimension. I am not a defender of corporate interests, far from it, but I am also not somebody who says that all corporations are evil. The constructive engagements, instead of black-listing or white-listing creates an atmosphere where they understand the bottom-line. The bottom line is in 10 years, no company will be profitable or successful unless it has a triple bottom line - profitability, the usual one, social outcome and environmental sustainability. Without those three, people will not invest in companies. It's already happening in some parts of the world.

You see constantly in the news that consumers are turning away from companies that are doing something, in their perception, is wrong. Companies have seen that and are adapting and they are adjusting. My point is that we are in a transition phase. We are moving away from a single bottom line which was profit for shareholders and investors to a triple bottom line where all three have, maybe not equal importance but certainly important, proportionate importance.

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Corporates have to focus on triple bottom line now: Yuri Afanasiev  

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