Sunday, 04 November 2012
Malinda Seneviratne’s blog post on CSR projects, titled ‘Corporate Social Rascality’, sheds some light on how corporate aspects of CSR projects override social aspects. He elaborates on how corporate citizens, who are so full of themselves, sometimes turn a blind eye to the needs of the underprivileged – who should be at the receiving end of CSR projects.
“Are corporates faithless entities then or is it that true Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or followers of any other faith for that matter, cannot be corporate decision-makers? Will they be denied at the Gates of Heaven? Will their sansaric journey be long and lengthened?
Let’s leave faith and religion aside. Let’s talk charity’. Charity is not charity if it is about investment and trade, if it is about image building, brand positioning and a tool for creating product awareness. It’s got worse, actually. Today, there are competitions among corporates to reward the best CSR projects/portfolios. It’s almost like the right hand tossing out coins and the left deftly counting big money. A lot of humbuggery, one must conclude” says Malinda.
This is one side of the coin. But let’s look at another side.
Last week, in this column, we discussed as to how the Tamil Diaspora can engage in the alleviation of poverty in the North – a task to which they are oblivious. Instead of spending millions on launching demonstrations against the government on various human rights charges, if they can spend some money on uplifting living standards of the Tamils in the North or Tamils across the country for that matter, they can create a significant impact upon their community and its future.
How can they do this?
There are myriad ways to launch projects on alleviating poverty. CSR, in my view, is a solid way of doing it. There is no argument about the financial strength of the Tamil Diaspora, which is strongly rooted in many western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Some members of the Diaspora, needless to say, are billionaire businessmen. Hence, CSR projects can pave the way for them to come to Sri Lanka and launch initiatives for the betterment of the country and its people. This is a new avenue; one we should develop in order to help the poor to extricate themselves from poverty.
However, there are several prerequisites, which need to be fulfilled if Sri Lanka is to accomplish this mission; the first prerequisite being finding business leaders who have a genuine intent in achieving this task. There are a handful of people who have already embarked upon this process, although some are yet contemplating; and some are backtracking.
Amongst this handful who have already joined hands with this task, a businessman who is worth a mention is Vijay Eswaran, the Executive chairman of Hong Kong based conglomerate, the QI Group and a significant investor in Sri Lanka. According to the book “Top 25 Indian Luminaries” written by Dr. Anand Raj Giri, his global business enterprise spans 160 countries.
While he has a strong connect to India, Vijay Eswaran is also a Tamil whose roots are planted in the red soil of Jaffna through his grandfather who was a Sri Lankan Tamil. Three generations ago, his family migrated from Jaffna to Malaysia and Eswaran was born in Penang, Malaysia. As a businessman, his beginnings were rather humble, although he gradually became a force to reckon with, evolving into a prominent business leader in Asia. A significant action on his part is the establishment of the RYTHM foundation, the CSR arm of the QI Group.
Through RYTHM, he has made a difference in many parts of the world by initiating sustainable projects for education, community development, promotion of arts and culture and environment protection, which earned him a place in Forbes Asia’s philanthropy list last year. He has also been involved in several projects in Sri Lanka, particularly in Seenigama and some villages in the deep south of the country for Tsunami rehabilitation. It is understood that the foundation has also shown interest in launching development projects in the North in the near future. Eswaran is also known as an advocate of social enterprise as an effective way of giving back to society without it being charity.
Just last year his foundation established a school in Malaysia for children with disabilities and special education needs, and paid the lion share of its students’ fees, since Malaysia has weak laws regarding education for children with disabilities, and the public schools often fall short in this area.
It is projects such as these that Sri Lanka needs that connect Corporations to civil society. We need Companies to identify the loose ends and launch sustainable projects that tie them up. This also helps in giving the right message to the people that foreign direct investment is not a flash in the pan, where the investor makes a fast buck and runs away. It is a means for investments to become sustainable for Sri Lanka – an investment into the fundamentals of the country.
There are several multinational companies interested in launching sustainable community development projects to benefit the underprivileged. Unfortunately, we have no proper mechanism to guide them, direct them and facilitate them. In simple words, they don’t know where to start and where to go. As a result, they tend to turn away from Sri Lanka. Many international business players face this dilemma when they want to launch CSR initiatives locally.
Sri Lanka has organizational structures such as the BOI to facilitate investors who look for investment opportunities. Within such organizational structures, we need to now incorporate mechanisms to help corporations set up a CSR arm. Since the BOI is a government entity, it can direct corporates to help the poorest sections of society, the ones who truly need help. When we have a robust system in place, it makes it attractive for international business players to choose Sri Lanka for investment in social enterprise and CSR.