Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts

We are at our best when we serve others.

The below post on X got me thinking –

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilisation in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilisation in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts, Mead said.”

As I look at the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in India and its celebration over a decade since the law came into force, I cannot but help think whether it was Margaret Mead with her wisdom who set the ball rolling on the impact doing good can do.

Many corporates still cringe at the thought of a legal mandate to doing good. ‘It is like a Damocles sword hanging over our head’, said one managing director to me years ago. Yet another echoed what I have been seeing around, ‘It is a name and shame activity.’ ‘We would rather give the money away to a government driven scheme than have hire people and get into monitoring and the whole shenanigans associated with CSR’, said a third leader.

The key issue that gives birth to the above mindset is not hiring qualified CSR professionals to drive the role. I continue to see this function being passed on as an additional burden to either marketing or communications, and in worst case, to HR!

The role of a CSR leader is equally strategic and critical to the business as is any other role. The downgrading is due to little or no understanding of the role and the importance it plays in laying the ground for businesses to operate seamlessly across geographies. It is also the inability of leaders to connect the dots to the overall brand and reputation of the business.

India is a vast and complex country. Each State poses a unique and different challenge that can impede the smooth functioning of a business. CSR activities aligned with the local State priorities can act as a strong lever to gain quicker approvals for businesses. Involvement of the local bureaucrats and ministers can drive a well-designed program that is a win-win for all the stakeholders. Do not forget that your on-ground implementation partner can play a pivotal role in being the advocate for you with the local State authorities. Learn to harness this low hanging fruit!

Businesses can also leverage the good work done to showcase it to the government. Documentation of impact and outcomes can create a big shift in how government views a particular business. CSR impact can be a part of the overall public affairs dossier that is prepared by businesses. It can be a strong tool for building and later consolidating the business reputation within the country and region.

Within all this, we should not forget what we began with – the role of strategic CSR in helping civilisations. The CSR law has done well in outlining the population that needs to benefit from CSR funding and projects.

Reaching out to marginalised communities and ensuring sustainable programs that can bring about change is the way we can all support humanity and civilisation.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

Be the first to comment on "Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.