I have an abhorrence of phrases like ‘corporate social responsibility’, that take a way or a style of living that should be integral to the lives of all of us and even more so to the companies and organisations that we work for, and turn it into meaningless corporate speak that should be undertaken for the benefit of the organisation.
Sadly however that is the world that we live in. A Western World that is dominated by profit and greed, from sportsmen to business, from bankers to professionals. And even more sadly the pressure of time and circumspection that accompanies this often-hedonistic lifestyle, means that there is often little time left to give to help those less fortunate.
But when it comes to business we find, in this new world of social media, the dawning of a time when there will be no choice but to get involved. We are fast entering an era where privacy is dead and every business will be not only judged by the profit it makes, the product it produces, the customer it serves, the employee it supports, but also by the conscience it exerts.
In business there is a compelling need to exert a conscience. That may be because of the transparency of the world we operate in, or it may be because of the demands of our clients or it may be the motivation of our employees. Or it may be because we know that it is the right thing to do. Does it matter? The fact is we need to have a conscience and we need to find the best way to exercise that conscience.
Well here is an idea for your business to consider. An idea that will motivate your employees and impress your customers and at the same time if all businesses adopted it, would have an immeasurable impact on our spiraling youth unemployment problem.
Even more importantly it can give the passion back to our disillusioned youth who we have badly let down and it may even create a new and better economy.
Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladesh native, after earning a Ph.D in economics, returned home to become a professor. But after watching a famine devastate his country in 1974, he began to review his role in society; ‘What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation and porches on the sidewalks across from my lecture hall.’
In 1976 he launched an experimental microcredit enterprise that would empower the poor to pull themselves out of poverty. The result was the Grameen Bank that was formed in 1983. It has since spread to 50 plus countries and become a multibillion-dollar enterprise. The concept is to extend interest free loans to those too poor or without the security to obtain traditional loans. It has resulted in millions gaining work in every area of society and thousands of new businesses being established. The loans build a sense of community and individual self-reliance. They are granted to groups of five people. Two of the five receive funds up-front whilst the other two are given loans after the first two people make a few regular payments. The system is based on trust. There is no legal documentation or bureaucracy. No guarantees are required. This peer pressure and honour is key to its success. The repayment rate is an astonishing 98%. Its success has astonished economic experts.
In a society where the banks have failed us, where government is enmeshed in a bureaucracy of its own making and where youth unemployment is dangerously out of control, there is an opportunity for every business to take its own initiative and make a difference. The aggregate combination is gamechanging.
There are any number of youths out there looking for that initial support to get them started. Operate workshops for them to brainstorm business ideas, support the best of those ideas by adopting the Grameen model, and involve your management team in mentoring and offering support along the way. Then watch them fly, take pleasure in their progress and see the pride in the eyes of your employees when they realise the difference they have made in someone’s life.
And what does it take? A little bit of money, a little bit of thought, a little bit of work, and most of all a desire driven by a conscience. Do you have that conscience? Conscience isn’t about simply adopting measly words into a mission statement. It’s not a case of giving generously or acting correctly in isolation. Having a conscience, having a social responsibility must be at the very heart of your business strategy, your reason for being. It’s about leadership.
By Darryl Cooke