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Corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices


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The SAFA-CMA Management Accounting Summit 2012 held in June this year revolved around the theme ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Practices,’ of which the highlight was the final session of the two-day summit, the CEO and CFO Forum.

The panel featured Dialog PLC Group CEO and Managing Director Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, John Keells Holdings Finance Director Ronnie Peiris, Aitken Spence Director Rohan Fernando, Commercial Bank PLC Managing Director and CEO Ravi Dias, Lanka IOC Managing Director Subodh Dhakwala, Jetwing Chairman Hiran Cooray, and Taj Hotels Area Director Rohit Khosla and was moderated by CCC Solutions CEO Prema Cooray.

Cooray: This is about corporate responsibility and sustainability especially relating to the corporate sector. As you know, the world today CEOs/CFOs Forum on CSR and Sustainability Practices. From left: Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, MD/CEO – Dialog PLC, Ronnie Peiris, Finance Director – JKH PLC, Dr. Rohan Fernando, Director – Aitken Spence & Co. PLC, Subodh Dhakwala, MD – Lanka IOC PLC, Hiran Cooray – Chairman, Jetwing Ltd., Prema Cooray, CEO, CCC Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Prof. Lakshman Watawala – President, CMA Sri Lanka, Rohit Khosla – Director Operations, TAL Hotels Resorts Ltd., Taj Safaries Ltd, Area Director Sri Lanka and GM, and Ravi Dias – MD/CEO, Commercial Bank PLC.is under stress and the population is making use of the resources in a way that it may and it will harm the existence of all of us if we don’t take action in order to see that the optimisation of resources is done.

We in the corporate sector here have advanced to some degree in identifying how we can mitigate some of the impacts in terms of the environment and also helping communities so that there is a balance in terms of resource usage, centred towards poverty elevation and livelihood improvement.

Q: Ronnie, your group has a proven record in contributing your share to the principles of sustainability. Is it really embedded in your DNA in doing business? Do your efforts give a premium over your competition?

Pieris: Your question was is sustainability the DNA of doing business at JKH. I can confirm it is indeed very much so and is firmly embedded in the DNA at JKH but such entrenchment has not been an easy task. It does not come overnight. It’s an arduous journey and you have to set yourselves certain objectives and the journey to that objective from where we started was not easy.

It was very regimented but I am happy to state that after 10 years, I think I can truly and firmly say that sustainability is indeed firmly entrenched. John Keells embraced philanthropy many moons ago during the early 2000s. Such philanthropy gradually took the guise of strategic corporate social responsibility and around the same time, we took appropriate steps to change our governance model from a shareholder-based governance model to a stakeholder-based governance model.

As soon as you embark on such a pursuit, you will find that your vistas get broadened beyond your shareholders and embrace the community and other key stakeholders. Sustainability practices first came to the fore in a proactive basis at JKH only in 2004 and 2005 because this was becoming a key topic in business circles and although we were doing this in various forms, I don’t think there was any real structured and entrenched approach to this.

So in keeping with the best needs of governance and with the GRI guidelines, the JKH Group immersed itself deeper in sustainability concepts and practices and at this early stage it was mere reporting and I don’t think we were really practicing sustainability. There were no real proactive steps or structured programmes to make it better.

Having identified sustainability as a business imperative, we had it entrenched in the 70 business units which form a part of our group and it was not that easy because a lot of people at the start, particularly our CEOs, saw these as a bit of a nuisance rather than something that they needed to pursue as a part of the business.

A lot of awareness, communication and sometimes dictatorships had to be adopted in ensuring that this became an entrenched practice and there were a lot of seminars and workshops that took place to explain that it was indeed imperative as a part of business. Then in order to get this entrenched as a DNA, at CEO level and above, we made sustainability a key performance objective so that all our performance objectives were linked to remuneration recognition variable bonuses.

We made sustainability a key performance objective in 2009 and with such rewards working as a key motivator, we found that more senior managers were embracing sustainability practices. Around 2008 and 2009, customised packing mechanisms were also introduced so we gradually upped it from a mere reporting function to an implementing function.

For success, the tone from the top has to be uncompromised. It was a lot of hard work as we have 10,800 employees and 70 businesses operating in various industries. It has taken us eight to nine years to get there and we pursued it step-by-step, in a very deliberate and proactive manner. This year, we reported on 30 sustainability indicators compared to the 23 we reported in 2010/11 and it is no longer pure reporting, there is absolute action now.

Thresholds are established, targets are set and various action plans are implemented in order to reach those targets. While we have made considerable progress in some areas, there are some other areas where I must confess we have not made the type of progress that we expected.

Prema also asked me whether our sustainability efforts give us a premium over our competition but in sustainability, we never thought of competition. We have done it for our own internal efficiency and shows in the types of interactions we have had with our investors, both foreign and local, and with our bankers and with our multilateral lending organisations, bilateral lending organisations and with the stakeholders, customers, suppliers, employees, etc.

I can truly say that we do have a premium over most of the other organisations operating in Sri Lanka because such efforts have been recognised by lenders and our cost of capital has indeed come down. These practices are recognised particularly by global investors and by foreign shareholders. Attracting capital has not been difficult at all and in fact we are very confident that at any given time if we have a good project, we can get the desired capital.

I would say that yes, it is indeed a part of our DNA and we enjoy a premium but we have never measured it as a competitive advantage but rather as something that we believe in and need to do.

Q: Can you describe your experiences in the sustainability area, largely in the plantation sector and also in the other areas in which Aitken Spence’s core activities are?

Fernando: As far as Aitken Spence is concerned, for us sustainability practices is a way of doing good business. We don’t necessarily look at the philanthropic element of it because we are always responsible to our shareholders. For us, sustainability has been about improving or looking at the triple bottom line and it’s from that dimension that we have always developed our sustainability strategies, whether it be plantations, tourism or any other area.

Having said that, implementing sustainability practices is no easy task because it is something that tends to add cost to what you are trying to do, therefore it has to be managed and in Aitken Spence one of the key reasons as to why we have been reasonably successful in implementing sustainability as a corporate strategy is because it has come down right from the top.

Our Board of Directors and the Managing Director has given us the push simply because sustainability as a business strategy is a requirement in the corporate world today. In a world where we are always depleting the economy, although some of us are making money at the expense of it, it’s important that we all share our responsibilities and be concerned about the environment. It is from that angle that Aitken Spence developed the sustainability strategy.

Aitken Spence has been the pioneer in the printing and packaging industry in Sri Lanka and we recently opened the first green packaging manufacturing facility here in Sri Lanka simply because we saw the need for green printing been required by all our partners like Marks & Spencer’s, which bear a lot of responsibility to high end customers. They require printing and packaged goods which are processed or manufactured under environmentally accepted conditions. This is one example of how Aitken Spence has integrated business strategic plans into the organisation’s strategic future.

Similarly, sustainability practices are a requirement in the plantation world whether it is tea, rubber or palm oil and the challenges are enormous. Today, large buyers do not buy palm oil from countries where palm oil is grown after cutting down forests. Tea is another area where there are various movements in Europe and the US which ensure that you maintain good labour.

All these are part of the sustainability strategy which has been embedded in our own plantations and many other plantation companies and smallholders today are compelled to go in this direction to ensure that a premium is paid for their products. Developing sustainability in your business to my mind is a must.

Another important facet at Aitken Spence is energy management and we have various energy management systems. For instance in our hotels, we just implemented ISO 50001, which is very rare in the tourism world. In many of our businesses, we use wood as an energy source and we use hydropower to ensure that energy use is clean on plantations.

One of the important facets of sustainability as a business practice is GRI reporting and the areas of ethics and corporate governance. Today, we find that many public listed companies that want to be transparent and want to develop good corporate governance practices are implementing GRI reporting to show that they are walking the talk and not merely putting things down as to make a colourful annual report.

The other area like which I want to touch on is the area of corporate governance. Today, some of you may be surprised that we find that sustainability as a business practice is required or seems to be a demand from new recruits. We particularly find that graduates who study overseas are all very concerned to know if the company they want to join is practicing corporate governance principles.

Q: Your organisation has set a fine example to the world by providing a company structure that truly values the concepts of sustainability, following the principles of planet, people and profits. Can you elaborate and name a few initiatives that you have taken and have had impact on the community at large? Are you also moving towards carbon neutrality or is there a strategy towards achieving the same?

Khosla: To incorporate corporate sustainability as part of our DNA, we have something called the ‘SHE Committee,’ which stands for safety, health and environment. Now at the boardroom level, we have a member of the board who is responsible for the SHE committee, an executive director of operations and a director of sustainability.

We have a structure, we have people and we have an outfit within the organisation that concentrates only on corporate sustainability and we even have a director of corporate sustainability and corporate responsibility. The Tata Group is owned by trusts, around 60 per cent of it and the profits are then ploughed back into the various fields.

We have an Institute of Fundamental Research, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences and similarly for the Indian hotel company, we have something called the Taj Welfare Trust. Many of you would remember the horrible images of the Taj Meham Mumbai which was subjected to a horrible attack. Subsequent to that, the Tata Group and the Taj set up the Taj Welfare Trust.

This Trust addresses the needs of each and every person affected by the terrorist attack – all the families of the people who lost their lives and the people. We gave them sustenance allowances per month. You could be a vendor on the street, a taxi driver that evening or you could have been a bus conductor who got injured. Anybody who was impacted by that terror attack was covered under this Taj Welfare Trust and we are very pleased to report that today, we have rehabilitated all of them.

Now all this could not be done if not for an organisational effort. It’s not a fad, it’s a part of our DNA – this is what our organisation has been for over 140 years and I am sure will continue to be at the Taj Samudra. The awareness for the environment has not been that strong in an organisation like but a lot of hotels over the past decade or so have started concentrating on the environment.

We are an earth checked silver certified hotel and we participate in all activities. For instance, we celebrated the World Environment Day on a grand scale this year. As an organisation, we look at the community, the stakeholders, our vendors, partners, the society, governance, law enforcement agencies, shareholders and obviously our employees.

For our employees, we have something called the Year of the Associate which involves a set of over 20 employee engagement activities that we report on. I am pleased to inform you that the Taj Group of Hotels has been placed in the hall of fame for the third time for employee engagement and this is a worldwide ranking system for employee engagement.

Employee engagement activities are extremely critical for the development, growth and sustainability of the organisation and we have initiatives which include a lot of things for employees’ families, medical benefits, getting people involved in community and social services which is all a part of our Year of the Associate but there is a long way to go.

On carbon neutralising and reporting on carbon credits, we have embarked on this particular journey as an organisation and we have made great progress on that front but we have some catching up to do. We also have an earth policy called EARTH, which stands for Environmental Awareness and Renewal at Taj Hotels.

Q: I would like to know what your company’s view is on uplifting the lives of the people with whom you work. Do you believe that you have to be financially viable in order to drive sustainability?

Dhakwala: Coming to the Indian Oil Corporation, it is a big multinational organisation with a seven billion dollar turnover and we have almost two per cent of our profits earmarked for corporate social responsibility and that is a big amount.

Lanka IOC has been formed here with the intention to make petroleum sales and petroleum distribution easy and efficient in this country and we bring a lot of expertise with us. In regard to petroleum, the inherent issue is that when you burn petroleum, you really pollute the atmosphere and it all results in global warming.

It’s a big environmental challenge but can we really do without this energy? The answer is no, not until we are able to find good options to replace this fossil fuel and LIOC is not insensitive to this. We are aware that this is contributing to environmental pollution. In 2010, we formulated our corporate social responsibility policy. We started the Go Green venture in which we selected 72 schools, from which we selected 1,500 students who were each asked to plant a sapling.

The saplings have to be nurtured so that they grow into trees and we gave each student Rs. 100 per month for a minimum of three years and we hope to extend it. The whole project has cost around Rs. 6 million. The bigger objective educate the students on improving the environment as if the awareness is instilled in them from childhood, it is long lasting and sustainable and the students grow up to be responsible citizens.

We constantly engage in research so that we can come up with fuels that pollute the environment less by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. In Europe alone, the transport sector emits 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide emanated into the atmosphere. This is why the fuel which is been used needs to be refined further.

We have come out with Euro 3 fuel in Sri Lanka and have moved on to the Euro 4 fuel in India. The Euro 3 fuel is one-third less pollutant and it costs a lot of money. We have spent three to four billion dollars upgrading our refineries in India.

On qualitative improvement of people, in general we strongly educate them. We have chosen to work through education because our idea is that if we are able to educate the people and give them right kind of education about their living standards, they’ll turn out to be better citizens in future and will be able to contribute and influence others for the good of the community.

With that in mind we identified two schools and around 140 underprivileged students and paid for their education. The whole project has cost us something around one million rupees. We also teach these students English and regularly monitor their progress.

These ventures cost money but for any sustainable development, you have to be financially confident. We have been trying to economise and optimise our resources to be as trim as we can be and compete and make some profit so that we can invest those profits into society.

We constantly look for things that can really save energy. For instance our petrol sheds use mercury vapour lamps and sodium vapour lamps at night in order to reduce carbon emissions. New LED lights which may be costly at the initial stage turn out to be much, much cheaper when they are used for a period of time and they also emit less carbon, consume less energy and are environmentally friendly.

Q: Does PATA provide leadership for sustainability initiatives? Do you take it very seriously in the operations of your business and can you tell us how Sri Lanka Tourism is following the path of sustainability – are we still at the stage of infancy?

Cooray: To answer Prema’s first question, I must say that PATA took this initiative way back in the early 1990s, when we went to the PATA conference in Bali in 1991. At that time we had two very prominent Sri Lankans in PATA – Lakshman Ratnapala, who ended up as Sri Lanka’s first CEO in PATA who now lives in San Francisco California, and also Renton de Alwis, who went on to be the Regional Head of PATA and also was the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism here, so both of them were actively involved in PATA.

It was at one of these conferences that PATA really spoke of the need to protect the environment. This was in 1991 and at that time the same level of awareness was not present in the world of tourism or I don’t think in any other industry either. So that’s why PATA can be very pleased that they took on this role before all these new developments took place.

I mean if you look at Jetwing Hotels, we are not certified by anybody. But if you go and visit our hotels, I am sure they’ll show you what we have done. We do it and we just keep quiet; we use it for our promotional use, the customers are happy, we take the customers around and show them what we have done and why because we don’t want to pay somebody and get a label.

We have our own auditors, we use external consultants who come and very strictly audit what we do and sometimes our managers consider them a pain in the neck because they come and stop or minimise buying plastics, even goods wrapped in plastics, and try not to buy anymore so we influence the others, even our suppliers, as much as possible and that’s the role.

Getting back to PATA, now over the last 20 years we had a kind of a hit and miss run and we also depended on the leadership because PATA leadership changes every year and now every two years the CEOs come and go. When the other associations came in and starting doing it with more profit, PATA took a backseat, but PATA is now back again, educating members and talking to them about the benefits of looking after the environment.

Another thing that PATA is doing right now is lobbying very hard to stop this taxation. I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but in the UK there is an air passenger levy of 80 British Pounds per person. So somebody who comes from Sri Lanka or Nepal or Maldives Islands has to pay 80 pounds per person to get out of London, just a tax only, so if a family of five goes out, you are talking 400 pounds. That’s a huge tax so it’s all included in the airline ticket. What happens is the British Government collects the money and they say that is to look after the environment and now the environment is asking ‘what are you doing with that money?’ and the travel industry is also asking ‘you are collecting so much money; show us what you are doing to the environment’.

PATA by the way is Pacific Asia Travel Association; there are 44 countries which are members. Some of the governments obviously cannot talk out loud about it because they are beneficiaries from the United Kingdom and the European Union so on and so forth so PATA has taken the leadership in speaking about it openly at the House of Commons and many other places to at least make sure that 80 pounds won’t get increased to 120 or 150 in the future. The 80 has been implemented and I don’t think they will now go back on it.

Getting on to Sri Lanka, I am sure Prema you remember the time Renton was the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism, whom I consider as one of the better chairmen of Sri Lanka Tourism we’ve had in the past. He took on this ‘Sri Lanka Green Lanka’ concept and went on talking about it quite aggressively. Unfortunately the mistake Renton made was, he only spoke of green in Sri Lanka and did not talk of other aspects, especially at a time when Sri Lanka’s tourism was struggling and we were not making money. I think the mistake made at that time was speaking only of greening the country when the tourism industry was not sure whether it would survive for the next three months.

I think now a lot of us, especially companies like John Keells and Aitken Spence and a few others who are very well established in the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, are focusing on getting renewable energy, for example taking this to another level. Hopefully our idea is that if some of the leaders in the travel industry and hospitality industry here in Sri Lanka can do those changes, then the others will follow because the others will see the benefits.

I was very happy to hear Gunaratne’s presentation before our session started and he was talking about the environmental management accounting purposes and getting done some studies on the hospitality industry as well, so the most important thing to convince the people who are coming into the industry is to show them the figures. It will help once people see the figures and see that there is a economic benefit; if you only tell them it’s nice because you have solar energy or biomass or whatever, it is not going to convince a lot of people and solar energy by the way is quite expensive.

I mean we are looking at having entirely solar energy in our new property we are building in Yala and the finance guys are saying no way because you’re basically buying your energy upfront – what you pay for in 25 years you are paying upfront. But if our company has to invest the money, then you are looking at a huge cost upfront for the project. But if you are really committed and you make the decision from the heart and necessarily not from the head, then there is a possibility that the newer hotels that are coming up can be carbon neutral. Otherwise making it carbon neutral will only be a nice story to talk about.

Q: You talk of the four As in your organisation – availability, affordability, applicability and affinity. I would like you to speak a little bit on that and would like you to touch on tracking and managing your environmental performance.

Wijayasuriya: Our customer base today stands at a little over 7.5 million and is spread across all parts of the country. Moving on to the 4As, it is basically an acronym and represents the maximisation of Availability, Affordability, Applicability and Affinity with respect to all our products and services.

We endeavour to align all our employees and other stakeholders including partners and shareholders to this objective. I would call this an inclusive business paradigm, meaning that what we set out to do is to include every single citizen of this country in the Dialog story. Among the As, there are two which may not be immediately clear outside the organisational context and may need some further explanation.

I believe availability and affordability are pretty self explanatory but applicability is about utility – that is making your product or service useful to as many people as possible. In an exclusive business formulation, you would not bother too much about every single segment in society – you would look at a few segments and make your product useful to them.

In contrast, when adopting an inclusive formulation, you endeavour to make your product or service applicable and useful to everyone across the country. The other A requiring some explanation is affinity. This A is about cultural empathy, it’s about making every single citizen very comfortable with your product and service so that they could relate to it and can comfortably adopt it within their societal frame and ecosystem.

You might question how all this applies to sustainability. The 4As and in particular being inclusive I believe is a fundamental of a sustainable business in an emerging economy. I do not think a business which adopts an exclusive approach is sustainable in the developing world. I might stand corrected on this hypothesis in a developed world context.

In the developing world, I believe a business which does not seek to address the needs of the wider population and looks to develop that population through the adoption of its products and services will not be fundamentally sustainable. As we all know, sustainability as manifested in the triple bottom line is about economic, social and environmental development.

Economic development is about the economy of the country and the economy of your business. Economic development in an emerging economy is significantly dependent on the creation of consumer surplus or end user surplus – which is the secondary economic value addition created through the utilisation or consumption of our products and services.

An example of such consumer surplus created by the mobile phone is that of fishermen carrying out their market selection from the high seas by negotiating with markets over the mobile phone. They would then deliver their catch to the market offering the best price.

In fact, McKinsey carried out a research where they studied the Indian, Chinese and Filipino markets and they assessed this factor and what they came up with was that the contribution to the national economy from an inclusive business formulation, in this case wireless communications, was four times the direct contribution to the economy from the provision of that service.

What this means is that if the industry contributes one dollar as direct contribution to the economy, the consumer surplus contribution would four dollars provided the delivery of the service was inclusive in nature and designed to empower the consumer. Now that is something very powerful in our hands as a communication provider. We need to use this opportunity responsibly and use it to digitally empower every citizen.

Digital empowerment refers to the average citizen having this powerful device, delivering connectivity and computing power in their hand. Importantly, this device and its usage should be widely available, affordable and through delivering a high degree of cultural affinity, make the user very comfortable with its utility. In Sri Lanka, all segments of society have a high degree of cultural and behavioural affinity with the mobile phone.

They can browse on it, carry out small transactions on it and it is very useful to them in cutting down transport costs and saving time which can then be invested in their trade. It follows that if this device is used productively, digitally empowered citizens would provide a wider market for inclusive services beyond the realm of a telecom operator – for instance financial services, commerce, media, insurance or even education.

I believe those five years from today, we will live in a society where our citizens, top to the bottom of the pyramid, will do large number of their day-to-day activities on their mobile phones. In Kenya for example, it is estimated that 13.5 per cent of the retail economy transits via mobile money and payment services.

We launched a similar service in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago, with the support of the Central Bank and progressive regulation underpinned on financial inclusion principals. In this example, the fact that a service like mobile payment touches all segments of society and takes electronic commerce beyond a select few to the wider population, ensures that economic development also results in societal development, which together cover two of the three principal tenets of sustainable development.

With respect to environmental development – our industry is fortunate in that it’s not inherently pollutive in nature – we hence don’t face the challenges which some other industries naturally have and have to endeavour to sort out. In our industry, we are fortunate that in fact many of the things we do result in the creation of information societies which in turns conserves non-renewable energy sources.

In an information society, consumers don’t need to waste petrol and consume less non renewable energy because they could carry out most tasks on a mobile phone or using a computer. Towers are probably the only form of environmental hazard characteristic of our industry which again at Dialog we seek to mitigate using environmentally friendly structures such as tree towers, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, wherever feasible.

The sustainability thrust at Dialog started well before we became a large public listed corporate. We set up our corporate accountability division and our corporate accountability focus in 1998 when we were still number three in this industry.

We set up the CHANGE trust fund at the time and commenced our community contribution through supporting hearing and speech impairment because we felt that in our inclusion drive one segment of society we really couldn’t include were those who could not hear and who could not speak. Of course today the technology itself has solved this problem and today people look at their phone more often than through it.

We built an ethos of what we call business integral corporate responsibility within the organisation. This signifies that corporate accountability is not just philanthropy – instead we ensure that any business proposal or corporate plan which is put up must prove to the senior management and to the board that it delivers positive dividends to the economy and additionally does not harm the environment.

It follows that when every business proposition moves through this cycle, sustainability, social responsibility and environmental responsibility is integral to our business. Dialog, for the third successive year has been rated number one in the corporate accountability ranking in Sri Lanka. We never apply for awards for corporate social responsibility and we have a policy that we will not spend any more than five per cent of project cost on promotion of the project.

So that 95 per cent of any money which we put towards the project goes to the project itself and not towards advertising its outcomes. During the very difficult years of 2008 and 2009 in particular it was everything that we had put in place in terms of sustainability principles that enabled us to weather a very radical and painful down turn and rebound in just seven quarters to a profit of over five billion rupees. This internal benefit we derived through our sustainability focus and commitment to the fundamental principles of delivering equitable returns to triad of economy, society and environment.

Q: Since you are the biggest commercial bank in Sri Lanka, you touch the community at large through your branch network. Have you taken any major initiatives taken to enrich the livelihoods of people in that sense? Do you have in place projects that embed the principles of sustainability? Are there any lines of credit that specifically address and support green investments?

Dias: All this time, sustainability in the banking industry was also a nice word to have in your annual reports and so on but it had come a long way from that. Today, it has become integral part of business without which you cannot survive.

For example, I would like to mention some of the credit lines which we get from overseas. Most of the conveyance would have very comprehensive sectors on sustainability and corporate governance, so if you are not compliant you are not eligible for those credit lines so to that extent it had become an essential part of the business and the banking industry.

Commercial Bank was virtually a Colombo-based trade finance bank about 20 years back until we decided to venture out of Colombo and we started in the mid 90s. We opened our 50th branch in Dambulla in 1998 and over the next four years, we added another 50 to make it 100. We now have 218 branches throughout the country and counting and we have another 17 in Bangladesh.

We sometimes invest in the future because some of the places in which we opened branches would not make money in the short run so we might have to carry a few loss making branches for sometimes. In these places we get an opportunity of serving the community which is not about merely doling out money or giving or lending money.

We have people who are good entrepreneurs and industrialists, they are good at farming and various things but they sometimes do not have expertise in managing their financial affairs. Until the state banks ventured into rural areas, they were not in the habit of banking but kept their money under their pillow. Now there is no need to do that as there is an accessible banking network.

People are increasingly getting into the banking stream and we consider capacity building as one of the key ingredients if we are to keep our collection ratios high and in these kinds of economies, the collection ratios are far higher than what we see in Colombo or in major towns sometimes but there is one hitch.

The transaction cost is generally high because for a branch to give Rs. 50 million or Rs. 100 million loans, you have to spread it across a few thousand borrowers whereas in Colombo, with one stroke of a pen, you can give that kind of money but still the risk is spread and the returns are not bad so in that sense we are doing looking after the sustainability aspect and we are concerned about the social aspect of it.

There were a few credit lines from overseas and the last was E Friends where Commercial Bank out of the funds allocated disbursed 37 per cent for sustainability and environment which I think is fairly large so right now there aren’t any overseas credit lines but most banks too have their own credit lines which are directed towards sustainability and environment.

We have come a long way from just using these words in the annual report. We have a separate division for sustainability and environment concerns and that division would have to sign off every significant loan application. If a company wanted a big loan from us, that particular division will have to sign off that we are compliant with sustainability and environmental issues.

To that extent, we are serious about sustainability and in addition to that, we have a fairly active CSR trust where we allocate particular amount of profits every year and our focus is on education, health and environment so while we don’t talk too much about that, there is a lot of work happening.


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