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Corporate social responsibility needs personal social responsibility

The onus is more than ever on the individual and their personal responsibility.

In Summary
  • Taking personal responsibility to wear face masks so as not to infect people who may pass by you (like me!) is lacking among many people.
  • Just about all have a face mask, but mainly slung around the bottom half of their face. What to do?

It is often the lack of education that leads the poor to make unfortunate choices in their lives. Education and health services must be free for them, but for sure we must also encourage them to adopt higher levels of personal responsibility as the virus attacks their neighbourhoods.

Much has been made of CSR and the need for large corporations to treat all their stakeholders responsibly. In Kenya, most large companies have risen to the current challenges, from retaining employees to offering goods to vulnerable populations and working with business associations, including through Kepsa, and with Rotary Clubs.

But CSR is much more than that, and requires companies to be engaged in all the big issues of the day, such as global warming, poverty, and leading responsibly in dealing with all stakeholders. One of the best and the one that has received top ranking in my CSR Rating of Kenya companies in the NSE is Safaricom, closely followed by Standard Chartered Bank and KCB.

Yet in this time of Covid, the need to open up economies, to prevent climate change disasters, and now to deal with riots in the USA, the scene has changed. The onus is more than ever on the individual and their personal responsibility. Especially as there is a breakdown in personal responsibility among many heads of government in countries such as the UK, America, Russia, China, Hungary and Brazil – to name just the bigger ones. This breakdown has led to a lack of responsible leadership.

 

Thus personal responsibility is needed to control violence against others; to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through asymptotically infected persons; to demonstrate peacefully in the face of increasing administrative violence of the sort seen in America, Brazil, and Hong Kong; and to respect the natural environment from jettisoned long-lasting rubbish such as plastics.

During my daily 30-minute runs in Nairobi, on a major street, I have been counting the number of people I pass who wear face masks to prevent the spread of the Covid virus (see table). 

In the table it can be seen that taking personal responsibility to wear face masks so as not to infect people who may pass by you (like me!) is lacking among many people. The runners wear face-masks to protect them, but who protects those without face masks from each other? In fact, the number wearing masks has reduced over time – even as the virus has been infecting more and more people.

Many are poor people, and the majority are young men who may not have the cash to buy face masks. Yet just about all have a face mask, but mainly slung around the bottom half of their face. What to do?

In the slums the situation is dire, having to cope with Covid in the context of crushing poverty—one more burden to add to the daily grind of trying to survive. Imposing what has been pronounced on people who must live eight and more in a room is not only insensitive but also impractical. Many have large families simply because they look after their neighbour’s children, whose parents may have passed away.

Can a call for personal responsibility change behaviour for such people? Probably not, without a major programme to address the plight of the victims of poverty.

Elsewhere I and others have suggested a basic income for all poor people in Kenya, while others have even argued for a Universal Basic Income, whereby everyone receives a modest stipend, rich and poor alike. UBI would be hugely expensive right now, but allegedly is easier to manage than Targeted Basic Income (TBI) that this author prefers.

That could be done through transferring money by mobile phones to those in the poorest zones. In turn these could be targeted through Geo Fencing Technology. Given there are around four million adults in the urban poor slums, the cost or transferring Sh1,000 per week would be Sh16 billion a week.

 

Cash distribution would stimulate demand and multiply activity and employment through communities, especially in the slums. Eventually the only way out of poverty is through giving the poor choices, and by making education the top priority.

For it is often the lack of education that leads the poor to make unfortunate choices in their lives. Education and health services must be free for them, but for sure we must also encourage them to adopt higher levels of personal responsibility as the virus attacks their neighbourhoods.

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