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South Asia Peace Initiative

Corporations Aim Beyond Profit

KATHMANDU, Nepal - As Nepal faces the uncertainty of elections and an indefinite bundh, or strike, in the southern Terai region, the perfect match between entrepreneurial expertise and not-for-profit networking has been hammered out in a matter of hours in the capital city.

This is not business as usual. A memorandum of understanding was signed within less than 24 hours from the exchange of business cards. The four-party alliance will create a nationwide movement to enable underprivileged sections of the population throughout Nepal to achieve economic self-sufficiency through a combination of micro-financing and in-kind product loans, coupled with basic business training and a grassroots support system. 

The Chaudhary Group is one of the largest corporate houses in Nepal, a conglomerate of over 40 businesses that touch every aspect of public life. It is involved in food and beverages, apparel, healthcare, education, tobacco, real estate or housing development, financial services, steel, automobiles, hydroelectric power and tourism.

Binod K. Chaudhary, the group's president and managing director, agreed in principle to be part of this venture at a luncheon yesterday with Ambassador K.V. Rajan, the former Indian ambassador to Nepal, who chairs the newly formed coalition. Rajan, who is chairman of UPF-Asia's Peace Council, is playing a central role. The personal relations based on mutual respect and trust that he brings to the team has been the lynch pin for this project.

The project model, however, is based on the success of Project Healing Touch in India. Mukesh Anand, founder and chairman, started the program in December 2000 by rehabilitating ex-servicemen, wounded soldiers and war widows.

Rather than just giving low-interest loans, Anand, the son of an army officer, reached out to corporate sponsors. He asked them to provide food products and manufactured goods which they already produced to men and women in need. "We don't give money freely," he stressed at the initial meeting in Kathmandu on Feb. 18. "Instead we freely give love and affection." PepsiCo India jumped at the idea. The company was the first to accept Anand's concept of "corporate social responsibility." The idea is simple: successful companies have a responsibility to society, beyond just making more and more money. Business enterprises are in the position to offer products which they already produce at, or near, cost to help people help themselves.

With a subsidized refrigerator, which would be repaid over time, and a nearly unlimited supply of Pepsi Cola given on consignment, Project Healing Touch was launched. Other corporate houses in India have since accepted the project's initiative, including Apollo Tires, Tata Motors, Hero Honda, HCL -- a leading technology and IT enterprise in India, Castrol, and Mico-Bosch. This match of for-profit and not-for-profit has been an instant winner.

The for-profit sector brings business skills, in-kind capital investments and a national reputation to the project. Not-for-profit organizations usually have an abundance of goodwill, the heart and motivation to drive the project forward, networks that reach into the rural-most areas of society and ... empty pockets. It is a perfect match since each partner contributes what they are already doing successfully. Since its inception, Project Healing Touch has been able to resettle over 1,400 people using this small-scale, self-employment project model.

For his efforts, Anand received PepsiCo's highest honor, the Harvey C. Russel award given in January 2008 by Pepsi's international CEO, Indra Nooyi. The award is named in honor of Harvey C. Russell, vice president of corporate planning for Pepsi-Cola Company and the first African-American vice president of a major corporation.

Pepsi hired Harvey in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States. The Web site of PepsiCo explains the courage, controversy and conviction behind this decision: "In spite of Ku Klux Klan attempts to organize a national boycott against Pepsi, the company (stood) firm in its decision."

In Nepal, Pepsi is bottled and distributed by Varun Beverages. The company's director, Suranjan De, said he was eager to help and quickly received the backing from his bosses at Indian corporate headquarters in New Delhi. To ensure the success of the project, Pepsi Nepal said it would oversee commercial viability, monitor the projects, conduct on-site training, and further develop the corporate social responsibility concept in Nepal.

De went even further, envisioning a national project that would go far beyond the color of ink at the bottom of a spreadsheet -- red or black. He saw the potential to back sporting events and sponsor recreational activities for the youth, and suggested targeting projects in all 75 districts of Nepal.

For its part, the Universal Peace Federation brings just that network to the table. Through its Ambassadors for Peace network the group has representatives in every district of this mountainous nation. Last month, UPF Ambassadors for Peace from all 75 districts gathered in Kathmandu for two days of training. The theme for that educational conference was "Toward a New Paradigm of Leadership and Good Governance for Peace in the 21st Century."

Over 350 leaders in various fields of Nepali society attended the inaugural session. Prime Minister Girija P. Koirala, unable to attend due to poor health, wrote a message thanking the UPF founder, Dr. Sun Myung Moon of Korea, for his "stupendous work" in Nepal over the last several years, going on to say, "Our people have benefited from national and international conferences that foster dialogue at the highest levels of government."

Ek Nath Dhakal, president of UPF-Nepal, said, "This venture is a pioneering project involving leading NGO's from India and Nepal as well as a major business group committed to the idea of corporate social responsibility. UPF-Nepal is happy to be part of this major undertaking, to contribute to Nepal's inclusive economic growth."

The peace federation has an international network of active chapters UPF-Nepal will liaison with the Nepal government, facilitate media outreach and public relations, engage in grassroots youth programs, and conduct education, training and service projects as well as sporting events.

The project will initially focus on families that have suffered as a result of conflict over the past decade. It will purposely select families that have been victims of violence from both sides of the conflict. It has been agreed that pilot projects would be immediately developed in Kathmandu, Biratnagar and Gorkha, and then expanded as quickly as possible to the entire nation.

The aim is to realize the motto of Project Healing Touch: "Make poverty history."

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