Chairman of the newly-formed CSR Lanka Ltd. Chandula Abeywickrema says that Sri Lanka is sitting on a social time bomb, and it is only a matter of time before there is youth unrest due to unemployment.
What is worse is that the corporate sector, which would be most affected by this, seems to be sitting pretty, without understanding what lies in the future.
Abeywickrema is strongly of the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) must be looked at from a different perspective than what it is now.
“We are at present looking at our social responsibility projects on a very ad hoc basis. Every year, close to three to four billion rupees is spent collectively by the corporate sector of our country. But because of the ‘here a little, there a little’ methods that are being used, we are not able to address the larger issues at hand.”
The Chairman of CSR Lanka says: “We’ve had three youth uprisings in the past; two in the south and then the biggest one in the north. Thousands and thousands of our youth died. The root cause for all of them was economic non-inclusion.”
Triple bottom line
Commenting on the triple bottom line aspect, which is Profit People Planet (PPP), he says that none of the large corporates who are talking about GRI and sustainability show separate balance sheets for people or planet.
“I myself have operated in the corporate world, and know that none of these corporates in their board meetings really concentrate on the triple bottom line aspect even though it’s talked of. What do I mean by this? For instance, if you are actually reporting triple bottom line, there should be a balance sheet for people, where the top line and the bottom line should show how much the organisation has contributed towards bringing the poverty headcount down i.e. poverty elevation, inclusion, economic equality inclusion, employment generation, direct, indirect, etc.
“And when it comes to planet, there should be another balance sheet giving a profit analysis top line and bottom line, as to how the organisation has contributed towards energy conservation, pollution, etc. Without these balance sheets you cannot call yourself a triple bottom line company.”
He says that all the organisations have just one balance sheet, which only covers the profit side of their business with CSR shown as just a small window dressing.
According to a survey done by CSR Lanka, 40 companies collectively spend Rs. 4 billion on CSR per annum. There are some companies who allocate millions of rupees annually for CSR, but it is split into various different projects; sometimes health, sometimes water, education, environment or planting of trees.
“Somebody comes and asks them to do something, and they plug in there. I know this from my own experience. Therefore, to give you an example, if you take just two billion out of the four billion spent, you can set up at least two top class vocational centres in the Uva and the Southern Provinces of Sri Lanka, so that the youth in those very difficult parts of the country can benefit. That’s the kind of project that is required.”
According to the Chairman, the private sector is concentrating too much on the sustainability slogan, which has a heavier connotation on planet and somehow seems to take the word ‘Social’ out of CSR. “That is how the private sector today is going without identifying the time bomb that’s under their very feet,” he says.
“About six months ago, there were 10,000 Korean jobs and 200,000 applied; 20,000 people came to Colombo to get an application, only 10,000 got jobs, leaving a deficit of 190,000. Every year 450,000 people sit for Ordinary Level examinations; out of that number 200,000 get qualified to do Advanced Levels. From Advanced Levels, 120,000 get qualified to enter university but only 20,000 get entrance. So this 400,000 never become carpenters, electricians or masons. They are looking for white-collar jobs. That’s why I say the private sector has no understanding of this situation.”
According to CSR Lanka’s statistics every year, there are 420,000 people who cross the threshold of Ordinary Levels, and would never want to become a mason, electrician, carpenter or a skilled worker. There is an urgent need for the country’s private sector recognises this.
“Therefore, instead of planting trees and decorating themselves for environmental sustainability projects, they need to concentrate on the people who without the ability to put food on the table will anyway destroy the planet. That is the message we need to get across to our private sector,” he says.
He says that even the advocacy and awareness creation is done with vested interests, not with open heartedness or genuine interest.
“That is something we want to address, one of the key things I want to advocate through this forum is to direct the private sector to be very serious and genuine; if you are saying that you are a triple bottom line company with conviction, then introduce the other balance sheets to your P&L for board deliberation. Let the board know how much the organisation’s top and bottom line contributes to people and plant.”