As lobbying evolves into advocacy, public affairs takes on a more critical role in India Inc
A little over two years ago, Covid-19 — a once in a century pandemic — upturned our lives like nothing we have ever seen before. Worse, the deadly virus is yet to run its course.
This disruption, though, had a significant upside. It forced public policy to claim centre stage and simultaneously put the spotlight on the role of public affairs — as managing Covid required juggling government relations, honing focused communication and information dissemination strategies, leveraging corporate and social responsibility and developing strategic thinking.
Even better, for the first time, there was a complete convergence of interests among the key stakeholders in the Indian economy. The traditional silos collapsed and the government, corporate India and consumers were aligned as equal partners in forging a national public policy response to deal with this unprecedented challenge. The Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI) and its members played a key role in this mission and worked closely with various government bodies and the NITI Aayog.
In short, national interest is the new glue. What is good for an individual works for companies; and if it works for both these key stakeholders, then national interest is implicitly served. The government, on its part, is very clear: The public sector will no longer hold the commanding heights of the Indian economy and business has a central place in the new scheme of things.
However, for corporate India, this spot on the national high table comes with a price. Corporate behaviour is very closely scrutinised now, specially when stakeholder management has also witnessed a 360-degree change. More and more companies today have a well-defined public policy or public affairs department that is seen as a strategic function — much more integrated, cutting across all other departments and hierarchies.
Public affairs and policy advocacy require relentless attention and a long-term commitment from both companies and individuals. In other words, companies will have to rejig their internal structures and invest in transparency. Given the prickly history between the two key stakeholders, developing the trust quotient won’t be easy.
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