Friday, March 13, 2009

And they called ME a Cynic!

The other day, I was in this conference where eminent personalities were discussing whether CSR was a rhetoric or a reality. One executive, who was working in a PSU, was talking about how his company implemented CSR by having a quota for physically challenged people, SC/STs etc. When I asked him how many of those physically challenged people had actually gotten into the upper echelons of his organization, his answer was a diplomatic " We give equal opportunities to everyone", which amounted to saying no one from that category ever went anywhere in the organization except the place they started with. Of course, if I had asked about how the SC/STs fared in his organization, the answer wouldn't have been too different. Another executive, from a private sector giant this time, waxed lyrical about his company's CSR initiatives helping people with "torn clothes" restore some "pride" to their pathetic, meaningless lives(At least, that's how it sounded to me).

The reason I'm harping on this subject is that CSR today seems a lot like the "White Man's burden" to me. These big-shot CEOs and their coterie, commonly known as the executive board, seem to think that they are so flawless, so intrinsically perfect, that God has given them the divine duty of enlightening and uplifting the scrum of the society, transforming their lives for the better, and making sure that they would get the tools necessary to enrich their lives.

What a load of excreta! The problem with this altruistic motive is that they want these people to stay at the bottom of the system, more like byproducts, just surviving thanks to hand-me-downs by these wonderful organizations. They are, in no way, committed to bringing them into the system, making them a part of it so that one day, in the future, one of those people with "torn clothes" might actually become a CEO, or likewise. 

That is exactly the reason they crib about tax raises, find means and ways to avoid it, with CSR being one avenue. Instead, if they did actually pay their taxes properly, the government would do a lot better in helping the under-privileged, with more money spent on education and other general social welfareschemes(Like NREGS). Instead, these corporates use the money allotted for CSR more to harp about their social schemes than in actually implementing them. They use it more as a brand development tool than a sincere attempt to give back to the society that gives them the resources they need and acts as their market. 

Instead, take the scenario where corporates looked upon their CSR as an instrument in empowering certain sections of the society, as well as an investment into their future. For example, go back to the case of the PSU. If this company(which has been in existence for 45 years now) had actually directed its CSR into educating physically handicapped children with a view of recruiting them in the organization some years down the line, it would have reaped the rewards of not having to pick people up to just fill its quota, but rather use it as a means for having a bigger pool to pick their top candidates from. The same case applies for SC/STs too. And if the private sector company had educated children with a similar foresight, it would maybe someday have one of them in its board of executives, and you can be sure that he/she would stay loyal to the organization for life.

The point I'm trying to make here is that CSR need not be a farce. It can turn out to be a powerful tool in bringing about social change while benefiting the organizations that implement it. The problem for companies is that they can't see the long term fruits of investing in such a campaign. The "Me, Here, Now" barrier is stopping them from doing so. If they do come out of this wall that they have built around themselves, they would be able to see that, in the long term, CSR pays.

1 comment:

mary said...

True that csr for most of them is another form of publicity and a way of "giving back to the society";which is all a farce; who exploited the society in the first place?And the idea of training and recruiting them is good. But in todays fast moving world who has the time to spare for such a cause and who would be willing to slow down to their pace? Even if they want to employ them the organizations would look at them only as cost centers.
The reason for this indifference (including the rest of us)is that they get to see these differently abled people occasionally; while crossing the road, at the railway station etc and though we might be instantly moved , the impression is not long enough to last more than a second. we go back to our routines again. We dont even fully know the kind of hardships they face, or the misery they live in and hence cannot empathise with them.Or some of us are so used to their presence that we simply turn a blind eye to them.And above all they are looked upon as burdens, embarrassments and queer looking objects(pardon) by many of us .
So how do you expect this large hearted gesture to come from commercial minds ?
The remedy is to start making people,right from young children,to open their eyes to the plight of these unfortunate ones, not look at them with pity , but instill in them a sense of equality and make them understand that they are capable of much more.