Business of Education

Education dates back to the very first humans ever to inhabit Earth. Why? To survive, every generation has found it necessary to pass on its accumulated knowledge, skills, values, and traditions to the next generation. How can they do this? Education! Each subsequent generation must be taught these things. Stretching the idea wider, even animals educate their off springs in matters of safety, food-gathering and survival in some ways.

Education is a Human Right and ‘Education in human rights’ is itself a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education. Right to education entails

  1. Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  2. Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and
  3. Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.

The Right to Education Act 2009 describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. Compulsory means no child can refuse to be educated.

This act has made education a fundamental right for every child. Delivery of Fundamental Rights would not be a business even if the government were to entrust it to any of its instrumentality, agency or authority.

Any business has customers who have the right to accept or reject the products or services offered to them by the business entity. By this definition, at least education for children aged between 6-14 years cannot be a business.

The history of formal education extends at least as far back as the first written records recovered from ancient civilizations. India had the good fortune of having institutions of Higher Education, Takshshila and Nalanda, even before the 5th century B.C. Education in India was always focussed on careers – Scriptures for Brahmins, battle-science and governance for Kshatriyas, and crafts for others. The Muslim invaders and the Christian Missionaries influenced the education system to a large extent, former using force while the latter using demonstration. Macaulay destroyed the system nearly fully though Swamy Dayanand and his contemporaries tried to preserve it.

Horace Mann, credited with creating the foundation of American modern public education system, saw that the industrializing world demanded different skills than its agricultural predecessor. He prioritizes certain aspects over others. For example, lumping students into groups rather than treating them as individuals. This made “education” much easier, even if it did nothing for the individual student who didn’t adapt well to this new system. It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to be emulated in India to this day:

  • Schools focus on respecting authority
  • Schools focus on punctuality
  • Schools focus on measurement
  • Schools focus on basic literacy
  • Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended moulding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

The higher education institutions are plagued by the erosion of academic integrity, corrosion of standards in the curriculum, the oversimplification of admission standards without understanding the importance of true preparation for higher education, and the rise of economic self-interest in both institutions and faculty, places the teaching of classes much lower on their priority.

Even the school education is equally diseased. Government schools face a social burden placed on them by poverty and hopelessness. Troubled children carry the ills of their homes and neighbourhoods into their classrooms every day. In many schools, teachers must feed the bodies and souls of their students before they can even begin to feed their minds. These schools face inflexible bureaucracies, inane regulations, and incompetent administrators and their teachers being called upon to run every chore for the government outside the school other than teaching in the school. High school drop-out rates and students whose performance on maths and science tests puts them at or near the very bottom of their cohorts elsewhere in the world.

It is this set of facts that has provided legitimacy to the private enterprise in education and has sparked business-of-education initiatives.

The business-of-education thrives on the logic: If you can compete, you will be hired for a job. If you are hired, your virtuous habits would eventually lead to your promotion. As promotions accumulate, your pay increases and eventually you reach financial comfort. Or perhaps even significant wealth!

Is this logic responsible for accelerating the acceptance of education as business?


First published 02 Aug 2021


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Entrepreneurship Development– But where are the Potential Entrepreneurs?

The underlying metaphor of so much of our thinking, though we rarely think of it as a metaphor, is our much celebrated idea of ‘the individual’ and, in business especially, ‘the self-made man or woman.’ But even a genius has to be sufficiently steeped in the culture that makes his or her invention possible. We will never understand the world of business, or for that matter any other human world, unless we begin with human interrelations and how people fit into cultures, organizations, and institutions.

One business hero of particular interest, especially in light of current corporate uncertainty, is the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur, according to the familiar John Wayne imagery (John Wayne was a legendary American cowboy hero of numerous epic Western films), is the lone frontiersman who single-handedly sets up an industry or perhaps establishes a whole new world. The myth is part and parcel of a much older American myth, the myth of individualism, the myth of the solitary hero. The entrepreneur simply brings John Wayne up-to-date and puts him firmly at the centre of the business world.

Loosely put, the world of business is made possible through an established set of practices, in which implicit rules, tacit knowledge, and collective values, needs, and understandings are the principal structure. It is not the individual motives and attributes or individual personalities that make the world of business. It may be true that behind every successful business is some entrepreneur, that is, one of those relatively rare individuals who is both creative and business-minded, who is willing to take considerable risks and work single-mindedly to turn a dream into a marketable reality. But corporations, once formed, do not operate on the same risk-prone, creative principles that motivated the originator of the business, and the corporate world could not possibly function if, as we so often hear, everyone were to aspire to be an entrepreneur.

Who is an entrepreneur and what is entrepreneurship? We probably think that the answer is obvious, but like the buzz-words and other fads being doled out in the quest for ‘intellectualisation of the domain of management,’ expressions like strategy, business-model and entrepreneurship are all pliant. Managers describe entrepreneurship with such terms as innovative, flexible, dynamic, risk taking, creative, and growth oriented. The popular press, on the other hand, often defines the term as starting and operating new ventures. For some, it refers to venture capital-backed start-ups and their kin; for others, to any small business. For some, corporate-entrepreneurship is a rallying cry while others consider it as an oxymoron.  Some people think of entrepreneurship as a specific stage in an organization’s life cycle (i.e., start-up), a specific role for an individual (i.e., founder), or a constellation of personality attributes (e.g., predisposition for risk taking; preference for independence). People have different perceptions of an entrepreneur – an Inventor or discoverer or innovator or an upstart in business clamouring and struggling for survival of his start-up and dreaming for growth through scaling-up and scoping-up to a successful and stable enterprise or simply selling off the start-up at a premium.

The continuing corporate obsession with the almost mythological character called the entrepreneur is both unrealistic and, if taken seriously, counterproductive. Most people are not entrepreneurial. Cheapening the word by taking any initiative or innovation as entrepreneurship only fogs our understanding about what this phenomenon really is. Entrepreneurship is itself a social practice, and it consists, in part, of appreciating marginal or neglected aspects of more general social practices.

The history of the word “entrepreneurship” is fascinating. Without getting into those details and controversies, whether entrepreneurship is an inborn personality-trait or a learned behaviour, let us focus on the definition formulated by Professor Howard Stevenson, the Godfather of entrepreneurship studies. For Stevenson, entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. Entrepreneurship is thus a distinctive approach to managing.

To simplify this understanding, it is useful to view managerial behaviour in terms of extremes. At one extreme is what might be called the promoter type of manager, who feels confident of his or her ability to seize opportunity. This manager expects surprises and expects not only to adjust to change but also to capitalise on it and make things happen. At the other extreme is the trustee type, who feels threatened by change and the unknown and whose inclination is to rely on the status quo. To the trustee type, predictability fosters effective management of existing resources while unpredictability endangers them. Most people, of course, fall somewhere between the extremes. But it’s safe to say that as managers move closer to the promoter end of the scale they become more entrepreneurial, and as they move toward the trustee end of the scale they become less so (or, perhaps, more administrative).

Relentless focus with a sense of urgency in pursuit of a break, the opportunity may entail:

  1. Pioneering a truly innovative product;
  2. Devising a new business model;
  3. Creating a better or cheaper version of an existing product; or
  4. Targeting an existing product to new sets of customers.

These opportunity types are not mutually exclusive. For example, a new venture might employ a new business model for an innovative product. Likewise, the list above is not the collectively exhaustive set of opportunities available to organizations.

Many profit improvement opportunities are not novel, and thus are not entrepreneurial, for example, raising the price of a product or, hiring more field-sales-reps once a firm has a scalable sales strategy.

Before there can be entrepreneurship there must be the potential for entrepreneurship, whether in a community seeking to develop or in a large organization seeking to innovate. Entrepreneurial potential, however, requires potential entrepreneurs. Opportunities are seized by those who are prepared to seize them. Entrepreneurial activity does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it is deeply embedded in a cultural and social context, often amid a web of human networks that are both social and economic. A group, an organization or a community could be entrepreneurial without necessarily having any discernible entrepreneurs per se. The group, organization, or community need not be already rich in entrepreneurs, but should have the potential for increasing entrepreneurial activity. Such potential exists in economically self-renewing communities and organizations. Regardless of the existing level of entrepreneurial activity, such “seedbeds” establish fertile ground for potential entrepreneurs when and where they perceive a personally viable opportunity.

Any agenda for developing Entrepreneurship and birthing Entrepreneurs rests on the basic understanding of the following very minimum requirements:

  • Identifying and establishing policies that increase both their perceived feasibility and their perceived desirability.

Creating social perceptions that entrepreneurial activity is both desirable and feasible.

Entrepreneurs prefer being seen as benefiting their communities, not as exploiting them.

  • Providing a “nutrient-rich” environment for potential entrepreneurs.

Credible information, credible role models, along with emotional and psychological support as well as more tangible resources

Opportunities to attempt innovative things at relatively low risk, e.g., trying and failing can be OK.

Training interested people in critical competencies, raising their self-efficacy at key entrepreneurial tasks. We must also make resources both available and visible.

Increasing the diversity of possible opportunities

  • For developing Intrapreneurship and Intrapreneurs (Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurs within the Corporate Ventures)

Increasing perceptions of positive outcomes for internal venturing, including intrinsic rewards such as a supportive culture

Providing opportunities for managers to run an independent project or any of the existing entrepreneurial vehicles for channelling innovation and entrepreneurship.

Innovation in most organizations is inherently “illegitimate” as it unavoidably disrupts the status quo. Downsizing typically leads to less innovation. Stability, not innovation alone, makes companies and their people secure and successful.

Educators can help to increase perceptions of feasibility of entrepreneurship and desirability, not just for prospective entrepreneurs but also for community and its institutional leaders.

Globalisation has erased the line between business and International Business. Opportunities, all over the Globe, can now be pursued from anywhere in the world. India is parroting the western practice of introducing Entrepreneurship related courses in business schools, launching skills-universities, promoting Incubation Centres (New Enterprise Development Centres) and financing Entrepreneurship Development Centres (Training). Surely, there can be no single-universal prescription to such large initiatives. There is no visible evidence however, if these efforts have even considered the very basics of segmenting the target beneficiaries or customers for such relentless efforts. To illustrate the point, there are no noticeable signs of entrepreneurship education providers segmenting their market using any of the simple Segmentation bases (there are many more) for targeting their efforts:


  • Gender: women
  • Age: youth/young age
  • Minorities


  • Classroom, on-line, interactive


  • Technology
  • Music/Leisure
  • Medical services
  • Others


  • Pre-start-up decision entrepreneurs
  • Nascent/intention entrepreneurs
  • Start-up entrepreneurs
  • Early growth: consolidation
  • Growth entrepreneurs
  • Corporate entrepreneurs
  • Cashed out entrepreneurs
  • Serial entrepreneurs


  • Activities, interests, attitudes, beliefs, opinions

The intent is honourable. One does not know though, the depth and width of thought going into designing and executing the effort.  Developing Entrepreneurship in India requires Entrepreneurs not Administrators.


First Published 07 Aug 21


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Online Academies and their Self-appointed Educators

The amount of ‘GYAN’ being distributed freely on about every known issue, subject and discipline on the social media –Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and the like, is unbelievable. It is very difficult if not impossible for anyone to come up with questions which have not been already answered on Quora or SlideShare; and should such questions remain, one can expect to seek answers by posting the questions on such sites.

The depth and width of ‘knowledge’ being peddled online is unmatchable by any individual subject-expert or even a University. Truly therefore, these are the NEW universities which are exclusively online and distribute ‘GYAN’ in both the modes – synchronous and asynchronous.

The only problem is that there is no accountability or responsibility taken by these academies for the GYAN which they distribute.  These academies are totally democratic and non-discriminatory. They have free and open enrolment of faculty and students, with no essentiality of any prior learning of any sort. With no entry or exit hurdles for faculty and students, they also do not directly conduct any evaluations or certifications. Credentials are certified by ‘measurable metrics’ of the kind-  ‘clicks’ ‘likes’ ‘follows’ ‘shares’ or ‘comments’ – which are a manifestation of democratic votes for an educator of these online academies.

Such manifestation imparting itself so strongly into mainstream information seems harmless. After all, it is helpful and important to be clear about the kind of world we are living in and the kind of life we desire because that clarity shapes our values, decisions, and relationships to all things material, including money.

There is nothing that makes self-appointed educators qualified to sell the promise of a less ignorant life. It is easy for these people to step into roles of knowledge leaders on Facebook or Instagram because, now more than ever, youngsters in particular, want something meaningful to believe in and reach out for information and knowledge outside the conventional and traditional institutions. Youngsters are seemingly looking for information and community in combination.

One of the positive things about a wider array of people being able to access an audience is the kind of democratization of information and knowledge leadership, but without a collective protocol to determine whom we trust to answer life’s greatest questions, we also forget to consider the capabilities, credentials and motives of those who are answering these questions for us.

As mainstream information continues to be shaped by social media, criticism of those who profit from such ventures is fundamental to protecting not only our own well-being, but the future of truth itself. As they say, if you don’t have information, you are uninformed; if you have information, most likely, you are misinformed. The problem then manifests in your belief that you are properly informed and knowledgeable. Should we worry about expertise becoming a commodity and eluding accountability?



These contents of this post may qualify as ‘GYAN’ and I, as the author of this post, may as well fit the description of a ‘self-appointed educator’ as meant in this post. This posting is intended solely for those readers who are discerning and matured enough to choose what is right for them and is not an unsolicited commercial communication or spam. This content of this post is not guaranteed to be complete or error free. No liability is assumed for any errors and/or omissions in the contents of this message.


First published 27 November 2020


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Has TRAI failed the Consumer?

An active competition and rivalry in business is, undoubtedly, conducive to the public welfare, but neither the regulators nor the customers should ignore the fact that competition may be carried to such an extent as to accomplish the financial ruin of those engaged therein and thus result in a derangement of the business, an inconvenience to the consumers, and in public harm.

A price cutter is usually a financially strong player, who makes up his losses of profits on cut-prices either by the number of his sales or by extra profits on other sales to the consumer under the decoy of the cut-price upon one or a few items. The regular player cannot meet such competition and is driven out of business. That which is, properly speaking, “competition” in business, is thereby strangled and the only competition which is promoted is that of the particular branded article against itself.

Fixing and maintaining of a fair price above cost is a commercial necessity; and any other course must end in bankruptcy. When that price is so unreasonably lowered as to drive others out of the business, with a view of stifling competition, not only is that wronged competitor individually injured, but the public is prejudiced by the stifling of competition. Thereafter the market leader begins to extract the costs of buying market share and snuffing out competition from the purchasing public by unreasonably raising the price.

It is a mere truism to say that Jio is responsible for bringing call costs way down in the mobile telecom market. 21-years after the launch of mobile telephone in India, entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited into the mobile telephony market as a late-entrant in 2016, and then racking-up a price-based competition has not been in overall interest of the consumer. The consumer received some price advantage through predatory pricing by Jio, but concurrently suffered falling service-quality around call-drops and service disruptions. Jio promised free unlimited calls and texts, as well as affordable data at the time of its launch in September 2016 and became India’s biggest telecom company with over 355 million subscribers at the end of September 2019.  Jio did not earn but bought market share.

On October 9, Reliance Jio announced that it would start charging users 6 paise per minute for outgoing calls to other operators. This is clearly against the operator’s promise of free unlimited calls and texts and Jio hadn’t said that the deal was subject to business dynamics.

One of the main objectives of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition. The strangling of competitors by price-cutting is not “competition” but TRAI doesn’t seem to know it.


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Advertising to children in the schools

Children in India spent more than Rs 220 Billion, given to them as pocket money during 2016. This amount was more than the GDP of 52 small countries which included Maldives and Bhutan.  Cartoon channel Pogo had conducted a survey on the pocket money of the kids in the country. The ‘Turner New Generation 2016’  study was conducted in all major cities and also places with more than 1 lakh population. This study had covered 6,690 respondents, including 7-14 year kids and parents of 4-14.

As per this study, 52% of the kids were receiving pocket money. The average pocket money received by the kids was Rs. 555/- per month. This amount had doubled over the last four years since a similar survey conducted by Pogo in 2012 had estimated the average pocket money of kids at Rs. 275/- per month then.  ( )

These children were not only buying products as toys, clothes, candy, and snacks but also saving up for big ticket purchases.  Children were found influencing the purchases made by their parents for microwave ovens (57%), washing machines (58%), refrigerators (62%), televisions (68%), mobiles (64%), cars (66%) and even the choices of travel destinations (78%); which may add up to at least Rs. 3000 Billion in parental purchases. 71 percent children had personal mobiles as well as other electronic gadgets with them. (

Children are buyers themselves, they are major influencers of their parents’ purchases, and they are future adult consumers. As future adults, children are potential consumers for all goods and services. Children therefore attract many advertisers.

During the last 50 years, Indian children got their own foods/snacks and clothing brands and such high-ticket items as video games and other high-tech products besides dedicated TV networks.

New advertising strategies aimed at children steadily proliferate. Linking their products to educational goals, advertisers have reached into the schools by sponsoring such activities as literacy programmes, reading projects, anti-drug campaigns, and communication skills training, while rewarding students for good performance with coupons for products and free meals. In-school advertising and examples of in-school commercialism can be put into four categories:

  1. In-school ads that can be seen on hoardings, on school buses, on scoreboards, and in school galleries. In-school ads include ads on book covers. Advertising is also found in product coupons and in give-aways that are distributed in schools.
  2. Ads in classroom materials include any commercial messages in printed materials or video programming used in school.
  3. Sponsored educational materials include free or low-cost items which can be used for instruction. These teaching aids may take the form of multimedia teaching kits, CDs/DVDs, software, books, posters, reproducible activity sheets, and workbooks.
  4. Contests and incentive programs bring brand names into the schools along with the promise of such rewards as free pizzas, cash, and points toward buying educational equipment, or trips and other prizes.

Although some educators defend the use of commercially produced materials as a way of providing useful supplements to the curriculum or as a way of raising funds and building needed bridges to businesses, other educators oppose it, fearing that market values may, for the most part, take the place of democratic values in the schools. Those who defend the trend argue that commercialism is highly prevalent throughout our society and a bit more advertising in the schools should not adversely affect students. On the other hand, many educators do not want to participate in offering up students as a captive audience.

In dealing with the issues of in-school commercialism, a three-pronged approach may be considered:

  1. Reviewing all sponsored materials and activities and holding them to the same standards as other curriculum items.
  2. Pursuing non-commercial partnerships with businesses and rejecting the notion that it is ethical to bring advertising into the schools to provide materials or funds to bolster dwindling budgets.
  3. Beginning the teaching of media literacy in elementary school, to help educate children to be critical readers of advertising, propaganda, and other mass-mediated messages, while helping them gain the skills to be intelligent, aware consumers.

With the expanding presence of advertising targeted to younger and younger children, schools have become involved in serving up students as captive audiences to advertisers. It is time to pause and reflect on the appropriateness of various kinds of connections between businesses and schools, and the influence those connections might have on the integrity of education in a democracy. Although traditionally there have been links between business and education in this country, commercialism in schools has recently skyrocketed. The overall goal of collaboration between businesses and schools should be for business leaders, educators, parents, and government officials to work together “…to embrace practical, responsible approaches that will protect the educational integrity of our school systems.


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Ethical Dilemma* in Marketing

A society can usually be viewed as comprising of three sectors- government, business and social sectors. These are no disjoint groups. Nonetheless, they exhibit a lot of heterogeneity across each other and homogeneity among themselves. The interface between the three varies across societies and nations, yet all the three have a common pursuit- the benefit of the people. The ways and means adopted by these three are different, sometimes even in conflict with each other. The interplay of the actions of these three groups provides the social dynamism.

The interface between government and business gives rise to regulatory frameworks. Between social sector and government, the issues are political and legislative. The interface between social sector and business gives rise to ethical issues. The differences across societies lead to typical cases making ethical issues subjective to a society.

Marketing efforts face dilemmas some common, others different, across societies. A typical example is where pressures of social sector forces government to regulate advertising messages from marketing enterprises in public media. Similarly social sector doesn’t let Gujarat government to lift prohibition in the state for the last 70 years in spite of loss to the exchequer and innumerable incidents of bootlegging. So far, so good. In both of these instances, social sector used its interface with government to ensure that the government uses its interface with business and regulate the business behaviour.


In situations where, things do not work out this way in which the government regulates business at the behest of social sector, the business-social sector interface becomes critical. This interface creates both opportunities and threats. Opportunities arise for corporate image building by business through supporting social causes. Charities, philanthropy, endowments, social marketing all are some of the few ways that business uses these opportunities. Threats arise when marketing actions are not perceived as socially correct by the social sector. What is socially correct may usually be a matter of perception and debate and lead to disagreements.

Take for instance, a simple example of a tip to a nursing sister in a hospital by the sales representative of a pharmaceutical product company, who tipped her for her support to the products that he promotes. The basis of such dilemma is the thin line between a harmless tip for expressing gratitude and clear inducement money or bribe to seek unreasonable advantage over competing products. Who draws this line and where this line is drawn is very subjective and prone to disagreements.

Use of animal tallow in making of hydrogenated vegetable oils, a practice adopted internationally, becomes a moral and ethical issue in India for its social context. Using vigour, strength, vitality and success, as the stereotypes for promoting a known health hazard like cigarettes is an ethical issue. Promotion of baby milk powders in competition with breast-feed is an issue.

Such issues become marketing dilemmas since it is possible for any marketing effort to be well within the legal and regulatory framework yet being totally out of sync with the expectations of the social sector. In these situations, the social sector likes to fight back. It has two ways of handling such situations; use its interface with the government and let government bear down upon business through government-business interface; or create a social backlash against the marketing efforts. Social backlash is wielded through pressure groups, media, public opinion and simple boycotts.

Marketing managers have only two options in cases of such ethical dilemmas. Proactively make corrections to suit the context and avoid any retaliation from the social sector. Any confrontation from the social sector can only lead to tarnished image, loss of business and intervention from government. The other alternative is to build a favourable social perception for its marketing practices. This route is slow, difficult and expensive. It may not always succeed. If it works, new marketing opportunities may be created. Further this route may not be in exclusion to the first route; it may compliment the first one.



Existing Research:

Jamnik, A. (August 2011), “The Question of Ethical Decision in Marketing and Ethics” Revista Cultura Económica, (Journal of Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina – the Catholic University of Argentina) 29(80), pp 41-53.


Refresher for the academically inclined:

Marketers are routinely confronted with ethical dilemmas in practice.

Situations that are uncomfortable but that don’t require a choice are not ethical dilemmas. For example, Salesmen are required to be under the supervision of their appropriately credentialed superior. Therefore, because there is no choice in the matter, there is no ethical violation or breach of confidentiality when a salesman discusses confidential customer information with the superior.

There are three conditions that must be present for a situation to be considered an ethical dilemma. The first condition occurs in situations when an individual, must make a decision about which course of action is best. The second condition for ethical dilemma is that there must be different courses of action to choose from. Third, in an ethical dilemma, no matter what course of action is taken, some ethical principle is compromised. In other words, there is no perfect solution.


In determining what constitutes an ethical dilemma, it is necessary to make a distinction between ethics, values, morals, and laws and policies. Ethics are prepositional statements (standards) that are used by members of a profession or group to determine what the right course of action in a situation is. Ethics rely on logical and rational criteria to reach a decision, an essentially cognitive process. Values, on the other hand, describe ideas that we value or prize. To value something means that we hold it dear and feel it has worth to us. As such, there is often a feeling or affective component associated with values.

Finally, laws and company policies are often involved in most cases.

It is also essential that the distinction be made between personal and professional ethics and values. Conflicts between personal and professional values should not be considered ethical dilemmas for a number of reasons. Because values involve feelings and are personal, the rational process used for resolving ethical dilemmas cannot be applied to values conflicts. Further, when an individual elects to become a member of a profession, he or she is agreeing to comply with the standards of the profession, including its Code of Ethics and values.


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Focus on people’s love, not hate- Oh! Marketing Guys

Remember (?) advertising for ‘Dove’ – as in “Dove is not a soap – it is one quarter moisturising crème.” This refers to calling attention to the positioning of the product category but refuting it for the brand in the same category. This is not positioning Dove as not being a soap but highlighting a product attribute which other brands in the category may not have – it’s competitive parity method of positioning a brand against a category – the point of parity being that ‘Dove is in fact a soap’ yet the point of difference being – it is different from all other soaps in terms of its product attribute resulting into a differential (superior) consumer benefit.

Marketing for products promising sustainability has usually seen their positioning as what they “weren’t.” (it is analogous to saying ‘Dove is in fact not a soap’ which was never the intent or the meaning in its communication actually). Products promising sustainability are a different product category in terms of their attributes (points of difference) but using parity of benefits with a less sustainable category, which they wish to take on. The proposition here is same consumer benefits, entirely different attributes and an Extra value proposition of sustainability and ethicality.

Notice these:

  1. Mock Meat isn’t meat. (Good for vegetarians and vegans). Mock meat, also known as meat analogue, faux meat or vegan meat, is a cruelty-free substitute for animal-derived meat. It looks like meat, cooks like meat and tastes like meat but it’s healthier, better for the environment and doesn’t involve killing any animals. Today, mock meat brands are emerging in India, and are armed with numerous kinds of textured meat. You could literally replace meat in any recipe with mock meat and it will be the same. Some brands are on the market –
  • Veggie Champ
  • Good Dot
  • Vegeta Gold
  • Vezlay
  • Vegitein


  1. Solar isn’t fossil fuel. (Good for environment) The climate change openly call for the world to make a shift to an alternate fuel; a fuel that brings with itself both the dependability and usability of fossil fuels. Some players in India’s solar industry are:
  • Tata Power Solar Systems Ltd.
  • Kotak Urja Pvt. Ltd.
  • Moser Baer Solar Ltd.
  • Indosolar Ltd.
  • Photon Energy Systems Ltd.
  1. Soy milk isn’t a dairy product. (Good for vegans and people with dairy allergies) Some brands on the market:
  • Sofit
  • Soy Milky
  • So Good
  • Soyfresh
  • Soyvita

Positioning against the negative helped companies attract consumers who were revolting against the polluting impacts of standard manufacturing practices and products. But doing so ignored what potential customers still wanted, whether a product was sustainable or not: delicious in taste, high on performance, reliable in terms of quality and comfort, and overall satisfaction.

Many eco-conscious consumers have given up meat grudgingly. But that doesn’t mean they don’t miss the savoury taste of a good burger.  It is not a good idea to build a brand by telling people not to eat what they love; instead, encourage people to eat more of their favourite food — just a healthier, more humane, more sustainable version.

Consider the following suggestions and examples for focussing on people’s love rather than their hate –

  1. Consumers shopping for fuel-efficient cars were convinced they had to sacrifice safety and speed. People don’t just buy a car, they invest in a brand. Build a brand on what most of the drivers would value above fuel efficiency – delivering the high level of quality and performance – but bringing along fuel efficiency too.
  2. Women don’t want to give up make-up. But beauty products contain many toxic chemicals. What’s the choice? Risk cancer or go make-up free? The opportunity lies in developing innovative products that provide the same level of beauty as their conventional counterparts conforming to new standard of safety which you set to lead the industry.
  3. Most domestic gadgets, appliances and lighting brands can stretch the technology and stress their technological prowess but declare, “Saving energy is a beautiful thing.” Not that it saves money or is good for the planet, both of which are true.
  4. Government is enacting plastic bag fees and other laws to reduce use of plastic bags. Retailers and departmental stores are on a mission in stopping the use of throwaway plastic bags by encouraging shoppers to BYOB (bring your own bag). There lies the opportunity of empowering people to take an active role; giving them a shopping bag which they would love to flaunt: an inexpensive, durable, fashionable and affordable bag they can use over and over and over again. Business could be expanded to co-branding operation so that other businesses can take advantage of the good will that the brand creates in the marketplace and appear to do right by association.
  5. For decades, selling more sustainable products was hindered by limited access to customers because of established channels of distribution — many of which were hard, if not impossible, for purpose-driven brands to infiltrate. Today, organic dairies and cow-milk dairies are surviving by resurrecting the home delivery “milkman.”
  6. Women silently face problems in public washrooms because of unhygienic toilet seats, making them prone to infections. Archit Agarwal realised the problems while compiling a report on the condition of public washrooms. He joined hands with a colleague to plunge into entrepreneurship. They built a novel sanitation device, which allows women to stand and urinate eliminating physical contact of body with dirty toilet seats and with it, the risk of infections. In this social media era of revealing tell-all and first-person narratives, explaining a new product with a compelling origin story sells.

Marketing driven with the purpose of sustainability need not compromise with the wants of the consumers. In fact, sustainability is not anti-consumer satisfaction; it provides additional gratification for the customer and more opportunities for differentiation.


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Focussing onCSR whose Sense is Flawed

The Companies Act 2013 brought focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) using the logic – Companies take resources in the form of raw materials, human resources etc from the society. By performing the task of CSR activities, the companies are giving something back to the society.

The term CSR has been defined under the Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules, 2014 that came into effect from 1 April 2014, which includes but is not limited to:

  • Projects or programs relating to activities specified in the Schedule; or
  • Projects or programs relating to activities undertaken by the Board in pursuance of recommendations of the CSR Committee as per the declared CSR policy subject to the condition that such policy covers subjects enumerated in the Schedule.

The activities that can be done by the company to achieve its CSR obligations include eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, promotion of education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, combating human immunodeficiency virus, acquired, immune deficiency syndrome, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, employment enhancing vocational skills, social business projects, contribution to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government or the State Governments for socio-economic development and relief and funds for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women and such other matters as may be prescribed.

An objective analysis of the above shows that the government has attempted to transfer part of its developmental responsibility to the corporate sector; surreptitiously levied an additional corporation tax in the garb of mandatory CSR expenditure; and is simultaneously subsidising such expenditure through making CSR expenses tax deductible.

Government has no control over such haphazard expenditure of CSR funds. A parliamentary question (Lok Sabha Starred Q 373; 11 Aug 2017) proves the point.


PETER DRUCKER had explained CSR thus:

The proper social responsibility of business is to tame the dragon, that is, to turn a social problem into economic opportunity and economic benefit, into productive capacity, into human competence, into well-paid jobs, and into wealth.

CSR was thus social entrepreneurship which the great Indian polity and bureaucracy have reduced to obligatory expenditure. For business, it is turning out to be just another tax and cost of doing business in India.


The above was first posted on FaceBook on 23 January 2018. A report on 05 March 2018 in Indian Express substantiated the slapdash expenditure of CSR funds.

csr_Indian Express