November 18, 2013 – MANILA, Philippines – Rarely in business does the end justify the means. For example, making a profit no matter who is harmed is never acceptable. But there is one case where the end does indeed justify the means, and that is in the area of CSR, or corporate social responsibility.
There is perhaps no more misunderstood concept today than CSR.
It seems like yesterday but it was back in 2001, and I was in Warsaw, Poland, as CEO of Procter & Gamble. We ran an annual campaign with a leading charity where we donated a percentage of our sales to build hospitals in a country that badly needed it. P&G, in fact, through this program, became the largest donor in the nation, and we built over 25 hospitals and clinics. As the P&G business prospered, we gave more and more back to the society where we worked, lived and played.
I had a young, incredibly naïve and overly idealistic young employee come up to me one day and aggressively say, “I am ashamed to work here. We link our giving to charity to sales of product instead of just giving it all away. We should just give it all away for free or not give anything at all!”
I didn’t say a word. I just asked him to come with me. We went to my car and drove to a neo-natal clinic we had built and opened the year before. We walked in, met the physician in charge, and he introduced us to a tense father who was awaiting surgery to close a congenital heart defect in his baby girl. This was the first such clinic in Poland, and prior to its opening, a child like his daughter would simply die. We asked that father what he thought of the clinic, and how it was funded.
The father was overcome with emotions. He could not stop thanking us. He said he could never repay what this investment meant to his family. He couldn’t care less where the money came from. The priority was saving his little daughter. And he made an important statement: “When it comes to saving even one human life, all charity is good charity.” I will give my young employee some credit. He apologized. He admitted he was wrong. He grew up a bit. And he realized it is easy to criticize others and their efforts when you are on the outside of the issue and don’t understand what being in need is all about. Sitting in a cushy office not having to worry about where your next meal comes from, or whether your daughter will live or die. It’s then easy to be judgmental. To question even a good deed. If P&G didn’t build that hospital, it would not have been built. It’s as simple as that. There is not enough charity in the world, unfortunately.
The recent Yolanda tragedy has brought all of this to the fore once again. There are all kinds of people and reactions. Some step up and give. Dive in and help. Some just issue words and profess sorrow on Facebook yet do little more beyond “moral support” and spreading chain messages. And some even get negative, and expend all their energy attacking the first two groups from some pious throne they think they are perched on.
I was skimming different sites on Facebook and some of the posts are downright sad. I saw one post just blatantly attacking Red Cross and saying, “Don’t give to them, they are corrupt.” It’s shameful. Not productive at all. Just attacking a wonderful institution in a time of solidarity and need. I have personally spent a great deal of time with PNRC chairman Richard Gordon and executive director Gwen Pang. They are amazing people, totally dedicated to the cause of helping others.
I also saw a posting of a small company that happens to be in debt and losing money, giving its entire inventory of product to relief efforts. Wow! And what did one ignorant individual say as a comment? “I hope you are not trying to benefit from people’s misery … shame on you.” What an unproductive comment. He doesn’t even ask for clarification. He just attacks someone who gives, and feels he can judge another person’s intentions from cyberspace. And the funny thing is, I bet he has not contributed one centavo to help the people in Tacloban! All that energy just to attack someone else when I am sure the people in Leyte are happy to get the aid. And what is the alternative? Let more people die because some people question the intentions of the donor? How messed up is that?
The end justifies the means in CSR. If one company giving means one less child dies in Samar or anywhere else, well, it is money well donated. I am not going to let a child die while we debate the merits of a particular donation or whether someone’s heart was in the right place. We’ll never know a person’s intentions, or a company’s. If it helps those in need, that is passing all the tests it needs to pass. Take the money and help those in need!
And therein lies the key principles one must bear in mind when looking at CSR. First, the end justifies the means when it comes to charity. If it helps people in need and saves a life, then it was worth it. Because the alternative is allowing someone to suffer, or to even die. Who is anyone to decide they don’t like the kind of company or the motives or the amount when it saves someone’s life? That isn’t being responsible, that is nothing more than someone playing God. Making judgments and deciding who lives or dies. And these people need to stop trying to play god. Because honestly, they suck at it. And the job is already occupied.
Additionally, the “C” in CSR stands for corporate. This means a company — a company with shareholders who have “loaned” money to the company in exchange for a return on investment. They aren’t charities. We can’t expect companies to give all their profits away or lose money. They are not NGOs or government agencies! Every centavo spent must be accounted for and used properly to provide shareholder return. An individual can decide to give his own money away. Yet an individual working in a corporate setting must dispense shareholder monies judiciously.
And, there is nothing wrong with making a profit. It isn’t evil. As President Clinton said 20 years ago, “We want healthy companies because only they can invest in our communities.” The more profitable a company is, the more they can give back. Sick companies don’t build strong communities.
Sometimes, the end does justify the means. Let’s welcome every donation we can get for the people affected by Yolanda. And let’s please stop attacking those who give. Because next time, they just may not give at all. And we will all be worse off.