The Jakarta Post, Tue, 12/09/2008 11:00 AM
At a conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR) I attended, a keynote speaker said something that really struck a chord.
"Once somebody asked me if Indonesian companies should have CSR policies. Upon hearing that of course I spontaneously responded that companies are not the only entities that should have CSR policies," the keynote speaker said.
"Each and every individual should take part in (something akin to) CSR in his or her daily life."
The statement made me think.
Amid the hardship of the global financial crisis, every person is responsible for helping others.
Let us call it "personal social responsibility" or PSR.
I work for a company whose CSR programs are focused on benefiting people living near the company's facilities. Furthermore, they try to make a difference in areas that professionals typically deal with, such as good governance and occupational health and safety.
I think that is how we should implement our own individual PSR policies: to benefit people close to us. Furthermore, PSR should be carried out with a strong commitment and with sincerity of the heart.
Let us start with two of my friends, a husband and a wife, Ichsan and Indah. From 2006 to early 2008, both of them taught English to office boys at their office.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the office boys learned how to read and write simple English free of charge. Moreover, the module for training, exercises and lesson books were prepared by the tutoring couple. And every three months, Ichsan and Indah tested their students to monitor their progress.
They told me that the most rewarding thing for them occurred during their farewell party before leaving for England, as Ichsan had won a scholarship to study there.
One of the office boys made a speech in English, and although short and simple, there were no grammatical errors and each word was perfectly pronounced.
All of the time and effort they had put into teaching the workers was worth it, they said.
Another friend has another story.
Rizka is a graphic designer for a consulting company in Jakarta. With a penchant for photography, the art form became her means to help unemployed teenagers in her neighborhood through her own PSR program.
She decided to make a change.
Armed with two used cameras, Rizka teaches some of those teenagers photography every Sunday afternoon.
She is remarkably committed; it is not easy to teach teenagers something new. The lessons are squeezed into her already tight work schedule. She makes the time to teach, take the teenagers on excursions to Jakarta's Old Town area, hunt for good snaps and help the teenagers edit the photos on a computer.
Rizka only has one aspiration: for at least one of the neighborhood teens to earn a living by establishing a photography service for neighborhood weddings and parties.
So, what about me?
To be honest, I am still learning how to carry out PSR well. I have started with small things.
Since 2007, I have lent money to a worker at my former office. She was a high school graduate, and I gave her a zero-interest loan to pay for her tuition fees for college.
She can pay off the loan in installments over five years. Every month, she will pay me an agreed amount that will not burden her.
You may ask, perhaps, why did I not simply give her the money?
Firstly, I expect the money to be returned so I can use it to help others in the future.
Secondly, I really want her to be independent. By finally paying off the loan she will have actually paid for her own education. This is an amazing achievement. Even those with money may not be able to afford their own education, depending on their parents instead.
But providing money without providing time and energy is not true PSR. So we agreed to meet twice every month to help her with her academic tasks, particularly in English and computers.
Every two weeks, I personally meet with her to understand the tasks she is working on. I never feel like I have lost time and money providing such assistance because I believe PSR without personal assistance is halfhearted.
You cannot just give someone a fishing rod and then instantly expect fish. You have to spend time training them -- from finding the bait to catching and selling the fish.
Assistance is an absolute requirement in PSR. And through assistance we invest our time, money and energy. This is much more challenging than simply giving money.
Really it is only challenging because boredom and other obstacles arise. But commitment and sincerity spur PSR along.
I am not telling you the things that my friends and I have done to brag. I know what we have done may be very small compared to what others have done.
But what I do want to point out is that good things come in small packages.
I hope this story can inspire.
So, is the math geek in you interested in giving free lessons to poor children in your neighborhood? Does the Koran reader in you want to give free reading lessons to those who cannot read Arabic? Is the chef in you interested in giving cooking lessons to mothers so they can, perhaps, open a small catering business?
Let us learn to be bold and invest our money and our spirit in the people and the community. When given sincerely, it is an investment that not only impacts the giver, but also the receivers, the community and the part of the world where we live.