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  • The CSR Opportunity in the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway Crisis.

    The CSR Opportunity in the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway Crisis.


    I witnessed chaos quite early on this one, in fact within half-an-hour of the Rao Tula Ram Road/ Palam flyover opening to public.
    For me, trouble came in three that day. I was still smiling, as I clicked a picture of the traffic build-up, when my phone rang. It was my father calling to share that he had lost the house keys and was stuck outside. Then my driver, like thousands of others that were to make the same mistake in the coming days, took the wrong leaf – we were to go left for Airport/ Dwarka, he went right and we landed on the highway instead. My smile had turned into a frown by now…
    However, nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed at the toll plaza on the 26th of January. There was a half-mile queue on ALL gates of the much touted, widest in Asia, terminal. This on a national holiday, I thought and shuddered just imagining the Monday peak-time traffic trying to negotiate the bottle-neck point (People have since wasted between 30 minutes to 3 hours, one way, at this point).
    As I waited my turn that day, I wondered “what went wrong?”
    So, why am I wasting your time sharing this? Well, if this isn’t a public relations crisis, what is? And there are learnings but more importantly an opportunity – a CSR opportunity.
    However, while Delhi/ NCR population is battling the nightmare live, it is important for the sake of our readers from other geographies that we share some background.
    Those familiar with the situation may straight jump to the headings CRISIS/ OPPORTUNITY :).
    New Delhi, the Capital City, bursting at seams is growing into the suburbs. Gurgaon, with its attractive location on National Highway No 8, which connects Delhi – Ahmedabad – Mumbai, and (once) cheap agricultural land has become the favoured destination for residents and businesses alike. Integrated townships, malls have changed the landscape of this once sleepy town.
    Touted as a Singapore in the making, Gurgaon caters to a significant proportion of multi-national offices (in the NCR) and BPO/ KPO (outsourcing) businesses in the country. Intra-city traffic is choking NH – 8, as teeming millions travel back and forth.
    Proposed Solution
    A world-class, 8 lane expressway (part of the ambitious golden quadrangle project, connecting the 4 largest metros is proposed). Work begins, but the project, which was scheduled for completion in 2005, sees many extensions and cost over-runs that result in a delay of over 2 years.
    Commuters, in absence of alternate routes (MG Road is further narrowed because of the Metro Project and Old Gurgaon – Delhi road only served the purpose only until Gurgaon was still a village and today really serves more as an internal link), spend anywhere between 1-2 hours, each way, to reach their destinations.
    Build – Up of the Crisis
    Parts of expressway that opened to public over the last couple of years, see multiple casualties – pedestrians and motorists alike – in absence of adequate safety measures.
    The promised ‘grand-opening of the entire stretch’, scheduled for 31st of December 2007 – now 5 years in the making – is FURTHER delayed by a ‘couple of weeks’.
    Representatives of resident associations (read politicos in the making) mount pressure for immediate opening and claim delays are an attempt by politicos to gain photo-ops. Using PR machinery, they host mock inaugurations and create photo-ops for themselves instead :).
    Competing newspapers join the fun, take radically opposing stands, dedicating tonnes of ink to the issue.
    23rd of January, 2007 is the day when the entire-stretch is inaugurated:

    1. Pedestrians still don’t have cross-ways, and continue to endanger their lives and that of motorists
    2. Chaos rules as crucial guidelines and signages are still missing.
    3. The toll-plaza is a disaster and the promised 7 minute journey suddenly seems like a mirage, than reality

    The Crisis
    Where conventional wisdom tells us that communication should go into an overdrive during a crisis, what do we see from various stakeholders instead?
    The politicos disappear (no one is surprised); the wannabe politicos disappear too
    (where they could have in-fact made this an opportunity to do some real work); the National Highways Authority is silent; DS Constructions (DSC), the much maligned contractor (and operator), takes the brunt but doesn’t do much to salvage its already damaged reputation.

    1. No ‘visible’ senior management intervention from DSC.
    2. No advertisements or statements advising people about the situation and what’s being done to find a solution, by government/s or DSC.
    3. No suggestions on better self-regulation.
    4. No requests on timings to avoid to avoid adding to the chaos.
    5. No training to ground staff on customer queries.
    6. No websites
    7. No outreach to local media, particularly FM channels, many of which have vibrant listener-reporter traffic updates
    8. Not even a call for support from the commuters themselves (by DSC or the government).
    9. Practically nothing.
      Unless I have missed seeing it, then so have most others as the queues would tell us.

    The Opportunity
    I hope that the government is planning an intervention, soon.
    Or better still, there may in fact be a CSR opportunity in all this. Urging my many friends in public relations agencies – take this to your clients; my friends who working with many corporates/ BPOs in Gurgaon – go and do it! :)
    I firmly believe that great Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has nothing to do with money, but with taking ownership. I also believe any CSR initiative that can deliver business impact is naturally sustainable.
    I have in the past suggested to many prospects/ clients to take on the traffic problem by creating Traffic Brigades, where these people-rich organizations – the MNC/ BPO/ KPOs – some with tens of thousands of staff, can contribute as little an hour/ week to generate several man years worth of volunteer work. Aren’t some companies, in Bangalore, already doing this?
    The accruals from time saved on travel might, in fact, make good time spend on volunteer effort.
    The activity is likely to have a viral effect, with more organizations joining in when they see someone start the initiative.
    Some will, hopefully, find it rewarding enough to make this a part of their sustained community engagement programmes.

    1. Not all have to man traffic, while that’s a prime need at the moment.
    2. Some can contribute through publishing collateral and literature.
    3. Still others can manage the pedestrian traffic. Why, even offer free rides to the nearest over-bridge/ underpass!
    4. There’s a whole list of stuff that can be done.

    You will agree that a willing CEO and team, donning their corporate colours (or a common Traffic Brigade Logo) touch more lives and contribute to the community more effectively than what a plain donation could.
    Would someone care to actually do this? I sincerely hope that MANY do. In fact I hope that The Traffic Brigade doesn’t stop at just the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway or the NCR for that matter and travels far and wide.
    No one will grudge you that photo-op too…just in case ;).

    Disclaimer: Views of authors are personal and do not represent the views of Blogworks, or any of its clients.

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