From CSR to Political Realm, Kitex Group Sets a New Trend

Kizhakkambalam, a seemingly nondescript village in Ernakulam district could very well be the setting for a political revolution in the making. In an unprecedented episode, the Twenty20 party, launched by Rs. 1200-crore Anna-Kitex Group of Companies, has won 17 out of 19 seats in Kizhakkambalam panchayat in the local body elections, causing huge embarrassment to all major political parties. The man behind this massive upheaval, Sabu M Jacob, Chairman and Managing Director of Kitex Garments, tells us how the election results are just another outcome of the positive difference Twenty20 has been making in the village over the past two and a half years.

It all started with the vision of late M C Jacob, the founder of Anna Aluminium – that the village must grow alongside the growth of the firm. Sabu Jacob took it upon himself the responsibility to realise his father’s dream. His first step towards development at Kizhakkambalam came in the form of a medical camp in 2013, attended by over 7000 patients and 101 doctors. “Many of the poor benefited from the camp, and soon, many began coming to us with other problems they faced in their daily lives,” Sabu recalls, “That’s when we convened a meeting of a few major industrialists, politicians and social activists. It was attended by 83 people. However, the attendance gradually came down to 20 after a couple of meetings”. The gathering had only one intention, of making Kizhakkambalam the best panchayat in India by the year 2020. Named Twenty20, the corporate social responsibility initiative of Anna-Kitex Group kick-started development efforts in the village.

Sabu says that Twenty20 has spent around Rs. 32 crore on various initiatives like housing, toilet and drinking water facilities. They have even opened a five-day evening market that sells groceries, furniture and electronics goods at almost half the price. These could be purchased by anybody who is a card-holder of Twenty20. Of course, the going wasn’t smooth. Many of their projects were blocked by the panchayat as well as political parties who jointly issued circulars exhorting the public not to cooperate with Twenty20. ‘‘It became impossible to move ahead with our efforts. The decision to contest panchayat elections was made out of sheer compulsion, rather than deliberate design,” Sabu smiles.

Anna-Kitex Group and Twenty20 are facing allegations from other parties that gaining control of the panchayat was a way “to legalise their unsafe waste disposal methods.” Rejecting these accusations as utterly baseless, Sabu issued a statement mentioning each and every aspect of the functioning of the factory. “Being suppliers for American brands like Walmart and Target, we have to comply with international standards, which are at least 10 times more stringent than Indian ones. There are regular audits and accreditations and Kitex has achieved the highest level of compliance in all of them. Moreover, we have been operating here for the past 20 years. Did the political parties realise that we are unsafe only now?’’ Sabu asks.

Sabu has a concrete roadmap for development of Kizhakkambalam. These span across basic needs of society like food security and health to infrastructure and hi-tech facilities. He has estimated that by spending around Rs. 350 crore within the next 5 years they could make Kizhakkambalam a model panchayat in every way. “Rs. 50-60 crore will be funded by the panchayat, a much bigger amount will hopefully be raised from big corporate groups . The gap, if any, will be filled by the Anna-Kitex Group,” Sabu sounds confident. “Any corporate group can now come forward to adopt a panchayat and turn it around in just three months. This could really fast-track the progress of our nation,’’ Sabu signs off optimistically.

It is learned that IIM Ahmedabad is keen on analysing the Twenty20 success story as a case study.