While traveling in Mumbai where I live, one is invariably approached by beggars-especially at busy signals. I have found that I am able to spot them in my peripheral vision and then look in the opposite direction so that I don’t need to engage with them – see them but don’t see them – hear their cries for alms but not listen to them – treat them as if they are not there. I realized how adept I had become at seeing only what I wanted to see, disregarding the rest of the sights that were out there in front of me.
Yet almost 20 years ago, on returning to Mumbai after being out of the country for a spell of 4 years at a stretch, I remember being appalled at the amount of poverty there was in terms of homeless people sleeping on the pavements, stacked like sardines. The ‘fresh lenses’, I had come back with, made it possible to see things that for years I had completely blanked out. It is easier to avoid looking at the things that can be disconcerting or can trouble us; things that spark a desire to engage in things that we don’t want to.
In 1992, when the Heads of States of the world came together at Rio, Brazil for the Earth Summit, they said they needed to make sure of sustainable development in a society. I.e., ensuring growth occurs in such a way, that future generations are not compromised, but have access to the same resources that we have. That summit birthed further discussions and companies got involved and governments began to change and take stands towards sustainable development. Ten years later, at World Summit for Sustainable Development, the focus was on partnerships.
Dr. Paul Toyne wrote, “There appeared to be a role for everyone; governments to provide fair and socially-just laws, businesses to behave responsibly and consumers to think about their actions by reducing waste or asking questions about how and where their goods came from.” Thus CSR came into existence – Corporate Social Responsibility. Do corporates have a responsibility to society? The answer is “Yes”. Even beyond profitability, there must be a way to touch and lift up society.
David Livermore writing an article ‘Lessons from India: Social Profitability’ says, “Take for example, the long time commitment from Indian businesses to serve others while also being financially profitable. While ‘corporate social responsibility’, ‘creative capitalism’ and the ‘triple bottom line’ are relatively new trendy ideas in the West, many Indian businesses have long measured their success by how they care for their most important asset – their people. A recent study among the 100 businesses in India found that social mission trumped shareholder value for every executive surveyed – a result that would be unthinkable among their American counterparts.”
“ITC, a leading multi-business conglomerate involved in the study said, ‘Envisioning a larger societal purpose has always been a hallmark of ITC, the company sees no conflict between the twin goals of shareholder value enhancement and societal value creation.'” He was basically saying that while CSR is a fairly new idea in the West, probably 5-7 years old; it has been integral to Indian businesses for many years. And while that may be true, isn’t it a crueler fact that it’s not enough? We still look around and find needs that are so huge, so vast that sometimes our gut response or our instinct is to turn away because the magnitude of the need seems impossible to meet.
Yet again, I am reminded of the story I shared with you many Tuesdays ago, about the boy standing on the seashore who was throwing starfish back into the ocean. A man passing by asked him, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “These starfish will die if they are on the beach and I am throwing them back so they will live.” The man looked at him and said, “Have you not seen the thousands of starfish that are here? You are not going to make any difference.” And the boy picked up one starfish and threw it back and said, “Yes sir, but for this starfish, it made a difference.” This story keeps reminding me of our responsibility. Although the task may be huge, remember the one thing that we can do, will make a difference for that one person. If today your company is CSR compliant and is doing something in this regard, I challenge you to get involved, to shape it, to mould it, to give it direction and see what can be done.
About a year back, I got a call from the GM of a multinational company who had heard of our work with those infected and affected with HIV-AIDS (CAPcare), and wanted to hear more about it. When his staff saw a presentation on the work, they were touched and challenged and asked if they could help with any of our upcoming events. We had organized a picnic for about 100 of our CAPcare members, so that they could have a good time and forget some of the woes that surrounded their daily lives. Two managers from the company came for this picnic and it changed their lives. One of the rules in their organization was that the company would match whatever the employees managed to raise for social issues. These two men talked to their company and raised a significant amount, which was then matched by their company. They were able to do their bit for the HIV-AIDS widows; women who did not know what had hit them when their husbands came home and gave them this particular disease-one that was often transmitted to their children as well. It made a difference.
Maybe your company is not yet CSR-compliant. I think if you can’t be CSR, you can at least be MSR. What is My Social Responsibility? What can I do to bring about some kind of change?
Sometimes we fail to realize that we have so much- so much more than people around us, because so often, our energies are fuelled by what we don’t have. We need to focus on the things that we have rather than the things that we don’t have. One of my favorite songs goes like this: “Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” Look around you my friends, at what you have rather than what you don’t have, and it will surprise you.
Last week I received a letter from a friend who has an NGO that is working at rebuilding Latur since the earthquake in 1993. This letter made me grieve, for it was about his staff member who wanted his daughter to go to nursing school, yet could not pay the fees of Rs.4000 a month as his monthly salary was Rs. 4500. I thought to myself that Rs. 4500 month is a pittance for companies who could easily pick up the tab of Rs.48,000 a year to help this girl whose father was giving his heart for an NGO, at a low paying job, to help earthquake victims.
A couple of centuries ago, John Wesley, a religious leader said, “There is no holiness like social holiness.” And if we are a godly people, then God through us must touch humanity-the people around us who have needs. The Lord Jesus said, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone who was overlooked or ignored, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:40) That’s a beautiful thought. Even as we help brothers and sisters around us, we are actually doing it for God.
That’s my challenge for you this Tuesday. If your company is CSR compliant, then get involved, do something, shape it, mould it, don’t let it become a statistic in the company. Bring change; stimulate change. And if it’s not, then get MSR compliant – find out what you can do yourself, because what you do will affect at least one life. At least one!
May God Bless You abundantly.