THE Prime Minister said on Tuesday that “it is clear that we need to move CSR up the business agenda and embed it into the DNA of every company in Malaysia”.
He told the business community, when presenting the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards 2009, that “it is in your own best interests to bring the poorest and least privileged into mainstream economic activities.”
It is probably true that not every company automatically addresses the CSR agenda when it has to constantly watch its bottom line. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that many companies already have CSR embedded in their DNA, but they do not like to shout about it.
Also, the CSR agenda is often determined by the flavours of the day. In the Malaysian context, this often has to do with what the big boys are doing and where the media attention is. Which in turn is determined by what the international flavour is.
But if you look hard enough, you will see CSR opportunities everywhere.
Allow me to share this story with you.
In a nondescript part of Section 17 in Petaling Jaya, on a hot Saturday afternoon, more than 200 people showed up for a celebration with a difference.
The occasion was the opening of the United Voice (UV) building, a double-storey shoplot that has been home to members of this self-support group for people with learning disabilities over the past seven years.
Through the generosity of the owner, they had occupied the premises rent-free but when it was up for sale, they wondered if they could actually own the building.
Although they had seed money of RM30,000 from Dignity and Services, the parent advocacy group that started off United Voice, they needed to raise RM1mil to purchase the property and undertake the necessary renovations.
The dream was put on hold until two years ago when the fund-raising began in earnest.
Johari Jamili, UV president since 2004, was beaming with pride. It was another feather in the cap for this passionate individual who was recently named as the Orang Kurang Upaya Cemerlang in the Learning Disability category by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Through UV, he has not only motivated his members to believe in themselves, but has also taken the message throughout the country which has resulted in the setting up of similar self-support groups nationwide.
Club secretary Esther Moo did a great job as emcee. As I looked around, my heart was really warmed. It was not just the weather. Here I saw such a multi-racial group, drawn together by a common disability, seeking to do their part to make our world a better place.
I have been to my fair share of events when major companies unveil their new buildings. Normally, a VVIP will be in attendance. The press will be there is full force. And we can expect the entertainment and food to be top-class.
But on that hot afternoon, I saw very ordinary people with extraordinary capabilities.
The VIP for that day, if you can call him that, was Peter Young, one of the true pioneers of social work in the country. It was Young who first advocated that people with learning disabilities in Malaysia should run their own society.
When the just retired director of the Welfare Department, Datuk Shamsiah Abdul Rahman, gave her speech, she related how the ministry wanted to start a programme to create more self-support groups for the disabled in the country.
She had thought that they would have to start from scratch, but when she was introduced to UV, she realised that much of the work is already done. The Government would have to learn from them, she said.
Although UV is fairly independent, it still needs the help of supporting friends, and one of them is Yeo Swee Lan. She has helped spread the message of self-advocacy over the years by interacting with the government and private sectors on how they can do their part to help these people achieve real independence.
In recent years, many of the UV members have found meaningful employment in the market place. But much more needs to be done.
What these people need, and want, is not charity, but a proper employment cheque. I looked at Esther and I wondered if any major corporation would ever consider asking her to be an emcee for their event, instead of always going to the famous celebrities.
Little steps can indeed make a lot of difference.
Some years back, I accompanied Johari to a pre-budget event when he made his case in front of the then Prime Minister. After he spoke, the PM remarked, “You sound okay to me. You are confident and know what you are talking about.”
Sir, Johari replied, I have had the benefit of spending some years overseas when I was given every opportunity to excel in what I do. There was official support in all areas. It is not the same here.
Today, I am glad that the official side is waking up to the role they have to play to give these people a leg up, and not always feel that those who work in charity will always be there for them.
I am glad that it was the PM’s department that gave the final RM150,000 to complete UV’s fund-raising acitivities. Now it must move the system and push Corporate Malaysia to do its part.
So where are the CSR opportunities that can be found simply by reading this story?
1. Hire Johari as your corporate communications head. 2. Commit your company to have at least two disabled persons on your staff. 3. Put the workers at such organisations on your payroll so that the running costs are minimised. 3. Pick up the utilities bills. 4. Buy their products, like their greeting cards and artwork, and proudly distribute them to your clients. 5. Give them a chance to emcee at your corporate events. 6. Allow your staff to volunteer at the centre.
There are many such scenarios around the country. To practise CSR does not require you to embrace the most prominent groups or the ones that will maximise your media coverage. The people who need you the most may be at your very doorstep.
● Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is terribly impressed with the group of four ladies, Datin Joan Hoi, Dr Violet How, Rita Low and Catherine Choong, who raised more than RM400,000 for UV through three fund-raising projects. He has to declare his interest in the learning disabled by revealing that he used to serve as a director at Dignity and Services.