Why Corporate Philanthropy is no longer enough: Column by Shadman Sakib Anik, CEO

Remember that old proverb about how it’s better to teach a man to fish than give him one instead? I am reminded of that proverb everytime I see another one-off relief donation or a buy one-give one model of doing CSR. Usually these methods of doing CSR does more harm than good.

Let’s talk about the rise and fall of this model by TOMS shoes from USA. Their objective was simple: every time you buy a pair of their shoes, they will donate a pair to someone who cannot afford them. Sounds good on paper, and response was great – in the space of 5 years, TOMS reportedly gave away over 95 million pairs of shoes in Africa. But did it really help the communities they were trying to support?

First of all, the company travels to a country and hands out free shoes to children in need. This type of charity does something for the people, not with the people. It is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This leaves little room for sustainable development or self-empowerment. These countries have markets in which shoes are being produced locally.

TOMS actually hurt the people and businesses that are producing these shoes and ruin the economic structure of the country. If TOMS gives away free shoes, local shoemakers have no market to sell to and are forced out of business.

Backlashes from this impact, on top of management problems with the model, forced TOMS to nearly go bankrupt and end the program in 2019. However, it decided to rethink the model and donate 1/3rd of their profits to existing NGOs who already are tackling problems in the communities instead.

Reflecting on non-sustainable CSR models, a lot of companies operating in Bangladesh still have a long way to go. We see one-off donations everywhere, including relief supplies, blankets or just monetary donations through unverified mediums, and where companies do not have the capacity, time or willingness to actually go to the beneficiaries and figure out what they need in the long run.

How can we solve this? Eventually as CSR professionals, we must all think about the actual problem rather than ‘ticking a box’ and donating. Instead of buying a thousand bags of rice, oils and onions with the company’s logo on them, let’s go and talk to the community, or non-profits operating in the community, about what is truly needed. Let’s focus on sustainable, long-term impact rather than the simplest thing to do. Maybe next year, the beneficiaries under your care will no longer need relief support from anyone else!


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CSR Window Desk

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