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Archive for the ‘philanthropy’ Category

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog today but this piece in my favorite newspaper, The Guardian (yes, I am the typical lefty reader), made me roll my eyes. The piece is very well intended and generally pretty good advice for charities – Charity funding: How to approach business for help.

I agree that charities or NGOs should be more strategic in their approach to businesses for help. But when I read about the need for NGOs to have more “business realism” in their approach I couldn’t but help think of the need for business to have some “activist realism” in their thinking. It’s easy to ask the other side to be more like you but how about you being a little bit more like the other side too? Like any relationship, it’s about give and take – not just take.

Too often business think that charities should support them more and be more of their “voice”. Sorry, that’s not how it works. It’s a partnership. If you want NGOs to be more of a voice  then you need to be more of a voice as well. No more hiding behind industry associations to do your dirty work or hide you from criticism on key challenges. If you want Greenpeace to slap you on the back instead of on the head then you need to speak up against other businesses who don’t act responsibly. You can’t expect a progressive NGO to support you if you also back regressive policies via another NGO or a business association or lobby group. Or if you keep quiet while other businesses lobby and push for, and argue against, positions held dearly by NGOs – climate change, clean energy, waste, pollution, labour conditions, conflict etc. NGOs expect you to share their world view and not only on one specific issue. This is the “activist realism” they live and work in. This is their “business”.

And how about business in general showing more social conscious? It’s fine to ask NGOs to be more business like but for some reason too many businesses argue that their focus is on the “business bottom line” only and that their only responsibility is towards shareholders. Bah to other stakeholders and society in general. Sounds like double standards to me.

Business needs “activist realism” to realise that their responsibility lies not only with shareholder but to this world they live and operate in. If you see your value as purely making more money for shareholders then you should expect flack from those who are not shareholders. They receive no benefit in their relationship with you except for some products they might or might not really need – so why should they care about your “realism”? Your “realism” might be in direct conflict with their real world. You pollute and they breathe it in. You accelerate climate change and they fry or freeze. You waste and they drown in the plastic bags. You pay peanuts to farmers and they get products that are second rated. You get the picture.

Some “activist realism” will hopefully make companies realize that they have a role to play as citizens of this world. That they have a responsibility towards others through their actions and words. That this responsibility is directly tied to their own long-term sustainability. You kill this world and you kill your business. Easy economics. “Activism realism” will make you sit up and say “no more”. Say it and do it because it is good for your business. Be an “activist” because your company needs to stand up for its own future – one that is tied to the well-being of society. Don’t huddle with those businesses and associations who do not share your world view. Do not care about shareholders who do not care about your business. Shareholder who only care about the next quarter and maximum profits come hell or high water do not care about your business. Only about how your business can line their pockets. They’ll drop you like a hot potato if a better offer comes up.

They are like a bad relationship. They promise you the world but they’ll drop you if someone with more money shows them some shiny object and promise them a better date. Would you take that from a date? Sucker if you will…

Show some “activist realism” by caring about your company’s future. Show some “activist realism” by speaking out against those who threaten your business in hard and soft ways. Show some “activism realist” by being serious about serious investors. Show some “activism realist” when you engage with your stakeholders. Show some “activist realism” when you give us a reason to believe in your worth to society.

Until then – you really don’t have much of a leg to stand on by asking NGOs to show more “business realism”. As my mom used to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

That’s my “activist realism”. A world where business care about business as part of society and contributing to society. That’s the “business realism” I want to live in.

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This post was originally posted on Vault’s CSR Blog - a great resources and a huge thank you to Aman Singh! It was part of a discussion between Alberto Andreu (Chief Reputation & Sustainability Officer at Telefónica)  and I on CSR and Sustainability. He countered with a great post. Great guy and great thinker. It was an honor to have such a constructive discussion with someone like him.

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I am afraid Alberto and I violently agree with each other on the most important aspects of CSR: Where it comes from and where we are today. Where we might not agree as much is whether this is still CSR.

In my view, CSR is not a revolutionary process but one that continues to go through many changes—an evolutionary process. The graphic below is my first attempt to describe this evolutionary process.

Phase 1: Philanthropy

In its initial phase back in the 1970s, CSR was all about philanthropy and what business should do with some of its profits. Small shifts in thinking pushed this early form of CSR forward. Companies became more strategic with philanthropic initiatives and tended to focus on projects in their local communities. This eventually grew into Corporate Social Investment that brought a business sense to philanthropy – focusing on results and outcomes.

 

Phase 2: Globalization Forces Standards

Slowly, globalization started shaping our world more and the impact of business in this globalized world became an increasing focus for activists. From a narrow focus on philanthropy we moved into an era of citizenship. Companies became business players in a globalized world, or, as it became known, Corporate Citizenship.

They started developing standards to manage their risks. This led to the need for global standards – from extractive companies and human rights to how we report on CSR today.

Phase 3: Citizenship-led Cause Marketing

When the term cause marketing was initially floated, CSR became something business could benefit from for the first time. It was a huge shift in how we perceived CSR,– not just risk management. This benefit-based approach brought operations back on the table leading to the development of CSR as a business strategy.

Now, CSR was suddenly not about cutting costs but about increasing profits.

Phase 4: CSR & Sustainability Tied with Future Business Growth

The latest evolution of CSR, or sustainability, has taken this concept of business benefit even further and started looking into the future of business and society—the heart of CSR. Sustainability today looks at finding mutually-beneficial solutions to the challenges we face as society as well as future challenges.

But CSR, even today, is  still about how business can operate profitably within this role as a responsible citizen toward society.

From Reactionary to Risk Management

We have moved from a reactionary model of philanthropy to a crisis-led model in the early stages of globalization to a risk-based model in citizenship to a mutually-beneficial business model in sustainability.

We might have seen our understanding of CSR deepen throughout this evolution but the definition of CSR hasn’t changed much over time—CSR is the way a company manages and communicates its impact on society and the environment.

Many of the individual parts of this evolution (Philanthropy, standards, etc.) remain with us today but these are not the only parts of CSR anymore. We’ve adapted and moved on – keeping the good stuff, improving on them and adding to it.

The world of CSR is very, very different today. But it is still CSR.

An Argument for Terminology: Corporate Social Responsibility Fits Best

While this might be somewhat semantic in nature, it is still an important part of the debate: We should look at the description of CSR itself. Why do we use these very specific three words to describe what we do?

I would argue that the concept is actually a very good description of what we do today. Here’s why:

Corporate implies that this is about business.

  • It not only describes that we are busy with a discipline involving business but goes deeper.
  • It is about profits – how we make them and how we can make more of them today and tomorrow.
  • It is not about charity.
  • It is about building a sustainable business model that will continue to deliver business results for stakeholders – especially shareholders.

Social tells us this is about society.

It is about the impact business has on society and how we can manage this impact to ensure both business and societal benefit.

Even the environmental part of CSR is about society – how we can minimize environmental impact to benefit society in the end of the day.

The new developments in CSR – sustainability – further continue to prove that CSR is about a mutually beneficial relationship between product and service development, and societal value chains.

Responsibility reveals that business does carry a responsibility in this world – to do business in a way that benefits both business and society. Further, this responsibility gives business the opportunity to create new solutions to the needs of society. I would even argue that it is their responsibility to develop these new solutions and benefit by capturing new avenues of sustainable profit.

All three concepts—Corporate, Social and Responsibility—tell us exactly what we do today. CSR is also the perfect reminder of the relationship between business and society, and the responsibility they have towards each other. None of the other concepts proposed today actually tell us what we are doing and what we should be doing.

I say, long live CSR, and may it continue to evolve and change our business world for the better.

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Last week I focused most of my The Mythmakers: The end of CSR. Again. on Porter and Kramer’s shared value  or CSV. I did mention Alberto Andreau’s argument that Shifting From CSR To CSV Isn’t The Solution and that the truth and future lies in Corporate Sustainability. I ran out of space and didn’t really give enough attention to Andreau’s argument. What follows are some parts of the original post that landed on the cutting room floor.

As I stated before, Andreau’s idea of Corporate Sustainability is just another way of practicing CSR. But I also want to focus on the three main points he uses against the use of CSR:

1. CSR sends the wrong message: Firstly, breaking down the individual words of the concept is problematic. But there is nothing wrong with expecting business to have a responsibility. The idea that business have some responsibility is as old as business itself. In some cases this is regulated and in some cases not. And remember – before regulations there was nothing. Those companies who had annual financial reports was seen as “responsible” before it became a requirement. And same for those companies who stopped employing slaves. All of these were early CSR practices and then became requirements. It’s not the wrong message – it’s only the wrong message if we think that business have no responsibility towards society. Regulatory or not. Remember, business is in an unwritten social contract with society – do no harm and at a push try to do some good (where CSR comes in). Business can argue that they should be able to do what they want and how they want to but the truth also lies in the reverse – society need not support you or even allow you to operate if they don’t like you. If you argue that business should be able to do what they want then you should also live with the fact that people should protest and target you because that is their same right. We in CSR believe that it is not an either/or question and that business and society need each other and both share a responsibility towards each other to ensure mutual benefits.

The “corporate” part of CSR tells us that this is about business. It is a business approach – one that should add value to the bottom line. “Social” refers to the societal part of the business. Business operates as part of society and have a social obligation – as stated above. And the “responsibility” part refers to the rest of the argument I make above. The combination of the three concepts tells us that this is about business finding opportunities and areas of co-responsibility in their interactions with society – and that they also have a responsibility towards society to add value. And society includes all stakeholders – shareholders, consumers, employees, communities, suppliers etc. All different parts of society. We so easily focus on the “responsibility” part of the definition and easily forget that it is a “corporate” strategy that includes opportunities to add value (money, returns, increased sales, new product innovations, cost savings etc) to and through values. Don’t get stuck on the last word – see all three and how they interact.

2. Information overload: I agree that we have too much information today. But it is this same information that continues to drive new innovation in how we practice CSR, and how we live our lives in a world of information overload. The challenge is rather that CSR is developing so fast as a discipline that we can’t always keep up. Imagine if the concept of business was only started in 1970 and went through all its various changes and implications in 40 years. And really, CSR only took off about 15 years ago. That’s a lot of changes in a short period of time. The information overload is the wheels of CSR spinning at a 1000 miles a minute. It is daunting but it is exciting at the same time. We are in the middle of a new way of doing business – and we are at the center of that. Hang on – this is a wild ride.

3. Absence of global standards: Yes and no. Yes it will help if we have a few more global standards. But there won’t be a global standard for CSR. As I explained earlier – CSR is too complex and you can’t have a single standard for this complexity – only for some of the parts. And, we are finding new and innovative ways to implement CSR each and every day. How do you standardize innovation? Lastly, not even “business” have a single standard out there – only some of its parts and some guidelines at best. We don’t even have a single standard for financial reporting in the world – and that is such as basic business practice. What chance of a global standard for CSR then? Maybe our expectations are just too high on this front.

Of course there are some very specific challenges regarding his proposal to use Corporate Sustainability. Firstly, the addition of “corporate” does not address one of his own problems with the corporate part of CSR – “the term ‘corporate’ serves to instantly exclude every institution outside the realm of corporations.” I don’t think this is much of an issue but Andreau raised it as a concern regarding CSR so the same goes for Corporate Sustainability. Why is it okay for him to use it in Corporate Sustainability but not for us in CSR? Secondly, he argues that we need to widen the meaning of sustainability to ensure it covers everything he wants sustainability to stand for. Why is it acceptable to adapt the meaning of sustainability but somehow not acceptable to do the same with CSR? Actually, I am not asking for a change in the meaning of CSR but only a recognition of its complexity. I agree with his call for simplicity but I don’t think that changing the name will help. The simplicity lies in the earlier definition of CSR I gave and the complexity in the execution. I don’t agree with him that CSR has lost the battle against “philanthropy” and “social action”. Only in the eyes of some who practice it inconsistently or who haven’t kept up with the ever evolving world of CSR practices. Heck, just because some businesses don’t practice business in the right way doesn’t mean we should question business as a whole, does it? There are corrupt business out there; businesses who exploit workers; business who sell snake oil etc. Should we now say that all businesses are bad and should be dropped just because some practice it in the most harmful way? Same goes for CSR – some have practices they call CSR that really isn’t CSR. We should be diligent in raising our concerns with those companies who abuse the term – not abuse the term ourselves. And arguments where we question the concept of CSR only underlines this confusion. Instead of defending CSR against abuse and misunderstanding, we compound the problem by proposing new concepts and terminology and creating even more confusion.

All the additional points made by Andreau is as true of CSR as of Corporate Sustainability: It’s a business approach; it seeks to create long-term value; it embraces opportunity; and it helps manage risk. Thank you Alberto, you described CSR very well – it’s all of the above. Simple but complex at the same time.

To quote Alberto and change it just a little: “This is where the future lies: A unified return to CSR. Not CSR only in terms of philanthropy or compliance only but a sense of CSR related to value, opportunities and risk management.”

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It feels like 1990 all over again. How many times do we go through these arguments that CSR is dead or CSR isn’t a very good description or that CSR is so yesterday. It seems as if we are back at the drawing board again. First we had Aneel Karnani make his Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility in the WSJ last year. Then we had Michael Porter and Mark Kramer argue in the Harvard Business Review that CSR is an old concept and that the new way forward is CSV – Creating Shared Value. And now we have Alberto Andreau arguing that Shifting From CSR To CSV Isn’t The Solution and that the truth and future lies in Corporate Sustainability. Oh boy, here we go again…

I won’t go into detail into Dr Karnani’s argument. It has been dealt with from all angles and most agree that he missed the point a bit. What he perceives to be CSR isn’t CSR but only what some companies claim to be CSR. He was working with the concept of CSR as practiced maybe 20 odd years ago but CSR and CSR practices today have changed dramatically. His definition and understanding of CSR was wrong and his argument therefore based on the wrong assumption. But what about Porter and Kramer, and Andreau? I would argue that they are making the exact same mistake as Dr Karnani. They are using a definition of CSR that is outdated and their understanding of CSR is based on what CSR was 20 years ago – or maybe even closer to 5 or so years ago.

Let me first say that it is an excellent piece. They capture the latest thinking and practices of CSR very well. Unfortunately they then argue that this is CSV and not CSR. It’s not, it’s still CSR. And what they propose isn’t completely new either. Those of us who have been working at the sharp end of CSR have been working on a similar concept and approach for a few years already but we didn’t call it shared value – we coined mutual or co-responsibility. The idea of mutual or co-responsibility is that (leading) companies should focus their CSR on those areas where they share an impact and opportunity with key stakeholders. Starbucks can focus on the cup when they deal with consumers and on sourcing when they work with farmers – helping consumer have a better impact and helping farmers increase yields, get better prices, be more sustainable etc. Levi’s helping consumer limit the impact of their jeans and working with farmers in farming cotton. Best Buy recycling or even buying back older technology. And many more leading companies share this approach to CSR.

Furthermore, we’ve focused more specifically on key stakeholders and not society as whole. There is a reason why – society is too broad a concept for a company to focus on. Break society into the various stakeholder groups and be specific in who you target – key stakeholders such as consumers or suppliers or investors or regulators or your local communities or even distant communities. The more targeted you are the better the chance of success. Of course you should always target more than one stakeholder but try to be as targeted as possible to know exactly where the shared value or mutual responsibility/opportunity might be. CSR works best when it is targeted.

Back to the meaning of CSR…

CSR has changed it’s meaning and how it is used substantially since the 1970s. It started off as all about compliance and pressure from activists for expand on their philanthropic commitments. But today it is as diverse as the concept of business. Business isn’t a singular description anymore. It describes anything from a large multinational company with a diverse set of products to an informal trader working in the streets of a township in Africa. It’s a bit like pornography – we know it when we see it.

Let’s define CSR quickly to provide some clarity. This isn’t a perfect science as we don’t have a single agreed definition. Mine is simple and I don’t claim this to be the final definition of CSR: CSR is the way an organization manages and communicates its impact on society and the environment. Simple. But it is this simplicity that hides the complexity and diversity of how we practice and implement CSR.

Porter and Kramer make the same mistake that Dr Karnani did by not recognizing the diversity within the CSR field. Some practice CSR in the risk management, compliance and/or philanthropy way they explain it and other practice CSR in the shared value way they explain CSV. It’s the nature of the beast – CSR is not a single discipline that covers every single company in the same way. Each company and industry focus on it in a different way. For example, for pharma it makes sense to focus on philanthropy because it is in the nature of the product(s) they offer. It makes sense to donate products to people who can’t afford it – or else they die. As simple as that. It doesn’t mean they don’t focus on other areas but their priority focus will most likely be around philanthropy – and at the core of their business: finding new drugs to help us deal with our health challenges. For companies such as Starbucks it is very different because they focus on consumers and farmers. They help farmers improve their practices and pay a premium price and help consumers improve their impact by offering recycling and encouraging them to use tumblers. Companies and industries are diverse in how they practice CSR. At best it focuses on those areas where their products or service intersects with society – and where the greatest societal needs intersects with business opportunities (or responsibilities).

(Of course we learn from different practices and improve on it but it is always unique for each company – or should be – as it should focus on the specific value the company offers through it’s unique products and/or services and brand and corporate identity.)

Some companies just do not have a shared value with society – or they have a very difficult case to make. For example, tobacco companies can build a solid case of shared value in their sourcing practices (and some do) but they will have a difficult case to make for shared value with the broader society. And the same goes for arms dealers/manufacturers, some military contractors etc.

Shared value is also limited by the timeframe and current knowledge. If we look at societal needs and shared value today then it makes perfect sense to provide a society suffering economically the cheapest fuel and energy. But we know that this will have a negative long-term impact. Shared value shifts and moves with time. What might be a shared value today is another issue to deal with tomorrow.

The idea of renaming CSR to CSV because of the perceived new way is futile. The debate continues each and every day and was at a height 5-7 years ago when some CSR practitioners (like me) argued that CSR has changed from compliance to differentiator and should therefore be renamed because it is now about business opportunities and not compliance-led responsibility. I was wrong back then. I confused the definition of CSR with the practice of CSR. And this is the fundamental mistake of Porter and Kramer. And Karnani and Andreau. They confuse the definition of CSR with the practice of CSR. The practice of CSR is complex and diverse – adapted to the needs of the complexity of business and flexible enough to continue to adapt and change with time and knowledge.

CSV isn’t the new CSR. It is a way of practicing CSR. I would even go so far as to say that it is the ideal way of practicing CSR – finding the shared value with society (or specific stakeholder groups). But it isn’t something different from CSR. It is how some practice CSR. And a damn good way to implement CSR if it makes sense for a company to do so.

As for Andreau – the same argument holds. Corporate Sustainability is just another way of practicing CSR.

Of course a major flaw of Anfreau’s argument is his argument that we need to widen the meaning of sustainability to ensure it covers everything he wants sustainability to stand for. Why is it acceptable to adapt the meaning of sustainability but somehow not acceptable to do the same with CSR? Actually, I am not asking for a change in the meaning of CSR but only a recognition of its complexity. I agree with his call for simplicity but I don’t think that changing the name will help. The simplicity lies in the earlier definition of CSR I gave and the complexity in the execution.

All the points made by Andreau is as true of CSR as of Corporate Sustainability: It’s a business approach; it seeks to create long-term value; it embraces opportunity; and it helps manage risk. Thank you Alberto, you described CSR very well – it’s all of the above. Simple but complex at the same time.

To quote Alberto and change it just a little: “This is where the future lies: A unified return to CSR. Not CSR only in terms of philanthropy or compliance only but a sense of CSR related to value, opportunities and risk management.”

In conclusion, what is described as CSV and Corporate Sustainability are not new but captures some of the latest developments of how we practice CSR. And they do an excellent job of expanding the thinking of how we (should) practice CSR. But there is a limit to their contribution. Let’s not get distracted by shiny objects and new names – let’s stop this arguing about what we call it as it doesn’t help us do the work we are doing and distract us with discussions about terminology. The value of Porter and Kramer, and Andreau, gets lost in the discussion of terminology. We argue about what we should call it instead of expanding the discipline and practice of CSR. The value of Porter and Kramer lies not in calling it CSV but in strengthening the practice of CSR – shared value, co-responsibility, mutual responsibility etc. I think their description of mutual responsibility is a much better description of my own – shared value describes it better than my idea of mutual or co-responsibility.

By focusing on what we call it we lose the value of Porter and Kramer’s work when they describe the roots of shared value – taking on Friedman, showing how shared value is a traditional part of the best companies, show how reconceiving products and markets can bring new value to business and society, highlight local cluster development as a driver to create shared value, and so much more. None of this is new – Starbucks have been sourcing this way for over 10 years; cluster development is a natural phenomenon and the modern version was started by a history prof and a garage owner in Chihuahua, Mexico; most companies started with a shared value offer – from Walmart bringing cheap food to the poorest Americans as close to their homes as possible to the mom-and-pop shops offering locally produced good. The beauty does not lie in the fact that they create the concept of CSV but rather in their ability bring the latest thinking and practices of CSR into one single place – and drive us further forward in the implementation and practice of CSR. It is a powerful piece and one that should be used to defend CSR and show how CSR has grown instead of using it to divide us even more because of a debate on terminology. Let’s stop arguing what we call it and focus on what we practice and do each and every single day. Let’s advance the discipline of CSR instead of creating more divisions through renaming it. Let’s focus on improving the impact of business on society and identify mutually beneficial opportunities instead of looking at the impact of what we call it. Let’s just do it instead of calling it…

CSR is dead! Long live CSR!

(Disclosure: As promised, I think it is only ethical and right for me to mention when I have worked or work with a company I mention in my post. It’s called transparency. All of the companies mentioned above – Starbucks, Levi’s and Best Buy are clients.)

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As you know I lean to the left. Okay, less of a lean than a complete body-and-soul kinda jump and stance… And damn proud of it. Part of the definition of liberalism (according to the Webster dictionary) is “One who is generous”. But not everyone agrees with that. I can’t recall how many times people will tell me that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. And they love using a study by Arthur C. Brooks called Who Really Cares to prove their point. Aah… That study…

No. Arthur C. Brooks isn’t some right-wing nutcase. Yes, he has been a Republican registered voter in the past. But he has also been a Democrat registered voter in the past. And the study is actually pretty good. I can go into some detail on his use of statistics and data but that isn’t the point. But just in case…

“When it comes to giving or not giving, conservatives and liberals look a lot alike. Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or so less likely to volunteer” (Brooks, A.C. Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, Basic Books 2006: pp. 21-22)

One slight problem with his data. He uses the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmarking Survey (SCCBS) data to back up is claims. I am skeptical of using SCCBS as the foundation of any argument, mostly because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives. He should have used the General Social Surveys (GSS), which are a much more representative sample of the US. The GSS also shows that conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families. Blah, blah, blah… Lies, damn lies and statistics. But that isn’t really the point of my argument. It never is, is it?

But let’s assume that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Let’s just go with it for a moment. And please remember I know that most people don’t fall into either bracket easily. Shades of gray more than black and white. So we are talking more about those at the extremes. Maybe. Whatever. You know what I mean – let’s just agree with the study and that people fall nicely into a pigeon hole for a minute.

Yes, conservatives give more to charity. So what? Who cares? Hum… Conservatives apparently. Seriously though. What does giving tell me? I don’t give much to charity. What does that tell you about me? Here is the difference. I have a great job that allows me to try and be part of making the world a little better. I try to work to make the world a better place. I put my life forward to try and make the world more just. Fair enough, it’s not just me but the whole bunch of great people I work with and for. But this is what I do. To work with others to make it a little better. To bring equality, liberty and freedom to all. I fight for peace. I live to love. I am because we are. I don’t pay for my conscious. I work for my conscious. I speak out and fight injustice no matter where they are. Sometimes loudly and sometimes a little bit more quietly and strategically. It would be easier for me to “just” give. I can make more money doing something else. And then I can give more money than what I can afford right now. But would that make more of a difference than me trying to fight the good fight? I work to give. I give not money. I give my life.

It reminds me of the days back in Apartheid South Africa. It was unbelievable how many people who supported Apartheid went to church on a Sunday. They pray and they worship on a Sunday and then go on exploiting on a Monday. Oh, and on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And they do it again when they watch rugby on a Saturday. But the Sunday cleared them of all their sins. A prayer will make it all right then I guess. No matter what you do on those other days.

Giving to charity does not mean a thing. Not if you are a bigot on the days when you don’t give. You can’t give your $10 or $50 or $100 a month and think that it is okay. Or even a foundation of a million or billion dollars. It does not make you a good person just because you are giving. It does not absolve you from your duties as a human being. You can’t just carry on with what you are doing with the rest of your time. Your responsibility to your fellow Americans and the world goes beyond money. You can’t buy absolution. You can’t buy forgiveness. You can’t buy justice. You can’t buy equality. You can’t buy freedom. You can’t buy liberty. You can’t buy life. And you can’t buy love.

Do you give because you feel sorry for those poor souls who don’t have as much as you? Who aren’t as lucky? Don’t. Don’t feel sorry for them. See them as your equals. See them as the human being they are. See them as people. People who want the same things you have. Not the material things. Rather things like opportunity. Freedom. Equality. Pride. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Life. Love. They don’t want your money. They want you. They want Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Of course there is the little issue of who do you give to? It’s not really that important. I know that conservatives don’t just give to religious groups. They don’t. They give across the whole range. But make sure you are diligent in your giving. Don’t give because it is something you believe in. Give because it is something they need and want. They know better than you what they need. Give to help them be themselves. Not to be you. Give because we are.

Do you know the story of the Good Samaritan? He first went to bandage the wounds and poured on some oil and wine (Must have been pretty strong “wine”!) He loaded him up on the Biblical pick-up truck, the donkey, took him to the inn and cared for him. And then he paid the innkeeper. He took action. He didn’t throw money at the guy. He took action. He did something. He cared by first doing what was right.

But it goes further than that. There is this old saying we all know – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It is even more important when it comes to giving. If you give money you only sooth your soul for a day. If you get involved and help make this world a better place. If you fight for equality every single day. If you spread liberty each day. If you push for freedom every day. If you stand on the side of justice every minute of every day. If you spread peace where ever you go… That is how you teach to fish. That is how you sooth your soul for life. By being part of it. Not by throwing money at it.

Have you noticed that the “heroes” in the movies and books are people who do things and not just throw money at it? But you can even look at real heroes. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Theresa. They did things. They are known for their actions and not their money. Not their money giving. But for their soul giving. For their work and deeds. They do. It’s an action.

Giving money or giving yourself. It’s the difference between giving medicine to treat the symptom or trying to find the cure. By all means, fight the symptoms, but be like a heat-seeking, radar-driven, laser-guided missile and find that cure. Or else we will never stop giving them bitter pills to swallow. Charity is dealing with the symptom. Involvement and commitment and fighting side by side every single day is finding the cure. It’s systemic. It’s going to the heart of the problem. Not just trying to make the heart go on for a few days longer.

I see too many people trying to buy their way into the good books. Big powerful people starting big powerful charities or foundations. With money that they got how? Run that past me again? And what do you do with your time when you aren’t giving? Who suffered for you to be able to now do the right thing? From the ashes left behind flows a money trail.

It’s like telling your wife or husband or partner that you love them when it is Valentines Day. Or hugging and kissing your children when it is their birthday. Sending flowers on an anniversary. Buying presents at Christmas. Those “special” days. Giving is your special day. It shouldn’t be. Every single day should be your special day. Like loving, hugging and kissing your partner and kids every single day.

Please. I know that I might have offended some people with this. It is not meant to offend. I admire people who give so much. So much more than money. And I admire people who ensure that they gives for the right reason or reasons. I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most admired minds when it comes to giving. And they all give money and themselves for the right reason. A just cause. Doing the right thing and giving for the right reason. Now that is the way to go. It is neither liberal nor conservative. Both sides can do more. One can give more to what is truly needed in this world. And the other side can do more to what is truly needed in this world. Liberty. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Peace. Hope. Opportunity. Life. Love.

It is not about how much you give. It’s whether you give yourself. It is about what you do.

So… Who really cares? Do you? Or do you just give money?

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Note: Don’t stop giving money! Those working at charities across the world still need support. But they want your hands and soul in it as well. There are people out there doing amazing work who needs your financial help to allow them to keep on doing what they are doing. Support them. Believe in them. Hold them accountable. But most of all… Be part of them! Be the change you want to see. Don’t try and buy the change.

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You want to hug a dolphin? Or maybe plant a tree? What about buying a goat for a village in Ethiopia? Or a desk and chair for a school in Banda Aceh? No. Mm-mm, difficult one. Wait, I have just the thing for you – how about supporting the Foundation for the protection of Swedish underwear models?

And you think I am joking about that last one. It might be tongue in cheek, but this cause has over 400,000 signed up members globally. Okay, it is a Facebook cause – but one of the most supported causes. They even managed to raise some money for their nonprofit – after specifically asking for NO money. Yes, this is a nonprofit and their aim is the “promotion of international understanding”. No, I really am NOT joking.

The point I am trying to make is that we now have a cause for every taste and need. And then some. Once you find your cause – which organization within this cause do you want to support? And so on, and so on. The list just gets longer and longer.

This shouldn’t be a problem. People can now match their passions with the right organization. And there are enough charities out there to still have a slight different individual flavor that makes you so much more different from the plebs who support Oxfam (joking people…). Oh no, you support Project Africa – because it is so much more than a goal, it is a mission. A cause that goes with your evening dress and another that goes well as a car refresher hanging from the rear-view mirror.

And it makes life so much easier if you run a company. All you have to do is pick your cause and adopt the charity or nonprofit that is still available. You feel strongly about education for kids? Make your pick – we still have EduKiddiCare and KEDUCare available. (Man, how many times can someone focus on education before we run out of charities or ideas?)

But the growth in charities and causes can have a bad impact as well – apart from the bad jokes (sorry). Firstly, it waters down the important stuff and diverts attention. Instead of tackling the real big issues facing the world – Climate Change, Abuse, Poverty & Hunger, War, Disasters and Health (the Big 5 plus Climate Change) – we tackle every issue that comes to mind. Can we really justify saving the dolphin, battling bottled water, fighting immigration, protesting GM crops and anti/pro-abortion marches (the Little 5) while people are dying of hunger, disease, abuse, disasters or war? Of course all these other issues are important, but more important than people dying right now in this world we all share? I don’t know – your call.

Even more important than the long list of options and diverting attention – the diversion of funds. Two dynamics stand out. Firstly, aid only increases marginally each year – and even then it goes to certain causes that are important, but not really charity for the needy. For instance, where do you think 80% of US federal ‘aid’ go? A handful of countries that are not really on the most needy list – Israel, Pakistan and Egypt. And oh, it includes military aid… And it gets worse because the money is now spread across and even wider range of causes and organizations. Each year another nonprofits comes along that wants a piece of the pie – and reduces the share of the next one.

But the single biggest problem I have with the proliferation of charities? They divert money away from Africa and other places of need. Instead of the funding going directly to the charity in the country suffering, it goes via other charities and donor bodies first. And everyone takes their cut. The money for empowering women farmers in Zambia doesn’t go to Women for Change. Oh, they might get a small amount. But the money first goes to DFID or USAID or GTZ – or whatever government agency. And then it goes to Oxfam GB or US or Germany. And then it goes to Oxfam Southern Africa. And then it goes to Oxfam Zambia. And the leftovers go to Women for Change.

Businesses always try and streamline their value chain. We should do the same with funding. No more than 2 steps before it gets to the actual people that need it and should benefit from it. Cut out the middlemen. Hey, they make money for campaiging in any case by collecting from door to door and in the streets. It doesn’t mean the end of Oxfam or Care or Save The Children and mates. Just the beginning of the nonprofits who can really bring immediate change to the people who need it most. It will force every charity to focus on achieving real change and doing the bit they are best at. And more of the program money will go to the charities who are closest to the real issues on the ground – they are part of the people who suffer in their community. We just need to streamline the charity supply chain a bit.

Of course there is another reason for my little rant. Is it about caring about something or doing something? The caring bit is about you. But the doing bit is about those who need the help. It’s a slight but important difference. You can pick a charity or a cause the way you pick a dress or shoes – something to fit in with your needs and different tastes. But please don’t forget that this isn’t about you. It’s about those who really need you to be part of them and part of the solution. I worry that the causes are so diverse that we start forgetting who and what this is all about. It’s not a clothing outfit to fit with your personality. It’s about people. And what they need.

Mm-mm, maybe I just found the cause that fits my charity. The AA BARF charity needs your support. Really… The Angry African Beer And Rugby Fund never really got the funding or supporters it deserved in any case. And the money will go directly to the cause it supports. I promise…

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I have worked with some good souls throughout my life. All deeply caring people. Doing the right thing. Fighting poverty. Fighting diseases. Fighting injustice. Always fighting the good fight. Without guns. And I don’t judge them for what they do. They mean well. But sometimes I wonder if they do it for the right reasons.

Or rather for the right person. Are they really doing it to make the world a better place? Or are they doing it to make themselves feel better? Is this important? Does it matter? I don’t know. But it does make a difference in how you do your work. How you try to make the world better.

It matters because it will tell me who “owns” the fight. Is it us, together? Or is it you? Is it about the “me” or about the “us”? It’s a subtle difference. But it plays out differently. It can mean the difference between success or just throwing some money on the fire. I see too often that people want the personal glory. The recognition that they alone deserve the credit. Or at least a little bit more than the next person… You know, that if it wasn’t for “me”… That they own the problem and the solution. A new Foundation. A new personalized cause made to fit your persona. Or your company. Not about the partnership we need to solve the problem. Not equal partnership. But rather you telling me how you will solve the problem. How you are the saviour. The knight in shining armour. Coming to Africa to save our sorry souls.

I felt this amongst the Brits more than anywhere else. Americans do it as well, but they are more open about it. (Remember, I am making a HUGE generalization here.) But in the UK I felt it in every conversation and in every campaign. Colonialism is alive and well – you just don’t know it. Even if you don’t mean it that way. Here, let me help you out a bit. The Oxfam Make Trade Fair Campaign. The Oxfam Coffee Campaign. The Blair Commission for Africa. The Bob Geldof Live 8. The Bono G8 speech. I know that many of them don’t do it for personal glory, but rather to use their influence and status to highlight the problems. I mean really, life could be so much easier for Bono if he didn’t have to do this – and concentrate just on his music. I just use them as examples – not judgement.

But so many individuals and organisations and companies want their own piece of the pie. Their little piece they can own and get the glory and “ain’t he/she a good guy/girl” comments. Of course they need the pretty picture or trophy to go with their “emotional struggle and commitment”. And then they’ll just drag in the poor African farmer struggling/Aids sufferer/hungry kid. To be paraded. And maybe if they are lucky they will be asked to make a short speech before the big boys come up on stage to say how they have helped them and how you can help them help those who suffer. And the African melts into the background…

Oh how many times do I have to hear how far ahead the UK is when it comes to humanitarian work. And corporate responsibility. And sustainability. How much better their government is about doing their bit for the world. And the companies that care so much. And the people who give so much. The UK. Rule, Britannia!

And the BBC will go off to make a documentary of a white guy going to some village and tell a story to make you cry. And collect a few pounds. And hand out a few pennies. Or maybe some food to go with it. Highlight the good work some organization/company/government department/aid agency from your home country is doing in these poor African village. It makes you feel good. Good about yourself. Good about your countrymen. But it is a good feeling inside yourself.

But it doesn’t tell you that poverty doesn’t define who these Africans are. That being ill doesn’t make them less lively. Or less happy. Or less hopeful. Or that they have a few ideas themselves. Or that maybe they havea few solutions already thought out. Because it is the BBC. It’s not an African crew with and African investigative reporter and producer. Or even an African celeb.

But maybe it just makes you feel better. Makes you feel that you are doing something good on our little earth. That it will get you into heaven or whatever your religion calls the next “stage” – if there is a next stage. But it is still about you. The “me”. Just for different reasons.

But here is the problem. You might not even know that you look at the world in this way. But we know. We can see it in your eyes. You feel sorry for us. You want to help because you “just know the answer”. Even if you don’t believe that you do it for these reasons. Even if you don’t think you feel this way towards us. We know it when you come up with “solutions” without really engaging us. Only parading us and lying to yourself that you really are interested in working “with” us. We feel it when you come and hand us some money or medicine or food. We hear it when you talk down to us without even knowing you are doing it. We see it when we look into your eyes and into your heart. It’s there. It is there.

Here. Take my hand. Let’s walk this rocky road together. Hand in hand. Next to each other. I am no better than you. You are no better than me. Together we can do it. Make this world just a little better. But I don’t have the answer. And neither do you. Because it isn’t about me. Or you. It is about the “us”. Together.

Maybe I am wrong on this one. I wrote everything up to here on the way home on the train. It was so clear back then. But now I am home. I had time to think a little bit more. And it is all cloudy right now. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know. Is there a point to this?

In actual fact. I don’t really care why you do it. Just do it. Stop throwing stones and moaning and bitching. Stop looking for excuses. Or reasons to hate. Just do something to make the world better. Peacefully. Without the guns. And without the stones. And without the violence. I don’t care why you do it. Really I don’t. I’ll use it against you anyway.

Because it gives us an angle. An opening. We’ll “prey” on your good feelings. On your ego. On your “me”. We’ll look into your eyes and figure out why you are doing it. Or anything. What makes you tick. Your weakness. And then we will feed that weakness and make you do what we want you to do. But we will make you think it was your idea in the first place. And we will let you get the praise. And the glory. Because we don’t care. Because we know it is not about “me”.

It’s about us. And making it better. Together. Anyway possible – without strings or violence attached. As long as we do it together. Hand in hand. For others. Because we know. I am because of others. And that is really all that matters. In the end. Here. Take my hand.

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