India’s infrastructure challenge
- ‘Unlocking growth in India’ is the title of a study the Maersk Group has carried out, identifying how reducing the hidden costs of trade can drive further growth in India.
- According to the study, the Indian business community often cites inland infrastructure as the single most important hindrance to doing business.
- The study furthermore states that reducing the costs of trade by 10% has the potential to generate additional exports of up to 5–8%.
- The Maersk Group has entered talks with industry and government stakeholders in order to identify prioritised focus areas, in which it can channel its initiatives and efforts.
Maersk in India has been involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities for years, with business units taking local initiatives. When legislation was passed requiring companies based in India to spend 2% of profits on CSR activities, Maersk decided to take a strategic approach, targeting projects in areas related to its own business.
The first phase of the project, involving 3,000 drivers, was carried out from May to September. The second phase targets 25,000 drivers as well as truck owners, police and authorities, pushing for fair wages and a fair working environment for the drivers. Documenting activities and social impact over the course of three years, the aim is to create a model project that can be replicated across India.
“With the right approach, we are confident that we will be able to make an impact,” says Julian Bevis.
The truck driver’s own decision
A Kolkata based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Seva Kendra, is running the initiative called ‘The Truck Driver’s Motivational Project’.
“Our first goal is to motivate truck drivers to take better care of themselves,” says Mahua Chatterjee, a project coordinator with Seva Kendra.
Chatterjee is also working on a Ph.D. in social psychology and is keenly aware of the fact that change comes from within.
“We cannot change people, but they can modify their own behaviour. In that sense, we are not doing any favours, we are only helping. We can motivate them, but any change is ultimately their own decision.”
During a half hour session near the port in Kolkata, Chatterjee and her colleagues walk roughly 30 drivers crammed into a small room through various aspects of the project, all revolving around improvements that they can make to their own lives and road safety. The meetings have been going on for months and the drivers listen with keen interest.
An industry approach
Devandra Singh has been a truck owner for 27 years and is a firm supporter of the initiative:
“Drivers make this business, so what is good for the drivers is good for the owners. It is also good to have an outside party involved. They can engage with drivers and owners in a way that an insider cannot. Now we just hope that this is a sustainable project. Too many NGOs have come and gone,” he says.
Stakeholders across the board point to industry effort as the only feasible route to change. Individual players can only make small improvements in an environment that is racing towards the bottom. For the industry as a whole and the country, however, the business case is crystal clear.
Many truck drivers start young and find it hard to leave, unable to find other employment. Thus, apart from escaping his accident unharmed, Prasad Malhotra’s story is a common one, getting behind the wheel when he was only 16, he was drawn by a macho lifestyle he had seen on TV. Reality turned out to be less glamorous and lonelier. This is why he appreciates The Truck Driver’s Motivational Project:
“No one has been thinking about us until now.”