Management Magazine
Special Report

Small business, big CSR impact

By EDWIN MOINDI

SMEs can innovatively deliver clean water, adequate education, affordable housing, clothing and affordable food production. Rather than offer handouts and perpetuate dependence, SMEs can create long term self-sustainability. 

An old and tested principle, verified by wealthy families through the centuries states, “Whatever you give freely shall come back to you in abundance.” John D. Rockefeller was once asked about his great wealth. He said, “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God…to be developed to the best of our ability for the good of mankind.” From 2007, Bill Gates has given away USD28 billion towards healthcare and has saved lives of 6 million children around the world. 

For these two men, their wealth is controlled by foundations that will do good for decades to come. Giving is a virtue, an aspiration, a rule like gravity that respects no man. It has no emotions and applies to everywhere in this planet. Mobsters give their ‘hard-earned’ money to build churches and schools. Corrupt government officials stand in pews and give to women guilds to fund water projects in slums.

Philanthropy through foundations

Some of the largest companies in the world like Tata Group and Robert Bosch are owned by foundations. If you want your wealth to outlast generations, protect it under a professionally run foundation that does philanthropy. The intent of giving does not just increase wealth but retains it. 

For a company engaged in philanthropy, there are relationships it builds. Econet created an innovative use of their towers to preserve vaccines. Distribution of vaccines across Africa has its challenges and maintaining the cold chain is one. Vaccines are rendered ineffective if they are not stored at recommended temperatures. Econet used its telecommunication towers, which are well distributed in South Africa to maintain refrigeration units. Rural communities received potent vaccines and reciprocated by protecting the towers against vandalism.

CSR niche for SMEs

Many countries fail to offer social services effectively. It is the responsibility of SMEs to step in where they can. Business acumen can be used to tackle social problems and deliver solutions affordably and innovatively, without the looming bureaucracy, rampant corruption and other factors that make government machinery ineffective. 

SMEs can innovatively deliver clean water, adequate education, affordable housing, clothing and affordable food production. Rather than offer handouts and perpetuate dependence, SMEs can create long-term self-sustainability. 

Let us move away from the ‘holiday malady’ where we select a home or ‘group of poor people’ to do ‘good deeds’ for. We buy food, collect old clothes we no longer wear and dump these in bags at their feet. We then take happy pictures and disappear until the next holiday season, happy to repeat the same play. 

Let us be more conscientious and invest in lives. Let us take poor orphans to school, care for their needs until they can be productive members of society. Let us take up social projects that will change a community for good, despite the discomfort. 

You can best determine your SME’s CSR activity based on the collective passion of your employees. This is critical because a CSR activity that is impactful may take a toll, in time, energy and effort. At this point, passion will be the fuel that keeps you going. 

Economic, legal and ethical responsibility

All businesses have an economic, legal and ethical responsibility. The business has the responsibility to be profitable as well as do what is legal and ethical. 

To put this into perspective, a road construction company should make the best roads while maximising profits. The company should not be involved in illegal and unethical practices; read bribery and corruption. Unfortunately, most businesses will shun these responsibilities, but still contribute to philanthropic endeavours. 

We fail to realize this one truth; the effect of unethical behaviour is the failure of social structures. A government official, who accepts a bribe, is likely to inflate costs of a project, and pocket money that would have gone into water for the poor, roads to transport agricultural products and salaries for teachers to train children. The effect cascades across a whole nation. 

The deprivation that is around us is our responsibility. We elect the blind to lead the blind and demand more and when it’s not forthcoming, we shrug and promise never to vote again. The poor man, the beggar, the street urchins, the seeping sewage and everything that is wrong around us is your responsibility and mine.

Are you paying a fair wage to your employees? Are your services and products safe for people? Are you polluting the environment? Be responsible. Take care of your employees. Take care of the environment you are in as it directly affects the marginalised and the poor who have no choice where they live. Exploitation is not good business. Be empathetic of the work others put in. A long-term win-win strategy is likely to ensure long-term success. 

I believe it helps the soul of a business to do long-term good through CSR. This will inspire and motivate the organization. Purpose is at the centre of motivating the work force today. Purpose has a lot to do with vision, and if that vision seeks to change the society for the better, then it’s even more inspiring. 

Edwin Moindi is the author of Self & Identity: The Nine Conversations that Question, Empower and Transform for the 21st Century. Email: Edwin.moindi@gmail.com

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