Social Responsibility – Who is responsible?

When I started my research on this topic I completed my usual activities. I scanned and posted out requests on various online networking facilities. I searched the internet, business links and sites. There is a hell of a lot of ‘social responsibility‘ information out there. Policy guidelines, corporate supported programs, independent interest groups and thousands of inspired individuals all seeking to be socially responsible. I must admit it was uplifting but at the same time a little frustrating. What struck me also was the vast range of groups and events that were operating under the banner of social responsibility. I had to step back and think. Some questions came to mind again and again namely;

Why do we need to be told to be socially responsible?
Why do we need a policy to be fair?

Social responsibility seems to me to be an obvious, natural state of being. Responsibility to and for the society that we live in. And more, the society that we have created.

One of the driving passions for creating the magazine was to enable the communication of better ways of living and working – an attempt to provide information and inspiration. Ethical business practices, inclusive social activities and advice on how to improve ourselves and, hopefully, our communities. Over the previous editions we have featured some fantastic people who have sacrificed an element of their own security and comfort and focussed their efforts on a greater goal, a greater good, but that is my point – some fantastic people, individuals, following and supporting causes. We are now featuring a corporate perspective to give us insight into corporate practices too. We have features that are supported by Government and big business. All laudable and worthy I am certain but what struck me was the disparate and sometimes desperate nature of the activities. I will provide an example.

I posted a comment out on one of, if not the, leading business networking site regarding this topic. In fact I posted several in from different perspectives on different days. I checked yesterday for update and comments. None! What I discovered was that in the last month some 64 items had been put up for comment from people in one ‘social responsibility‘ group alone. The vast majority (58 out of 64) were requesting comments and information. Only 6 received feedback; 1 comment each for 5 postings and 18 on another. The subject of the post that generated most activity was a request for information about a training course! And then it hit me.

It is not that we lack information about social responsibility.
It is not that we lack causes to support.
It is not that we lack inspired individuals to lead these programs.
It is not that we lack potential support from businesses or Government.

What we lack is inclination.

We are living in a world of media overload. Every single minute of the day we receive tens if not hundreds of images requesting, no, demanding, our attention. Most of them require our action. Buy this, do that, save the other. So what do most of us do? – tune out. We tune out because we cannot handle the volume and the intensity. We tune out because we cannot handle the truth. We are living in a society where the good is drowned out by the inane, the irrelevant and the insignificant. Not convinced? Watch daytime TV for an hour if you can! We are far more likely to vote for the winner of X-Factor than we are to Save A Child (if the telephone voting numbers are to be believed). In fact we probably turn over the TV in peak time during the adverts in case one “accidentally” slips through the media net and actually raises an issue that makes us uncomfortable as we eat our pizzas.

I am not stating this from a position ‘holier than thou‘ but what I suggest is that we do not need more information. We do not need to see inspiration. We need more inclination. We need to get off our couches, off our arses and actually do something. You, me, all of us.

Stop making excuses.
Stop waiting for the company to start a ‘user interest group‘ to make some proposals that the department head will consider when he/she can.
Stop tutting at the adverts.
Stop moaning about how long it takes to deliver pizza these days and complaining that they know where we live because they came here last week – and the week before that and the week before that!
Stop waiting for a friend to come along with you to the next meeting.
Stop wishing that you had the time to do something ‘about it‘

We find buzzwords and banners like ‘social responsibility‘ and even ‘ethical business‘ appealing. Amongst the noise and clammer for our attention these causes have to compete with X-Factor, McDonalds and cashing in our gold and they have to impact us in a very little time; an advert, an image, a sound-bite. I believe that we do not need telling what is good or what is fair. It is because too many of us refuse to actually get engaged that we have to brand these causes and activities with clever and professional labels. We watch, tut and switch channels. Let me ask a couple more questions of you.

Why should a company require a policy that details it’s responsibilities to the society in which it operates?
Why does a company need a policy that promotes fairness and equality in it’s own workforce?
Why does the Government create social charters?
Why do causes and charities have to compete with big business – if there was ever any example of unfair competition then surely that is it!!
Why? I think that it is simple – we avoid engagement. We care, we think, we talk but do we actually DO? We are ALL potential agents of change. We are capable of giving a little time to something outside of our self, something bigger. So, get engaged. Get involved. Do something without the need of a company policy or a local government initiative. Find a cause and support it – actively support it.

What about me? What am I doing?
Well, this magazine contributes a fixed amount of its income, not profits which can be manipulated, to charitable causes. I would like to see this in every company policy. Stuff the shareholders, invest in the today’s society.

I personally would like to see it law that every employer must include some time in a volunteering/charitable activity as part of their employees formal employment contract; 1 or 2 days per month where the employee is paid by the company to work in a local social enterprise. THAT is supporting the society.

I would like to see every school involved in social programs that count towards their qualifications – not just SAT tests and exams but actual social projects in their respective society that count to their own results.

It seems that the key to social reform is not policy or procedure. It is not spin or sound-bites it is engagement. It is inclination.

At the risk of sounding trite (for which I make no excuse in this case) “Be the change that you want to see”.

In his role as Business Editor to the3rdi magazine, Phil offers this vast experience in the form of tips, articles advice and editiorial pieces.

Phil works and writes under the brand of Business IQ and can be contacted via his website.

You can also follow Phil’s Business Blog for regular business updates and advice.

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