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Evolution of philanthropy and CSR

In today’s world more and more firms from SMEs upward – never mind publicly quoted ones – have taken corporate social responsibility as a natural component in how they operate.

For some, it came more naturally than for others. For those where owners’ and directors’ values resonated with being responsible citizens, it was an easy evolution, one they felt good about.

Applying my colleague and friend Prof Michael Hopkins’ CSR definition of “treating all key stakeholders responsibly” (he and I, together with prof Mike Sacks, are co-founders of the Institute for Responsible Leadership) was not a bridge too far. Indeed, their values were such that “saying no when they should” and “treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves” is how they were probably brought up from an early age.

For others with weak consciences though, these are alien concepts that would prevent them from closing the kind of shady deals that keep them in business.

They’re quite OK with incenting beneficiaries at the purchasing end, exploiting their workers, creating a negative impact on the environment, evading tax payments and so forth.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where impunity is rampant, so corporate social irresponsibility is still widespread.

Those organisations that typically invite me to join their boards or to act as a consultant to them are overwhelmingly the ones in the first category.

It’s those who are ahead of the game, in CSR as in talent management, innovation and elsewhere, who know they can still do yet better in their quest for long-term sustainability.

It is of course such organisations with which I want to be associated, and if I am asked by the other kind to engage with them I politely decline, saying I am already too busy.

What have I and others found? (And here I am not talking about public companies.) Most if not all have been making contributions to good causes from time immemorial.

It’s what we used to call charity, typically “helping the needy in society”, and very likely with one-off donations in response to urgent requirements, whether in cash or kind and including volunteering. At the higher end, philanthropy goes deeper to address the root cause of social issues and requires a more strategic, long-term approach, with advocacy sometimes an additional component.

The original meaning of charity, “Christian love of one’s fellow,” is rooted in Late Old English, while philanthropy, or “the love of humanity,” originated in Greek. When “charity” entered the English lexicon by way of Old French’s “charité”, the meaning evolved into what we know today.

Meanwhile, the practice of modern philanthropy is often credited to titans of industry like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, all of whom launched their Foundations to make the world a better place.

Henry Ford explicitly wanted to reduce poverty in his country, as among the consequences would be that more people could buy his company’s cars. And here in Kenya our philanthropy role model is Manu Chandaria and his family, with their Chandaria Foundation.

Dr Chandaria was recently in America, where he was the first African to receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

In his acceptance speech he revealed that having returned from his university studies in the US, early in the life of the still small family business owned and run by his father, he suggested they set up their Chandaria Foundation to help Kenyan communities – having been inspired by the example of Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

His father at first thought this to be premature, but after a few years, he acquiesced as his son Manu persuaded him that it was indeed a worthy initiative to be “givers” who are useful to society by serving the community and not just by writing a cheque.

Since then the Chandaria Foundation has blossomed into a major supporter of healthcare infrastructure, secondary and higher education, poverty relief, and the environment.

So that’s something about philanthropy. Now to conclude this article, back to CSR, and this by way of a link to my next one, where I will be delving into the latest trends in CSR and how it relates to ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions) and the SDGs (the Sustainable Development Goals).

Life is becoming far more ambitious and complicated in these areas, and organisations from the bottom up – not merely for-profit ones – must keep up to date with what is expected of them. Back in a fortnight.