Index Group is helping to bring economic, social and environmental change to Bangladesh through its commitment to a wide portfolio of innovative corporate sociale responsibility programmes.
The rapid socio-economic development of Bangladesh is underpinned by strong cooperation between corporations and communities, according to Index Group — an organisation at the frontline of the nation’s advancement, spending 65% of its annual earnings on voluntary social investment. That is a considerable sum from a diversified business that, having started as a consultancy in 2006, now has interests in manufacturing, service and retail, and whose subsidiaries include Index Power & Energy and Index LP Gas, which is currently building large and advanced liquid petroleum gas facilities at the Port of Mongla.
Overseen by CEO Shafiullah Al Munir, it integrates social, environmental, human rights and consumer concerns into its business model and strategies. Index is focused on creating shared value, by generating a return for shareholders, whilst also benefiting society at large and mitigating any adverse impacts its activities could have. This policy links Index’s idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to innovation, as it strives to develop new commercial products and services that address societal challenges.
Outside of its business activities, one of Index’s priorities for CRS is voluntary social investment. By providing charities and community enterprises with capital financing, the social impact of its funding is multiplied as the enterprises scale up and gain sustainability. Investing in education and training is another way Index brings sustainable growth, as well as employment opportunities. It is a major funder of lifelong learning targeted at the young, those with low skill levels and older people, many of who have gained work after profiting from the group’s programmes.
To date, about 142 educational institutions have been given funding for new infrastructure, as have hundreds of mosques and temples, and over 1,000 students receive scholarships for their tuition and living costs. In 2009, Index set up an educational complex offering free-of-cost studies at Tangail in Dhaka, where 3,000 students are taught by a highly qualified team. The complex has a kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, a college and a vocational training institute, and an old people’s home and medical college are being built.
Providing the opportunity to learn and develop potential is at the heart of Index’s wider goal of community development. It seeks to empower communities to take collective actions that shape economic, social and environmental change. The group has initiated a variety of programmes that strengthen the capacity of community groups and networks to work collectively with all citizens to find solutions to their shared problems in order to improve community life. It puts particular emphasis on the importance and benefit of involving cooperative organisations in its projects.
It is important to Index that whole communities are involved in its CRS programmes and can access their results, including those who have been excluded or disadvantaged. To build social inclusion, it accommodates and celebrates diversity, and facilitates equal opportunities that override race, gender, disability, class, age and geography differences. It also funds organisations that can engage its own employees and others, whether as volunteers, donors, voters or patrons. Examples of its recent projects outside of educational infrastructure include constructing markets and travel restrooms, improving sanitation in public buildings, running hygiene awareness campaigns in rural areas and establishing an orphanage dor 400 children. Index supports relief and recovery efforts in natural disasters and finances agencies to be better equipped for future emergencies. It builds new homes for those affected by river erosion and has, to date, rehoused 1,864 homeless families.
Most of its CRS initiatives, however, come under the banner of health care and Index sees its role in improving the heath of the poor and marginalised, especially in remote rural areas, as an absolute obligation. Every month, it funds a health camp, where doctors provide free treatment to between 4,000-6,000 patients, including cancer sufferers and people needing dialysis. Free screening projects have been set up, as well as a mobile clinic and early disease detection centres. It also supports awareness workshops for health issues in partnership with the government and other organisations, and is involved in village adoption programmes and running a school for the mentally handicapped. Index believes sport development is also important for the nation’s health and it sponsors a range of local and national sports clubs, including ones specifically for women. A number of Index’s CSR activities are aimed at the nation as a whole, rather than individual communities. For example, it has established a panel to discuss how access to new technological innovations can strengthen sustainable social development, and reduce poverty and problems faced by disabled people. It has also developed a tool to analyse the impact of country reforms on poverty and different social groups, and campaigns for governments to address the root causes of poverty, provide basic needs for all and ensure that the poor have access to productive resources.
Having researched the factors that make Bangladesh particularly vulnerable to degradation of its ecosystems, Index has changed its own practices and partnered with the government and others in environmental projects. The group also serves as a major partners to Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission. Through its human rights capacity development project, Index monitors implementation of state obligations to protect and fulfil the rights of every citizen — enabling it to oversee progress the country is making towards its goals for sharing value and social inclusion.