While most business leaders often forget their responsibilities towards society and are solely driven by profit, there are some who strive to create specific types of business models to bring about social change for the benefit of disadvantaged sections of the society.
On 9 September, India lost a great soul, who set an outstanding example of social entrepreneurship and made the country the largest producer of milk in the world: Dr Verghese Kurien, the founding chairman of Amul, the company worth $2.5 billion and better known as the “the father of the White Revolution in India” passed away at the age of 90.
Dr Kurien, popularly known as the “Milkman of India” was the main architect behind the exemplary success of Operation Flood, the largest dairy development program in the world.
Dr Kurien’s entrepreneurial career got a milestone mark with Operation Flood, a rural development program started by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India in 1970 which had the objective to create a nationwide milk grid. He started with just two village diary co-operative societies and 247 liters of milk and later turned the company into a $2.5 billion turnover entity with the popular brand called ‘Amul’, having a massive strength of 32 lakh famers
If India is the largest producer of milk in the world, contributing six per cent to the national GDP and 26 per cent to the agricultural GDP, it is Kurien, who made it possible with his socialist vision and technology-led approach.
Dr Kurien became a legend in his lifetime for building a cooperative movement that transformed the lives of poor farmers while making India self-reliant in milk production.
Born on November 26, 1921 in Kozhikode, Kerala, Kurien studied B.Sc at Madras University in 1940, a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Hons) at Madras University (1943), and was a graduate of the Tata Iron and Steel Company Technical Institute, Jamshedpur (1946). He did his MS in Mechanical Engineering with distinction from Michigan State University (1948) and then went for specialised training in dairying at the National Dairy Research Institute, Bangalore.
A bitter critic of India’s liberalization policies, Dr Kurien said it had opened India to unfair competition from multinational companies. In an interview in 1995, he said: “With liberalization and globalization, India’s national boundaries have ceased to exist… I do not think it is a good thing, because if you have opened up this market under such terms, what it implies is that other countries can put their products into our markets. Are you aware that all those advanced countries subsidize their exports? Subsidies are as high as 65 per cent. Now if you have globalised, and the others are subsidizing their exports, to what position have you exposed the Indian dairy industry? You have declared dairy products under Open General Licence (OGL). You have in fact created a situation where our dairy industry can be killed. This is unfair competition.”
Speaking about the rationale behind Operation Flood, and why it succeeded, Dr Kurien said: “Over the last 20 years India’s milk production has tripled; it has increased from 20 million tonnes per annum to 60 million tonnes per annum. What is the value of one tonne of milk? At Rs 6 a litre, the value of the increased production of milk is Rs 2,400 crore. An additional Rs 2,400 crore goes yearly into the villages and this has been achieved in 20 years, thanks to Operation Flood I, II and III. The total investment was Rs 2,000 crore, and that was not from the state exchequer. The input-output ratio is staggering. The money also goes to those who own one or two buffaloes — the small farmer, the marginal farmer, the landless labourer. Dairying has become the largest rural employment scheme in this country. And the government has had very little to do with it, even though we are a government institution.”
When asked why the Anand model couldn’t be followed successfully in other parts of India, Dr Kurien said. “Is the democratic form of government successful in all parts of India? But the solution to the problems of democracy is more democracy. There can be no democracy in India unless you erect a plurality of democratic structures to underpin democracy, like the village cooperative which is a people’s institution.”
Dr Kurien received various awards, including the second highest civilian award in India – Padma Vibhushan, World Food Prize, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shree, Ramon Magsaysay Award, Krushi Ratna Award, Lokmanya Tilak award etc for his outstanding achievements.