When people talk of giving and charity the first thought is usually of the kind acts that individuals do for others. Charity may begin at home, but it certainly does not end there. Many businesses make giving a fundamental part of their mission. From the small grass-roots enterprises to multinational organizations, businesses often like to give back to society.
Although charity is a totally voluntary choice, some people feel that corporate responsibility is grey area. A company may conduct business in an area to take advantage of cheap resources, land and labor, but a good business will make efforts to bring about change in the areas it works.
This is really the core of corporate responsibility. But how does a business get good information on what is really happening outside of its walls?
In recent years there has been many developments in the field of social media and human rights. Various organizations provide the tools to allow individuals, those first affected by problems on the street, to alert others of problems.
Technologies such as geotagging, social media, SMS, satellite imagery and electronic mapping have been combined to provide people with a picture of what is really happening around them. This is giving companies to power to then use their resources and connections to make positive changes. Here are a few examples.
It is hard to write about business, technology and charity without mentioning Google. Google manage and report that charitable work through Google.org, “The philanthropic arm of Google”. In 2011 Google gave $40 million to a range of organizations that includes those the strive to improve girls education and combat modern slavery and sex-trafficking.
Human trafficking is a huge problem for businesses working overseas. India, which now has a population of over 1 billion people, is thought to have somewhere in the region of 20 to 60 million people living in forced labor, sex work and some are even forced to work as terrorists, beggars and thieves. India is a growing economy and many companies outsource to India without any thought of why the labor is so cheap.
But Google’s work extends beyond the structured giving. When the tsunami struck Japan earlier this year Google employees worked around the clock to set up a new service to help people locate missing friends and relatives. During the Egyptian uprisings a team at Google worked with Twitter to produce a new service that allows people to anonymously send Tweets by voicemail.
There were projects done spontaneously by Google employees (Googlers) who wanted to help the community. They only needed to invest some of their time and skills to make a real and positive impact.
Staying in the technology world, the The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, created by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, was ranked in 2007 as the second most generous charitable foundation in America. Warren Buffett still ranks above Bill & Melinda Gates.
This foundation is working in global development, global health and also run a United States Program. They are using their resources to help end polio, fight malaria and improve water supplies and sanitation. They also work with schools and libraries, agricultural development and provide financial services.
In American the College Ready program was set up to help K-12 students to realize their full potential and graduate on time.
Of course, we cannot all be like Google and Microsoft. The economic crisis that we are facing means that this year people and small businesses are giving less to charity (around 34% less according to The Guardian). Combined with government cuts many charities are struggling to support the community. So what can be done at the grass-roots level?
Simple voluntary work, such as helping the aged, helping local groups to arrange fund-raising events. Earlier this month in Essex, UK, a retired dock worker was in the news for donating just over £3000 (around $4600) to a local charity that provides specialise care for disabled children.
In Houston, Texas, a local businessman, Simon Lee, gave half of his profits to charity. In fact, he now gives around $40,000 a year to 11 different charities, from local homeless shelters to emergency aid in Africa.
It is these small acts of kindness which really make a difference. Although many people are suffering as the result of the economic crisis we are experiencing, many others do have a little extra that they can afford to give back to society.
Maybe if you take a look around you and dig deep you will be able to find a way to give a little back this year.