An acquaintance I once met on a pumpkin carriage (let’s call her Cinderella) spoke to me, over a 40-minute journey, of the wrath of being a full-time ‘slave’ in a non-profit organisation. With very little funding and very dependent on the government’s grants, they are often left to fend for themselves under the wretched grasps of their volunteers. ‘Wretched grasps?’ I asked curiously. ‘B.. but aren’t volunteers people with big hearts and lots of love??’ I was met with a ‘you’re-not-really-serious-right?’ look.
Apparently, volunteers these days are no longer how they should be. I was told, ‘plain benevolence and chivalry have been long dead and volunteers these days volunteer only because it would help them climb up some social ladder or up their public profile in the media pages’. I thought that was a little too harsh, to say that ALL volunteers only have ulterior motives for volunteering. I mean there must be at least one real soul who, from the bottom of his heart, wants to right one of nature’s wrongs or care for one of man’s abandoned child? Somewhere out there, there must be a modern day Robin Hood who’s willing to step out and give to the world on no condition, no?
‘Well, no. In actual fact, it seems like the norm for volunteers to treat organisations that they volunteer at as a punching bag, vast grounds for them to vent their anger. And it seems that because they are not remunerated in monetary terms, it gives them the right to do as they please and abuse us full-time staff!’
One big gulp of air, and the ranting continued, ‘I think that they are so mean to us because they have no power or outlet to vent their frustrations from work and home. So where else but the place that they volunteer at? For the plain, simple reason that “I’m rendering my services for free hence you have to be at my back and call”. You know what, they don’t even do anything substantial. All they do is give the full-time staff more problems and play politics. The work still ends up in our laps so why do we even need them in the first place? Hell, they must be damn deprived in their other lives.’
Added Cinderella, ‘and you know those companies who so openly publicize and brag about their corporate social responsibility, well wake up sister because it’s nothing but a PR ploy for companies to up their game. You can’t really think that the multi-billion property development company gives two hoots about the kids who cross the bridge that they built? Or how many lives the hospital that they built in some backward Southeast Asian country would save? Hell, no!!’ and I was left in awe.
In actual fact, I do not blame Cinderella’s cynicism. And before I could react, she whipped out her Apple and showed me the following video:
The video was heart-warming and emitted hope for those who thought it was lost.
‘I really don’t think you want to know how many third-world countries the cost of producing this video could feed’, Cinderella obviously read my thoughts and immediately broke my bubble. Yet surprisingly, I do not disagree with her and actually understood where she was coming from.
Shortly after our meeting, her words really got me thinking and I started to do a little research of my own. The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO; abbreviation seems a little off) launched in 2010, the ISO 26000 – Guidelines for Social Responsibility. This set of guidelines aims to be a first step in helping all types of organisations in both the public and private sectors to consider implementing ISO 26000 as a way to achieve the benefits of operating in a socially responsible manner.
While the ISO 26000 is indeed a good initiative to increase awareness and the need for social responsibility, companies seem to be on the verge of abusing the goodwill of these initiatives. Most companies, if not all, see the PR benefits of contributing to society as well as the competitive advantage and positive reputation that it would provide them with, especially after the negative name that hit Nike after they were exposed of employing child labour in third world countries. Soon, one after another follow suit to release this worldwide phenomenon of corporate social responsibility and through beautiful and heart-wrenching videos, they announce their participation to the world.
This really got me fretting. If being socially responsible did not give corporates so much PR and public awareness value in return, would they still do it? I choose to believe that there are still modern day robin hoods amongst us but the Mr Hyde in me is saying no. However, I’m not a cynic (well, maybe a little) but definitely a sceptic and I think I will from now on look at volunteers and Multi-National Companies’ corporate social responsibility initiatives with a pinch of salt.