Businesses across the world invest a modest part of their profits in areas such as poverty alleviation, health, sanitation, education, environment and other sustainable development projects, either voluntarily or as part of mandatory compliance, under “Corporate Social Responsibility”. Though the goal is so laudable, yet we see instances of omission and commission by many companies in the execution of CSR. As a result, sadly, they not only fail to earn trust of their stakeholders and wider community but, in some cases, even invite penalties by regulators.
Here it would help if companies introspect and put some searching questions to themselves, at all stages- before, during and after- undertaking a CSR activity:
- Question 1. Is CSR norms are followed just as “compliance burden” or “heartless rituals”?
- Question 2. Is CSR norms being adhered out of fear of law?
- Question 3. Is CSR activity being undertaken to placate a dominant group or in expectation of tax concessions, or some state favors in return?
- Question 4. Is CSR activity being projected for publicity and gimmick?
- Question 5. Is CSR activity being carried with a sense of vanity or superiority?
If the answer of any of the above questions is “yes”, the spirit of real charity in CSR is missing.
So, what is real charity? It is here that the companies can get a few valuable lessons from Buddhist teachings on the true nature and value of charity.
- Lesson One: The essence of charity is to give something without expecting anything in return. An act of charity is not an act of barter.
- Lesson Two: A charitable person should not make other people feel small, indebted to him, or use charity as a way of exercising control over them. He should not even expect others to be grateful.
- Lesson Three: A real charity should be wholesome, emanating as a whole act of body, heart and mind. The act of true charity is selfless and has no strings attached.
- Lesson Four: Charity is an opportunity to serve others. There should be joy in every act of giving.
Indeed, a good number of Corporations and Businesses-large and small- across the world are carrying out philanthropic acts using CSR in the true spirit of charity, knowingly or unknowingly. They are making a commitment to improving the quality of life for the communities they impact every day, and funding projects which aim to make the planet a better place.
Yet, the Buddhist lessons, acting as conscience compass, can greatly help improve quality of CSR and reduce cases of corporate lapses. Dovetailing these pearls of wisdom as “templates” in their CSR policy frameworks can build a fulfilling and satisfying pathway for such noble activities.
Further, as we know, there is a substantial funding deficit in the path of attainment of SDGs or Climate Change Action Plans, and major shortfalls in Human Development Indices in developing and poor countries. Ongoing pandemic will further worsen the position. So, going forward, Governments and communities will be in dire need of, and look up to, more and more acts of benevolence and charity from companies. Internalization of the spirit of real charity will make a big difference by changing intent and motivations behind such endeavors. This positive change, in turn, will get reflected in better choice, implementation, monitoring and outcome in the projects undertaken under CSR.
It’s time Corporates cultivated CSR activity as a “Corporate Virtue”.
Commentary by Ram Krishna Sinha. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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