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Beyond philanthropy

IT’S not enough for the private sector to give something back to the communities; they must now work more actively toward inclusive growth.

 

That is the realization of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the pioneer organization of private firms with corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, and it’s a valid one.

CSR programs have evolved over time from purely humanitarian concerns, such as soup kitchens for street children and distribution of relief goods to those displaced by natural calamities to more large-scale projects, such as housing for informal settlers. 

And while the positive social impact of these programs cannot be denied, it is also true that CSR programs may be driven solely by the need to make corporations look good in the eyes of the public even as they relentlessly pursue the bottom line, which is to rake in profits to ensure the viability of their operations.

And, of course, some CSR programs are a convenient tax shield, allowing private firms to keep the taxman at bay.

Corporate philanthropy is good, but it is not enough.

The private sector should do more than provide employment that allows Filipino families to meet their basic needs and save for their future, it must also address widespread poverty.

It’s been said that among the reasons mass poverty persists in the Philippines is that, apart from systemic corruption, the members of the elite who comprise the tip of the social pyramid and wield vast economic power have been unwilling to share their wealth with the rest of the population.

The unequal distribution of wealth in Philippine society is what has given rise to mass discontent and even armed conflict that has sapped already-scarce government resources.

The private sector should now explore new forms of CSR that actually make a difference in the lives not only in small communities and neighborhoods but in the larger society, as well.

The PBSP is correct: Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination rather than isolated intervention of individual organizations.

CSR projects aimed at coping with climate change are an example of multisectoral interventions that will redound to society’s benefit for the long term. There are many others, particularly those focusing on capability-building, that empower individuals and communities and allow them to take a direct role in their own development rather than being mere recipients of dole-out or short-term assistance.

CSR projects should not only help those at risk and save lives, they must also bring about a fundamental change in Philippine society by helping achieve equitable growth and bringing about a drastic reduction in poverty levels.

 

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