Leadership Experiments at AMUL
Historical Background of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF)
Kheda district of Gujarat, well-known also as Charutar Pradesh, is a delta between two perennial rivers, Mahi and Sabarmati, consistently receiving good rains. Inhabitants of this region are widely believed to be among the most enterprising and hard working community in Gujarat.
Since milk was produced in abundance in this region, the British Government had given monopoly rights to Polson Dairy to collect milk from Kheda district and supply to Mumbai and to the British Army. For many years, Polson used this monopoly right to its great commercial advantage, and paid extremely low prices to milk producers, especially during the winter months when milk production would be much higher.
The milk producers were agitated due to this exploitation. When they went to complain to Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel about this patently unfair treatment, he advised them to organize themselves into a cooperative which would procure, process, and market milk and milk products. If successful, their cooperative could remove the middlemen so that the major part of the consumer’s rupee could be passed on to the milk producer. Sardar Patel sent Morarji Desai to organize the milk cooperatives. Morarji Desai, in turn, entrusted the job to Tribhuvandas Kishibhai Patel to lead this cooperative movement. Tribhuvandas became the founder of the Amul Cooperative movement. He hired Verghese Kurien as the Manager.
The Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd. (KCMPUL), Anand was registered in 1946. The Union established the brand name ‘Amul’ in 1955. By 1964, Amul had emerged not only as a well-known brand for milk and milk products like butter, but also as a successful development model. In 1965, the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri saw the potential and created the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and asked Dr. Verghese Kurien, to replicate the model on a nationwide level, as he had successfully done with Amul since 1949.
With more Amul-like cooperatives coming up in Gujarat, in 1974, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) was founded to provide an over-arching umbrella organization for the milk cooperatives. Dr Kurien successfully led the GCMMF and NDDB for many years. Sustained and focused efforts resulted in a high level of professionalism in the procurement, processing, and marketing of milk and milk products, modernization of the Indian dairy industry, and raising it to the global standards.
In later years, farmer leaders visiting Amul would often request Dr Verghese Kurien, the then Chairman of the GCMMF, to identify a professional of his calibre to lead their cooperatives in their areas. In response, Dr Kurien would say, “There are many Institutes to produce a Kurien, but there is none to produce a Tribhuvandas. You give me a Tribhuvandas and I will give you a Kurien.” Tribhuvandas, a respected freedom fighter, was well-known for his ability to organize farmers of that region and to keep them together.
The above quip by Kurien implied that though there were schools to produce managers but the real challenge was to develop quality leadership among the farmers. I was not clear about the meaning of leadership – Who is a leader and how can leadership be developed? Does developing leadership mean putting in position of authority a few trusted and competent individuals who would share their vision with people and guide them to move in that particular direction? Or, is it possible to develop a large base of leaders – people who can enable others to solve their problems themselves, especially in rural India? These thoughts would make me restless and I would wonder where and how to look for answers. I was unclear and my search for convincing answers continued.
Several years later, when I took over as the Managing Director of the GCMMF to my good fortune, Dr Kurien was the founder Chairman of GCMMF. He allowed me a lot of space and freedom, so that I could dare to experiment towards some new models of leadership, and evolve some possible answers to my questions about the meaning and role of leadership. I share below a few such experiments with regard to self leadership development. I cannot claim to have obtained great success or final answers to my questions. In fact, there were some failures along with limited success. But I feel that nonetheless my learning are worth sharing.
Self Leadership and Learning: A New Approach and Some Experiments
Our society has numerous problems and most people look up to the government or others to take the lead in finding a solution. Most people who provide such services or solutions expect to be compensated for their effort through adequate payment of dues. Rarely would anyone do anything meaningful out of self-motivation. Organizations try to solve their problems by creating positions of authority and placing their preferred employees in those positions that would have the responsibility to solve organizational problems. This often ends up building a bureaucratic structure with select people in positions of power who may initially be very upbeat about the prospects, but their response and enthusiasm towards solving organizational problems often slows down with the passage of time.
Developing Together an Agenda for Change and Skills to Achieve It
I wanted to evolve a new approach towards leadership in milk cooperatives. I put up a small team of young field workers (officers) to conduct a research in villages to identify a few important issues/problems that farmers wanted to solve. Such officers were trained in change management and also in the process of designing solutions to a problem.
Our design team researched and designed solutions, created training materials, and trained a battery of about 1,000 field workers who in turn carried out training across thousands of chairpersons, secretaries, and committee members of the village cooperatives and also a large number of milk producers in 10,000 villages on select problems and their solutions. Farmers were encouraged to come forward and take charge of their problems themselves. The success of the first awareness programme with regard to ‘what and why we need to change’ and later on the initiatives like ‘Clean Milk Production’, ‘Housekeeping’ and ‘Installation of Quality System ISO 9000’ in village cooperative societies gave a lot of confidence to the design team and also to the participants.
Building Vision Mission Strategy at the Village Cooperative Level
It was then decided to conduct a Vision Mission Strategy (VMS) Workshop for all the village dairy cooperatives with the expectation that the milk producers themselves would arrive at a vision for their dairy cooperatives, the goals of the cooperatives and the strategy they would follow to achieve their goals. In a typical VMS workshop, the design teams presented factual data with analysis and described the current issues and challenges.
For example, water is the main raw material for milk production. It is, therefore, very important to have an assured perennial availability of good quality water, have a system and facilities for proper storage and distribution of water, and develop practices to ensure that enough water is available to the cattle. The issues debated in the workshop included questions like: If water is the key to increased milk production, then what are the gaps and what action should be taken by the Management Committee and members on their own without waiting for external inducement to fill the gaps?
The goals and action plans are discussed, debated, and documented. Efforts were made to understand the current situation with regard to pressing issues such as cattle breed and its management, disease and its management, feed and fodder production, membership strength and its enhancement, human resource issues and procuring and use of technology such as installation of bulk milk coolers, automated milk testing machines, computers, etc. It was found that once the two-day VMS workshop was attended by 200 plus milk producers of the village with the Management Committee members, their decisions and goals were aligned with the implementation schedule, which was then put up on the notice board of the office of the cooperative. The progress was regularly reviewed during Board meetings.
Such workshops were conducted in about 7,600 villages between 2006 and 2010 and are being continued till date. It is my belief that those villages where members took charge and implemented such vital goals are bound to throw up farmer leaders who have done something on their own for common good without the politicians’ or Government’s inducements.
Improving Quality at the Village Cooperative Level
Five years ago farmers were not even fully aware of how liberalization and globalization would impact them. They did not understand the importance of creating green cover through tree plantation for their villages. They did not realize the importance of cleanliness for their main business of milk collection, processing, and marketing. They did not know how to put Quality Systems in place in Village Society by having ISO 9000 or why they needed to install state-of-the-art automatic bulk milk coolers and automatic milk testing and weighing machines.
Awareness of these issues among the villagers was brought out by involving them. The Chairpersons and Management Committee members of the village dairy cooperatives were encouraged to take a lead and make every member aware of the key concerns, and motivate them to participate on their own. Thus the Chairman and nine Managing Committee members provided leadership to the cooperative in this area.
The same team would lead a discussion of the benefits of the ‘Cold Chain Building’ (installing bulk milk coolers) and convince members to go for it and run it efficiently. Again, they would discuss with members the meaning and advantages of getting ISO-9000 certification, audit, and rectification for their village milk cooperative, and convince them to bring clean milk, remove shoes as they entered the cooperative society building, and not smoke or eat gutka on the premises. Close involvement of farmers would make them feel proud if their cooperative received the ISO9000 certification. The farmers felt embarrassed and ashamed in case the certification was suspended for deviations.
As a result of these efforts, all the village dairy cooperatives are today ISO-9000 certified. You can ask any Chairman or Management Committee member of a milk cooperative the meaning of ISO and its advantages, and you will get an informed and convincing reply. Even a casual conversation with an ordinary milk producer will impress you with the extent to which the members value their certification and the care they take to maintain the expected standards. In the last five years, thousands of bulk milk coolers and automatic milk collection systems have been installed all over Gujarat.
The increasing competition due to liberalization and impact of WTO led to the realization that doing business would be extremely competitive and that a focus on Total Quality Management (TQM) would be very important. And therefore, as a unique measure, several TQM initiatives were extended to our business partners whether it was the farmer producer in the village or a wholesale distributor in a metro town or its most sophisticated production unit. A number of TQM initiatives which ran successfully across the organization included Kaizen, Housekeeping, Small Group Activities, and Hoshin Kanri (Policy Development). It was believed that these initiatives would create a culture of transparency, openness, and leadership in the organization.
Going Green: Involving Farmers
Sometime in 2006, I started dabbling with the problem of the need for green cover in our villages. I believed that if India had to become Green, the forest departments cannot do so single-handedly — the farmers have to be involved. Running the ‘Green India’ campaign on television, and actually turning India ‘Green’ are two different propositions. I strongly feel that our greatest asset is our people resources at the grass roots and they need to be engaged in the right direction, including for the green initiative.
It was felt that there was a need to sensitize farmers about global warming. Moreover, the tree cover is fundamental for good rains as rains enhance ground water level, which is a pre-requisite for Animal Husbandry and Dairying. Milk Producers of Gujarat have understood that tree plantation is essential for Dairy Development and it is an important measure to check climate change and global warming.
I wanted awareness and involvement of farmers in greening Gujarat. I hence asked the Design Team to devise a programme for inspiring and involving milk producers to plant one sapling each on August 15, 2006 between 9.30 and 10.30 on an experimental basis. As a first step, we set up the target to plant at least 2 million trees.
The Design Team consisting of 50 procurement officers from different milk unions and 1,000 trainers worked on the idea. The trainers conducted programmes in villages and encouraged farmers to take up the idea..
All Chairpersons, Management Committee members, Secretaries of village cooperatives were involved at the planning and preparation stage. The design team developed an Activity plan and methodology for conducting tree plantation. They identified village level coordinators and arranged tree plantation awareness programmes. Roles and responsibilities were assigned to each member. The District Forest Officers and the government authorities were contacted for obtaining the plan. The tree plantation awareness was cascaded to all villagers so that they could collect requirement of tree saplings. Logistics were worked out for delivery of saplings at least three days prior to the Independence Day.
On the day of the tree plantation (15th August), after the milk collection and flag hoisting ceremony, saplings were distributed to members from milk cooperative societies. The members took oath to protect the saplings and accept the responsibility for successfully growing them into trees. The actual sapling plantation was carried out by members at their identified places like in their farm, home, common plot of villages, schools, etc. The Chairman and MDs of Milk Cooperatives also participated in the sapling plantation activity.
On August 16, 2006, the Design team reported that 1.8 million saplings had been planted on the Independence Day! This achievement was celebrated and it was decided to speed up the process and inspire farmers to plant three saplings each.
Accordingly, on August 15, 2007, during the flag hoisting ceremony held in the village dairy cooperative offices, saplings were distributed to all members in 13,000 villages. The farmers were advised to keep three pits ready in advance. Between 9.30 and 10.30 am, 5.5 million saplings were planted voluntarily.
The farmers were given a choice to select the type of saplings and their choices were procured by the village cooperatives. An evaluation showed a survival rate of more than 45 per cent over the next five months. This initiative was further intensified to plant saplings at the rate of five per farmer and including fruit trees like mango, chikoo, etc. In the years 2009 and 2010, about 8.8 million trees were planted each year. Between 2007 and 2009, out of a total of 15.6 million saplings planted, 8.4 million survived, indicating a survival rate of 53 per cent. The initiative has subsequently got rooted in the dairy cooperative model.
This initiative of farmers has been recognized nationally and internationally. In fact, GCMMF has won Srishti’s G-Cube (G3 – Good Green Governance) Award 2010 in the Service Category for the fourth consecutive time. The “Amul Green” movement has also been recognized and selected for the award of the best environment initiative in the “sustainability category” by the International Dairy Federation.
In all the above cases, young leaders in their early thirties came forward to drive the change management processes. They helped in convincing other members, carrying them along with their movement, and implementing significant initiatives by sacrificing their time and in the process learning the most valuable lessons of leadership through experimentation.
My belief, that the leadership that gets built through self-learning practices is not party- or politics-driven and therefore does not need government props, has been strengthened. It will sustain over the years even without external support. Once a person has experienced the ability to move people to move towards a common agenda, he will surely recognize its power.
Conducting Self Leadership Programmes at the Village Level
I once attended a transformation spiritual leadership workshop conducted by a leading spiritual organization. I felt that it was of no use if only I was charged with what I had learn. All the Board members and others must undergo a similar programme to be able to transform the way we all lived and worked. I felt only such transformation could sustain the success of GCMMF in the coming years.
With the help of the leaders of the organization I organized a short programme for the Board members. Subsequent meetings with the head of the organization led to the design of a 4-day programme on self-leadership.
The purpose was to expose all of the village cooperative members to principles and practice of self management and meditation. The workshop was expected to infuse discipline, self-management, and leadership skills in the participants while teaching them the values of life, and urging them to not treat selling of milk as a pure commercial act. Many such programmes were conducted from1997 to 2009. Even today I feel happy when I go to visit the milk cooperatives. I find a large number of members embodying the values discussed in the programme.
Outcome of the Experiments
When 10,000 Chairpersons, and their 90,000 Managing Committee members come forward and lead milk producers to implement these changes, handle the difficult process of managing change themselves, overcome the difficulties, experience the successful and not-so-successful results they encounter, this gives them a rare and invaluable experience in leadership and emboldens them to take higher level of initiatives.
Hopefully, through these and similar other initiatives, the villagers get a chance to ‘manage change’ directly. The people who work with involvement and extraordinary drive emerge and get accepted as milk producers’ leaders.
Many of the present leaders (Cooperative Chairpersons and Management Committee members of village milk cooperatives) are very young and eager to learn and grow. Thanks to the various initiatives, there has not been a leadership vacuum as the old members moved on. I believe that some of the initiatives gave the opportunity to thousands of youth to experience and exercise leadership and thus helped to churn and bring the cream on the top.
By sharing these experiences, I wish to urge others to examine and look at alternative ways of developing leadership. I tried some unique experiments and feel that if they can be continuously refined and consistently implemented, we may throw up a different breed of leadership, not only in the villages but also in the country. I hope that at least a few of those village cooperative members who have experienced these initiatives or have participated through self-initiative and drive will emerge as good leaders sooner or later. I am fully convinced that we have to pursue the path of grooming young leaders relentlessly.
Mr. BM Vyas took-over as Managing Director of AMUL Co-Op. during expansion and opening up of the Indian economy & globalization in the 90s. In order to take on the competition, he championed Total Quality Management across the dairy value chain in Gujarat. Within a span of 16 years at helm of AMUL, he increased sales of AMUL to eight-folds (from Rs. 9.8 billion to Rs. 80 billion). He steered AMUL to be Asia’s largest fresh Milk processor or No. 1 Dairy Brand in India as well as in Asia Pacific, as per Media Magazine Survey, 2009. Under his leadership; AMUL launched innovative and special Dietary products like Probiotic & Sugar Free Ice Cream, Probiotic buttermilk for the first time in India.