CSR Budgets or PR Endeavours?

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own – Benjamin Disraeli

These days one hears a great deal about how industrialists and wealthy entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Azim Premji and a few others are spending a large part of their wealth helping the poor and needy around the world. In fact not only are these people donating generously themselves; some of them are involved in charity full time. Perhaps their greatest contribution is that they constantly advocate that the super wealthy corporations around the world use a large part of their accumulated wealth on social welfare.

The record of most wealthy corporations is actually quite dismal in this, a few noteworthy exceptions apart. Though most such corporations do have reasonable CSR budgets, these are more often than not PR endeavours, and totally lack focus and direction. The major part of their annual expenditure is spent on mega events like golf, football, tennis, cricket tournaments, car racing events, fashion weeks and film festivals, not to mention sponsoring celebrities for millions of dollars, when they already happen to be multimillionaires. It is not as if they were doing things in the right proportion. Most such events could be organized at a fraction of the cost that they entail and celebrities could opt to charge less for their appearances and (if only) the entertainment and partying side of things were toned down a bit but when one can drink & dance the night away while thousands die that night due to starvation, poverty & hunger, what does it matter?

Besides being good for the environment, it also makes tremendous economic sense. The more people you help come out of poverty, the greater is the economic windfall that results. Look at the case of India which was living off wheat donated by wealthy countries in the nineteen sixties. The economic growth of India over the decades has meant that not only is India a net food exporter, but its 300 million middle class are being targeted by every major luxury goods maker of the world. Who would have thought that about India just two decades back?

There is also a strong moral argument against any entity; corporate, individual or government with access to huge wealth that is deployed just to create more of the same, when there are millions of destitute, sick and dying men, women and children in need of help and succour. By not investing in the spread of resources, such organizations are sowing the seeds of disaster. Over exploitation of resources, and the resultant environmental degradation are beginning to take its toll on the world economy. The old template of over exploitation of resources and intemperate consumption by a few are no longer tenable. A brand new template of growth that is holistic, inclusive and in harmony with nature is the only way forward. Sharing of excess wealth with the needy is correct for far too many reasons that are both moral and practical. I hope the corporates are listening!

I would like to end in the words of Margaret J. Wheatley:
In our daily life, we encounter people who are angry, deceitful, intent only on satisfying their own needs. There is so much anger, distrust, greed, and pettiness that we are losing our capacity to work well together.