Linked to a BSR initiative, this three-part series asks guest experts from emerging economies for their opinions on the role and future of business in sustainability. The first post discusses the need for plural responses for corporate responsibility in India, and the second explores the notion of a "well-off society" in China.

Five hundred years ago, when the first bodies corporate were in the process of being created, the primary concern of businesses was to make money for their —shareholders—who took significant risks in an uncertain and complex world—in order to maximize profit. Many early businesses were known to be so committed to creating wealth only for their investors that they would wantonly trample upon the expectations of other stakeholders. Furthermore, they were unconcerned with the manner in which nature’s bounties—land, timber, minerals, water resources, wildlife and even people—were put to use, or even exploited, for the sake of the business.

Such an unbridled pursuit of profit, however, did galvanize a series of entrepreneurs and businessmen who realized that any endeavor to create wealth without concern for the environment and human rights and well-being, would result in unsustainable development, the impoverishment of humanity, and the legacy of a planet incapable of rejuvenating itself. 

Enlightened companies today understand that society can grow wholesomely when they act responsibly and focus on the well-being of their shareholders as well as diverse stakeholders of the business. This is especially true when business leaders have chosen to run their enterprises ethically and with transparency.

The Tata Group, which is a leading global federation of over a hundred and twenty companies, is held by Tata Sons, two-thirds of which has been owned by public charitable trusts since the early 1920s. The dividends received have thereby been ploughed back into society for almost a century.

Such progressive and forward-looking examples of enlightened and responsible business activity are bound to increase over time. Regulations from around the world will also stimulate businesses to perform their role more appropriately.