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Enforced Altruism?

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When we flip through the world’s business history, we find that all large mercantile communities were great patrons of the art of philanthropy. They regarded it as a divine tradition

By MOIN QAZI

When we flip through the world’s business history, we find that all large mercantile communities were great patrons of the art of philanthropy. They regarded it as a divine tradition.The world today is witnessing a growing realisation in enterprises of the importance of altruism. Hence, a great deal of money has been flowing into the social sector. Like individual citizens, who have moral and social responsibilities, businesses are being perceived as corporate citizens who need to commit time, talent, and resources for the welfare of society as they draw their sustenance from it.

This idea has now been corporatised under the appellation, corporate social responsibility, better known as CSR. A social responsibility, CSR is a concept whereby firms integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations. This is generally understood to be a tool for achieving a balance between economic, environmental, and social imperatives while addressing the expectations of shareholders and stakeholders. In the global economy, stakeholders include customers, suppliers, employees, communities, and financiers ~ shareholders, bondholders plus banks, and other sources of capital ~ and they are all intertwined.

CSR is a very broad concept that aims at managing a business in a way that contributes toward sustainable development by delivering social, economic, and environmental benefits to all stakeholders. It addresses issues like human rights, corporate governance, health and safety, environmental effects, working conditions, and contribution to economic development. Whatever the definition, the purpose of CSR is to drive change towards sustainability. We are seeing the emergence of a new crop of megadonors who are upending long-established norms in philanthropy.

Not only are they increasingly willing to take on hot-button social and political issues, but they also have a problem-solving and impact-making mindset. CSR is now being recognised as a critical component of an organisation’s values, operating ethos, business strategies, and purpose. Businesses are being measured on financial and social metrics.

CSR is often used interchangeably for corporate citizenship and is also linked to the concept of triple bottom line reporting (financial, social, and environmental), which is used as a framework for measuring an organisation’s performance against economic, social, and ecological parameters. CSR is about building sustainable businesses that need healthy economies, markets, and communities.

Many voices within the business community believe that companies must break out of conventional preoccupation with profit and do more to address the world’s pressing social needs. The chorus has been joined by leaders from civil society, governments, policy think tanks, and world bodies on education, health, and rehabilitation. Business leadership has acknowledged the demand for enlarged corporate responsibility in ways that can reflect a profound attitudinal change individually and collectively. It is now widely acknowledged that CSR should be a critical component of an organisation’s operating ethos, values, and purpose.

CSR existed earlier too; however, well-meaning but inappropriate programmes were foisted on communities without any dialogue. That was replaced by the writing of blank cheques to favoured groups, often without an accompanying structure. Today, however, enlightened companies engage in extensive dialogue and planning and are forming partnerships with governments, NGOs, and communities to push a wider and deeper agenda. For a long time, the general sentiment was that for businesses, earning a profit should take precedence over ideals, like acting responsibly and ethically.

Even today, many companies are paying just lip service. India is the first country to mandate that firms expend at least two percent of their net profits on special development projects. Its unique law, Corporate Social Responsibility Rules in the Companies Act 2013, came into effect on 1 April 2014. However, there is a crucial difference between the way CSR is implemented in the West and India.

A generally accepted gold standard for CSR in the western world is that it must be closely integrated with a firm’s business strategy so that the programmes create a shared value for the company’s shareholders. In India, this linkage is prohibited for CSR; the focus is restricted solely to contributing to societal welfare. Experience the world over shows that CSR is more socially relevant when it is driven by altruistic motives rather than being a mandated policy commanding philanthropy.

It isn’t easy to legislate since moral obligations have to be inculcated, not legislated. Laws can set the minimum standards but cannot create an environment or ambience for a philanthropic mindset. This is why we see significant aberrations in the CSR agenda of most corporations. Many businesses harbour a variety of secondary aims and often use CSR to boost their social profile and business markets. Such a lack of well-intentioned commitment has been detrimental to this noble philosophy.

Companies are trying to dress up CSR as a business discipline and expecting every initiative delivers business results. That is asking too much of CSR and distracts from what must be its main goal: to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values. If in doing so, CSR activities enhance reputation, mitigate risks, and contribute to business results, it is acceptable. But for many CSR programmes, those outcomes are becoming a spillover, not their reason for being. It is true that since there are so many causes competing for attention, it may not be possible for organisations to have a universally inclusive mission. Studies suggest that charity leaders have a geographic bias with corporations homing in on projects closer to their headquarters.

Consequently, more remote regions where development aid is acutely needed are being ignored. Politics can also skew priorities, with companies looking to gain political goodwill by funding government-led projects rather than initiating more socially relevant initiatives which are thirsty for funds. Even as annual CSR expenditure is on the rise, the impact on the ground remains a matter of debate. CSR has usually been peripheral in most organisations, and it is not woven into the texture of business. Further, it is not always necessarily transparent or mission-oriented. It may be used for enhancing the brand’s reputation or to provide a cover of moral counterbalance for brushing off a besmirched public image or for camouflaging dark acts.

There is always a creative tension between social missions and business goals. Moreover, a significant amount of any CSR expenditure comes with strings attached. Some terms dictate exactly where and how funds must be used. While this may be appropriate in some cases, it reflects a serious lack of trust in the non-profit entities and hinders their ability to operate effectively. When donors insist that their money should go exclusively to the people served, there is not enough money left for the non-profit entities to focus on building their own organisations.

NGOs rightly argue that there should be enough money left for them to focus on building their own organisations. They are, therefore, unable to invest in talent, technology, systems, or reporting. Reporting requirements are often an onerous administrative burden on these small organisations which have to devote their scarce skills to educated, English-speaking personnel for writing reports for the donors rather than running the programmes. There are so many small organisations that handle all their professional work in-house. They could easily have given contracts to the swelling band of starry-eyed consultants, but they chose not to.

Instead, they send their own staff, so what the world sees of these organisations is not polished international jet-setters but workers of modest backgrounds and English language skills, lacking fluency but having a singleminded commitment in getting on with the job. They are happy to work long hours as long as they can find somewhere to cook essential food and sleep peacefully. Having come up the hard way, they are used to being relocated to different projects in the most inhospitable environments. These development agents are the proper conduits for reaching the deeper backwaters, which have more challenging geographical terrain and are centres of social schisms and extremist ideologies.

In such regions, donors also need to go beyond the sacred Trimurti ~ sustainability, replicability, and scalability ~ which should be restricted to mainland organisations. Too much insistence on technicalities leaves genuine development work out of the CSR net. A worm’s eye view is as critical as a bird’s eye view to ensure that projects deliver visible and lasting outcomes and leave a larger and lasting imprint. Sadly, so many organizations get adequate aid but sponge much of it for their perks and bonuses and are not fair to their grassroots employees, who are the real warriors.

A more important aspect of CSR that needs greater attention is the need for embedding CSR values in employees. It is only when employees align their social philosophy with that of their employers that the real benefits of CSR can materialise. A sincerely and honestly practised charity always delivers rich dividends in the long run. That is the lesson we learn from both philosophers and business leaders. It is wise to remind ourselves again of the advice of Henry Ford: “A business devoted to service will have only one worry about profits ~ they will be embarrassingly large.”

(The Statesman/ANN)



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Teaching feminism at SL universities

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A women’s right protest. (File Photo)

“Feminism is not a synonym for man hater though we need a new man now”:

By Aruni Samarakoon

Recently, I was in a discussion on Feminism with the members of the Post-Graduate Research (PGR) community at the University of Hull, in the United Kingdom. They were my colleagues, from the Middle-East, Asia and Europe, representing the natural and social sciences, but, apparently, did not possess any prior knowledge on feminism. I say this because most in the natural sciences seemed to characterise feminism as a political ideology against man (man in this context represents male). This discussion provoked me to recollect why feminism was stereotyped by these scholars, who were researching for their doctoral degrees at the time.

The objective of this article is to extend my argument of teaching feminism at the Sri Lankan universities in my last Kuppi column (25/10/2022), which drew attention to the gaps in teaching and learning feminism in the classroom and practicing it in everyday life.

I introduced the basic notion of feminism in my last Kuppi column, but would like to extend the conceptual understanding of feminism in a new direction, that is the notion that feminism is not an anti-man discourse. bell hooks—lowercase letters symbolise, for hooks, resistance to injustice and prejudice in the capitalist system or a “new language” of equality and justice for all—in Feminism for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000) states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… and it was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy ” (p.01). hooks’ proposition was further reinforced by socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham in her book, Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972). Rowbotham suggests that feminism is a new political project to empower both men and women and create a new man and woman. Notably, hooks and Rowbotham did not agree with ‘binary politics’ that constructs man as “enemy” and woman as “victim”.

Who is the “New Man”?

The political notion of the “New Man” was developed by Rowbotham. She critically examined women’s representation in post-French revolution politics and asked how the latter “represents the voice of women in the French Revolution”? She suggested that women moved once again into the second sex (subordinate role) paradigm at the end of the French Revolution as revolutionary politics turned into patriarchal politics. Therefore, she suggested the concept of “New Man,” a man who recognizes class and sex oppression as the primary determinants of exploitation. The “New Man” understands the equal significance of ending classism and sexism at once. I draw on hooks and Rowbotham to propose that a “new man” is a necessary condition for teaching and learning feminism at Sri Lankan universities.

The question is whether you see the “New Man” in any context in Sri Lanka? Let’s start with the recent peaceful uprising of “Gota- Go-Home-2022”. Revolutionary political agents of both male and female sex were visible at the beginning of the uprising. For example, the image of a woman carrying a child in one hand and a placard in the other went viral on social media. The female undergraduates were on the front lines of the protests, holding the banners and shouting the slogans. The activities of women in this scenario took me back to the French Revolution;

“The idea of a march of women to Versailles to stop the bloodshed spread in April 1871. Beatrice Excoffon, the daughter of a watchmaker who lived with a compositor, told her mother she was leaving, kissed her children and joined the procession at the Place de la Concorde. Nobody was clear about the aims of the march or knew definitely what they should do, but there were political rather than strictly economic motives” (Rowbotham, 1972, p.104).

The women who came to the streets in the Sri Lankan uprising had both political and economic motives. They were not certain about the plan, though their voice was to end the “dictatorship” and restore “democracy”. The fundamental question is where are these women now? How many of these women were in the political party negotiation table at the end of the uprising? How many were able to voice their political motives? I argue that these revolutionary women were thrown to their private spaces by the “Old-Man”- the agent of patriarchal politics. The irony is that the “Old-Man” was preoccupied in ending the dictatorship in parliament, while maintaining sexist dictatorship in their revolutionary political bodies. Thus the “New Man” is a necessary condition to practice feminism as political ideology for everybody.

“New Woman”

The aims of feminist academic discourse and activism were/are to raise women’s political consciousness and empower them to be the “New Woman”. The scholarship of hooks and Rowbotham interpret the “New Woman” as one who opposes patriarchal politics. The “New Woman” can be found today in every sector; these women are in a hard struggle to establish the “Woman’s identity” in those settings. For example, the underlying impetus driving the ongoing Iranian protest is to recognize Women’s identity as a human being. Tearing off their hair cover was a symbolic representation of their voice to get identified as human, in my interpretation. However, creating the “New Woman” is a contested and difficult political process. What is the role of teaching and learning feminism at universities in creating the “New Man” and “New Woman”?

“Learning outcomes” of Feminism

A key “learning outcome” of Feminist pedagogy would be to critically examine a given social reality. The given social reality contains the stereotypes, power hierarchies and objectification of the human body. Feminism then, will throw light on this social reality and raise the critical mindset of both woman and man to question that given social reality.

Feminism, in that case, plays the role of activism for social transformation. The focus of old school pedagogy was examining theory; activism was not a part of older pedagogical approaches. It was feminism that introduced activism as a new method of teaching and learning Amy K Levin states in Questions for a New Century: Women’s Studies and Integrative Learning (2007) that, “feminist studies programmes work to meet knowledge and skills goals and activism is the requirement of the course” (p.18). Connecting knowledge and personal experience is a part of feminist activism.

However, in the context of Sri Lankan universities, activism is yet to be recognized as a legitimate pedagogical activity. In my experience, the most university academics in Sri Lanka maintain a hierarchy of academia and activism. They tend to present the theoretical arguments of other prominent scholars in academic language, rarely understood by the public. In activism, the theoretical explanations are discussed in simple language and examples of everyday life are connected to theory, to engage the public.

In conclusion, the point of feminism is not an anti-man thesis, but to create the “New Man and Woman” . The “New Man ” concept in Sri Lanka can and must be improved and expanded by teaching feminism at higher education institutions. Training undergraduates in activism is necessary for social transformation, which should be the ultimate objective of education. It is worth noting that the Kuppi collective has taken the lead in discussing new approaches to education; feminism is part of that discussion.

(Aruni Samarakoon teaches at the Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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Indian model as wayforward

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President Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that district committees can be considered as part of the solution to the vexed problem of power sharing between the ethnic communities has caused a considerable furore in the Tamil community.  It came as both a shock and a disappointment as the president has also been speaking about fast-tracking the national reconciliation process. The president said he is ready to reintroduce District Development Councils when former president Maithripala Sirisena proposed setting up of district councils under the provincial councils as a cost cutting measure.  “Former President, I listened to your comments on District Development Councils and I am ready to do it,” the President is quoted as having said. Subsequently, the president’s media unit clarified that the President meant that the District Development Committees (DDCs) will be established within the Provincial Councils.

The president’s media unit further elaborated that the DDCs would provide a platform for coordination between the government, the provincial councils and the local governments for all executive decisions. It also said this will ensure the process is not duplicated and will reduce financial wastage.  The concept of the district as the unit of devolution was tried before in 1981 by the president’s uncle, the late president J R Jayewardene during whose period the government established DDCs to be part of the solution to the ethnic conflict that was getting worse by the day.  The Sri Lankan security forces had been ordered to control the growing Tamil militancy.  The security forces were armed not only with guns but also with the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was abused then as it is abused today though to a much greater extent then, than it is now.

The memory of the brief period of the DDCs is an unhappy one to the Tamil community.  The elections to the DDC were contested by the ruling party, the UNP, to which the president belongs.  The government’s attempt to rig those elections and win them at any cost led to the catastrophic burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981.  This seat of learning was one of the most sacrosanct institutions of Tamil civilisation that symbolised the high quality of education in the north of the country that was the envy of other parts of the country.  It is therefore not surprising that the president’s media unit was quick to deny the very negative inferences made with regard to the president’s speech.

REINTERPRETING WORDS

The president’s media unit can be relied upon to accurately portray the president’s cryptic remark with regard to his willingness to resuscitate the district council system.  However, the very idea of creating a complex platform for coordinating the central government, provincial councils and local government bodies for all executive decisions seems to be a difficult task.  It runs the real risk of killing any possibility of decision making through a multiplicity of committees.  Coordination within one level of the government is difficult enough.  Coordinating between multiple levels will be even more difficult.  There have been issues when two drivers sit at the wheel. Who does the Government Agent in a district report to as he also serves as the District Secretary? What is the protocol when a central deputy minister and provincial minister attend a formal meeting?

The questions noted above have been raised in the past and many remain unresolved and making further units of devolution will be confusion compounded. The irrelevance of the proposed district committees to the solution of the ethnic conflict can be seen by another problem.  The provincial councils, which were formulated to be the solution to the ethnic conflict, and to represent the wishes of the people of each province, do nothing of the sort at the present time, as they are non-functional where people’s representation is concerned.  For the past four years, the provincial councils have only been administrative bodies run by a presidentially appointed governor who can act, and does act arbitrarily, without consulting the people of the province.  During this period, elections to the provincial councils have not been held.  Far from being institutions of devolved power, the provincial councils now represent the centralised power of the state, both unfortunately and perniciously.

The ability of the government to neutralise the provincial councils by the undemocratic method of not permitting elections to be held for 4 years gives impetus to the Tamil community’s rejection of them.  The provincial councils were brought into existence in 1987 as the main democratic part of the solution to the ethnic conflict. They were meant to provide the people of each province with the power to decide on locally relevant matters.  But this right has been denied to them.  This would be the main reason why the demand for federalism is once again coming to the fore. In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court in August 2017 with Chief Justice Priyasath Dep presiding ruled that “Advocating for a Federal form of Government within the existing State could not be considered as advocating Separatism.” The court dismissed a petition that ITAK (or Federal Party) had, as one of its “aims” and “objects” the establishment of a Separate State.

POSITIVE RESPONSE

The TNA which is the largest Tamil party (with ITAK as its major component) has responded positively to the president’s announcement that he intends to seek a solution to the ethnic conflict by the 75th anniversary of Independence.  They have said that they will seek a solution on the basis of federalism.  Their spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran has pointed out that there are more than 25 countries in the world which have federal system and they are very much united, and contain over 40 percent of the world’s population.  The United States, India, Switzerland and Malaysia are examples of federal states.  The key feature in a federal state is that the government will not be able to change the way a provincial council is governed.  Certainly, the government will not be able to arbitrarily postpone elections to a provincial council for four years and then run it centrally through a governor of its own choice.

On the other hand, from the time that the Tamil polity has asked for federalism, beginning in the 1950s, the Sinhalese polity has rejected it as being injurious to the country’s national sovereignty and security.  There is misapprehension that federalism might be the first step to secession. The examples of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are given as examples of federal states that broke up on the lines of their federal units.  The Sinhalese position is that a unitary form of government would protect the country from being divided in this manner.  However, even unitary states have been divided if they did not manage their ethnic relations in a constructive manner as was the case in Sudan (which divided into South Sudan) and Serbia (Kosovo). The enlightened reasoning and decision of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2017 needs to be explained to the political parties and to the general population.

The 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote “For Forms of Government let fools contest whatever is best administered is best.”  Just across the seas from Sri Lanka the world has a good example of a diverse and huge country that has held together as one and is now getting stronger and stronger, both in terms of its economic might, but also its international stature.  The Indian form of government is neither wholly federal nor wholly unitary, but can take on aspects of either as the situation demands.  In times of peace it is federal, in times of stress it can become unitary.  This was the solution that India and Sri Lanka agreed to in the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and which was distorted in the 13th Amendment.  Recently in parliament, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa went one step forward to say he was for discussions on 13th Amendment plus. India has been Sri Lanka’s best saviour at the present time in terms of the economic crisis, giving Sri Lanka far more than other countries.  With India’s political support to a political solution based on its own learning and experience, a viable solution can be found and Sri Lanka can forge ahead as a truly united nation to economic development.

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Top acts heading overseas…for 31st night

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Sohan & The X-Periments, and the new-look Mirage outfit, will not be around to usher in the New Year – 2023.

While The X-Periments will take a break, from 31st night activities, their leader Sohan will be away, in the UK, making sure that the folks, over there, have a ball, as the New Year approaches…and after!

He will be at the Honeymoon Banquet Hall, in Hounslow, London, together with the band Roots, and guest artiste Damin David – UK Lankan’s Voice Winner – to welcome 2023.

This dinner dance will commence at 7.00 pm and wind up at 1.00 am, and will be held in typical Sri Lankan style, with kiribath, tea, coffee, after the countdown.

Among the highlights will be the selection of the New Year Queen.

This will be Sohan’s third trip to the UK, for this year, and it did come as a surprise, he says, adding that he is glad that he is in demand in the UK, as well.

Sohan will also take wing for Australia, to perform at a very important event – a concert to honour the late Desmond de Silva.

It will be held on 11th, February, 2023, in New South Wales, and will also feature Mignonne and Suraj, Melantha Perera, Mariazelle, Corrine, and Sohan Pieris, among others.

Honouring the legend…Desmond de Silva

This concert will showcase the music from Desmond’s incredible musical journey…with the Spitfires, Jetliners, Foreign Affair (UK), Replay 6, Desmond and The Impressions, and the baila king himself, in ‘hologram.’

In the meanwhile, the new-look Mirage, who captivated a full house at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, Mount Lavinia, last Friday night – December 2nd – is scheduled to head for Oman for two important seasonal gigs – on 23rd December and 31st December.

On Friday, the 23rd, they will be at the Grand Hall, Al Falaj Hotel, in Muscat, for ‘Sri Lankan Musical Night’ – from 3.00 pm onwards.

In addition to their Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gigs, the General Manager of the Al Falaj Hotel, Praveen George, indicated to me that Mirage will also be seen in action at a few more events, in Oman.

Down Under, too, elaborate plans are being made to celebrate the dawning of another New Year.

Two popular bands, in Melbourne, Replay 6 and Ebony, will be at the Grand On Princess, to provide the right kind of music to make this New Year’s Dinner Dance nostalgic.

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