The Financial Express

CSR and volunteerism: The interface  

CSR and volunteerism: The interface   

To stand by people during their bad times is a major human instinct. Many in the richer segments in society can remain aloof when short or long-term sufferings overwhelm humanity. The scenario is now acutely encountered as the corona pandemic rages throughout Bangladesh.The spectacle is also found across the world. In order to bail out the pandemic-hit people and those under strict lockdowns, activities also continue in full swing to extend a helping hand to the poor and the hungry. The persons or entities which engage in the volunteering services find it to be their responsibility to help people. It has been in practice since the rich-poor divide started becoming sharp in human societies. It was especially seen after societies and their members began to be defined in terms of economic conditions.

The practice and concept of helping fellow humans have continued to undergo remarkable changes. In the 20th century businesses undertaking these activities began putting the word 'corporate' while executing this special kind of social responsibility. Nowadays, 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR) exists in the corporate culture-driven business world as a vital phrase. It is not mandatory in many rich or middle-income countries. Yet different communities or individuals traditionally, or on being pricked by conscience, stick to the practice of volunteerism.

   The whole episode as it exists in the modern times boils down to an age-old reality. No matter how rich particular societies are collectively, a section of individuals and communities cannot remain oblivious to the poorer segments living beside them. Another vital factor is the number of people entangled in the modern capitalistic system. The groups are quite distinct. They comprise a relatively deprived class; those selling physical, creative and intellectual labour --- mostly to private enterprises. Also known as CSR on the part of corporate entities, it's another type of patronage --- in exchange for monetary reward. The neo-left mostly disapprove of it. 

Notwithstanding their being free of the obligation of abiding by the CSR regulation, the richin many countries are not allowed to go scot-free. The governments there slap lots of wealth and income-related taxes, explicitly to deter the rich from becoming clubs of oligarchs. CSR is known as a custom popular among the poor. Under the system, being rich doesn't entitle individuals or groups to hold the ticket to unbridled baskingin riches. The concept is skewed. It prevails mainly in underdeveloped societies. In spite of the lambasting of capitalism by classical communists as the safe resort of hedonism, the definition has continued to embrace remarkable changes. One of them appears in the form of a social prerequisite: capitalism cannot shirk its responsibility towards humanity. Perhaps due to this, CSR is found practised in many privatised entities in the market-driven economy of the post-Soviet Russian federation.

A theoretical problem complicates the situation. In the state-controlled economy of the now-abolished socialist USSR, CSR of sorts was already in place as part of the Soviet system. The fruits of the state economy would trickle down to almost all citizens --- though mostly in indirect ways. Thanks to China's recent economic transformations and its goal of integration with the world economy, pressure continues to mount on making reforms in its corporate laws. The objective, apparently, is making CSR integral to business and management strategies.

In fact, few massive business entities can remain indifferent when fellow humans go through phases of misery. They can distantly be compared with the proverbial Good Samaritans and selfless philanthropists. These two selves remain ever active in all impeccably grown tycoons and their businesses. As true humans cannot fail to respond to their inborn instincts to stand by poorercommunities, enterprises with deep ethical roots find it difficult to stand apart from people in need. Coming to the Good Samaritans or philanthropists, they appear to be on the lookout for humans in need. Except a little semantic difference, the two classes fall under a similar definition with lots of features in common. The general people once had little idea that their cities and villages were filled with so many philanthropists and their activities. These people mostly prefer to remain incognito. But they continue with their charity activities including mass feeding without fail. Many of them have been organising these voluntary services for decades, some for a century. A night-time feeding programme for floating and destitute people daily in Bogura town stands out with its punctuality.

Lately, the charity programmes in Bangladesh fanned out into other sectors like literacy classes, petty job generation and social uplift work. Adult literacy sessions also occupy a dominant place in these activities. Some foreigners are found engaged in reaching medical treatment and medicines to destitute people in the remote areas of the country. They are apparently inspired by the spirit and message of the Good Samaritan movement.

Lots of people confuse these endeavours with NGO activities. In fact, these services are driven by individual initiatives. Small groups of informally assembled youths conducting streetside open-air classes have been common scenes in cities for more than a decade. The corona-time shutdown has, however, witnessed a gap in these assemblages. But the youths were not sitting idle during the time. A lot of them were found brining food and essential commodities to the homeless and unemployed people in the capital. These activities have, undoubtedly, added to the government efforts to stand by the shutdown-affected people.

Any mandatory implementation of the CSR regulation is referred to perfunctorily in Bangladesh. But due to its focus on vital issues like philanthropy, environmental conservation, labour practices and volunteerism, the regulation could have helped Bangladesh immensely. In its absence, the nation has to depend on the individual and small-group-based voluntary activities.


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