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CSR :What role do banks play ?

THE need for banks to show commitment in the society where they do their businesses cannot be over emphasized.
By this, I mean banks should embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as part of their obligation as done by few of them operating in the country.
First, what really is CSR? If I had to explain CSR to TJ, my 10 year old son, it would be that CSR “is the sustained commitment by corporate entities to developing the society through ideas, projects and interventions.” I would encourage him to understand that CSR starts where the law ends: all an organisation does according to the law of the land is not CSR since it is obligatory.

In other words, payment of taxes and rates, salaries and allowances, indeed, maintenance of its offices and surroundings are base actions that are not equitable to CSR. CSR goes beyond that which is expected by the society. It is voluntarily done in recognition of the enormous resources which have been bestowed on a company by the society’s approval for it to exist, and carry out its businesses without let or hindrance.

It is giving back. It is also ensuring that those who come after this generation will have the commonwealth as good as we got it from our forebears, if not better.Where could this Bank  Chief Operating Officers (CEOs) have made a difference in their cases as it would turn out?

Number one is in the understanding of CSR. Very clearly most CEOs do not understand what this is all about. CSR is about community, co-operation, every man pulling his weight for the total and enduring benefit of society. Its essence is not government, neither is it about “them” as we are wont to focus in the underdeveloped world (which probably explains why we are still underdeveloped).

CSR is that traditional communal thread that Africans were known for where each man existed as part of, and drew strength from, the whole. Each man must help the other, and God will help us all.It speaks to the permanent concept of “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Where the few who are blessed with high positions of authority handle such with humility and concern for the common good beyond self.

One bank Executive Director said to me ‘I love those types of projects that everybody can see. You know, the type you execute with a small budget but we can hold a big publicity event around, say something like a zebra crossing or similar items.’’! Unfortunately quite a number of bankers do not read. They pride themselves that banking is an insular industry: thus they know little to nothing in other matters.

Neither would they listen to professionals from other fields. Harvard, like most leading Business Schools, holds an annual programme on Corporate Social Responsibility. It will be interesting to know how many CEOs have attended or at least sent their people to attend, and then looked through the key learning afterwards.

If CEOs understand CSR, they would have focussed their CSR efforts on one of our core problems as a society: weakness of our legal system: wrongful arrests, wrongful detention, judgement before trial, prison congestion, length of cases, wrongful uses of state powers and so on. But then they probably felt it was not their problem.

One wonders why none of the big banking brands ever said one word on our societal upheavals. Think about it, did you ever hear any Bank CEO or CSR Executive speak to the issues that have kept us down as a people? The elongated ASUU strike; The Niger Delta question; The Boko Haram problem; The death of Gani Fawehinmi or even that of The Guardian reporter Bayo Ohu? What about Climate Change? What about our educational system.

The message these brands consistently project is: It does not concern us.Well, as Martin Luther King Jnr says: Injustice to one man is injustice to all men. Injustice in one place is injustice in all places. The roads we neglect to repair may be the road that will cost us dearly. In the final analyses, CSR is commonsensical really.


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