It is that time of the year when Kenyan companies remember the sick, homeless, the aged and the needy as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Other variants of CSR include corporate citizenship, benevolence and philanthropy, since CSR became a buzzword for showing care to communities who consume corporate products, be it goods or services.
Efforts, for instance, for a local tobacco manufacturer to sponsor lung cancer treatment as part of its CSR were thwarted and the same would happen if a beer maker proposes to fund a liver unit at any of our level-five referral hospitals.
That said, CSR activities encompass poverty alleviation, health, education, HIV/Aids, skills development, youth and women empowerment, community development, entrepreneurship, sports, environmental care, human rights, corruption and governance.
Largely borrowed from Western countries as part of ‘ethical consumerism’, CSR in Kenya has largely been misunderstood, misused and abused due to its “relative theoretical underdevelopment and inappropriate contextual application,” as Thomas Kimeli Cheruiyot and Daniel Tarus informs us in Corporate Social Responsibility in Kenya: Reflections and Implications, published in 2016.
Anchored on cultural and communal context and the spirit of harambee which advocates for collective good rather than individual gain, CSR has faced many challenges, chief among them a ‘top-down’ mentality, in which ‘town people’ from the centre (Nairobi) move in an ‘alms convoy’ to the periphery (rural Kenya) to offer zakat (charity) to the needy.
It was evident during the famine that ravaged the country in 2011 when CEOs of billion-shilling turnover corporations made a beeline to Turkana spotting sunglasses (in celebrity style) in dusty hamlets with endless queues of the famished forming the background to their television interviews.
Sadly though, lack of local knowledge among what the Turkana call the ngimoi (town people), in some cases proved comical.
The head of CSR in most companies tend to be women. The patriarchy of the Turkana was such that men could not queue to receive gorogoro of maize from women!
The most farcical, however, was the local entity that took its sanitary pads campaign to Turkana in the wake of revelations that in most communities, their absence due to lack of access and expense had the girl-child missing out on school during ‘that time of the month.’
With the media on board, the ‘charity convoy’ took sanitary pads to hot Turkana, but there was a problem: the descendants of Eve in Turkana hardly wear underpants!
Now picture the entire party of ngimoi boarding an aircraft back to the city to buy ngotha first, before a return trip to distribute sanitary pad to the periphery!
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