Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Sunday, February 03, 2013

''Doing CSR''

Two weeks ago I was in Phuket visiting schools and Sunshine Village, a home for underprivileged children with a company specializing in team building.

The mission?  To find some ‘’CSR activities’’ for my colleagues as part of their ‘’team building session’’ with underprivileged children, during their sales workshop in April.

We trudged around a crowded school of screaming children, drove to a remote village in the chaotic traffic of Phuket to hunt down Sunshine Village, met up with the administrator, walked around in the blazing heat scratching our head to think of ‘’activities’’ for my colleagues. 

‘’What do you need?’’ we asked?  Gardening, farming, said the lady.  When are you coming, she asked.  April 13th?  Oh, that’s Songkran – there will be no kids.

‘’Can we invite them back?’’ asked Dave, from the team building company.

The lady seemed at a loss of what we can do at her home.  We circulated her compound, with Dave throwing up ideas and trying very hard to think of ways we could contribute.  He found old bikes lying around and said we could repair bikes.  He found lots of old computers lying around unused and said we could repair them.  Tim, his colleague asked, ‘’but what for?’’ ‘’Don’t worry what for – just repair them!’’

We were supposed to have 3 groups of colleagues – doing 3 different activities – supposedly for team building, with a ‘’CSR’’ element.  The home said they could accommodate only 2 groups and suggested we visited a nearby school and the principal to discuss possible activities for the 3rd group. 

Same issues – ‘’when, April?  Songkran!’’ What could we do?  More head scratching and finally the principal said – you can scrub the floor, paint the walls…

By now, you can guess from the way I am writing this – that I find this whole ‘’team building CSR’’ affair ridiculous.

In the first place – charity is not CSR.  Go find a good book on the topic and you will find how wrong most of us are about CSR.  In the second place – doing charity work should come from the heart.  Not ‘’organised charity’’.  Not because it’s something you are made to go -  in an air-con chartered coach - after a sales workshop, so the company and you feel good to have done some ‘’CSR’’.  I have nothing against team building activities – they help motivate employees so that they can sell more and then the company can earn more and hence the shareholders can pocket more…

While I laud the creativity and enthusiasm of Dave and Tim, who came up with so many interesting ideas that I would never have dreamt of, I could not help being cynical.  Asking my division GM to scrub the floor?  Posing with the brush, for a photo op, maybe. But spend 4 hours scrubbing the floor of the entire compound? 

I recall a similar ‘’CSR’’ activity we did last August in Chiang Mai.  Then, there was much hard labour too, like farming, making mud bricks etc.  But that was well disguised as ‘’learning a new trade’’ from an organic farm managed by some charitable organization.

But this scrubbing floor, repairing bikes and computers, and gardening  – these are the real needs of the home and school, but not something that quite fit the company’s need for ‘’team building’’.  And certainly not quite what I think my colleagues, who have domestic helpers to attend to all their needs, would want to do. 

Friends used to wonder why I ‘’spend so much’’ time doing volunteer work – manning hotlines, teaching hearing impaired kids and helping at museums and arts houses.  But that’s because I genuinely want to help.  Not because I’ve been ‘’sent’’ to ‘’do CSR’’

Now I wonder, do my colleagues genuinely love children, or want to labour in the hot sun, to volunteer their time?  Or have they been ‘’volunteered’’ by their company?


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