Thursday, 6 May 2010

Givers and takers

I attended a fascinating evening last night organised by the excellent Carole Stone. The Stone Group organises debates and events throughout the year which you can attend for a fee as a member and discuss with the good and the great. It's a bit like BBC Question Time but better and the questions aren't fixed - well I don't think they're fixed. There's a questionnaire on various issues which is sent out via email and the results help to add another dimension to the debate. The last one I attended was on education which I went to when researching 'Battle for Big School'. There was lots of shouting.  

This discussion for the evening was 'You can create wealth by giving it away'. They didn't define the 'you' or the 'it' but I presumed the 'you' was to do with wealthy individuals - Bill Gates et al and the Cadbury's and the 'it' was wealth - money wealth, rather than the wealth in a feel good sense of spiritual worth.  

The debate had some very interesting speakers, some of whom I think spoke from the heart and experience, others who appeared superficial and shallow. The debate was set at the HQ of KPMG, who gave good PR by telling the audience their company have huge social awareness and told us what they do. Having listened to the talking heads and Andrew Neil who was moderating the evening, I must admit the philanthropy - the genuine sort (ie give without the 'what's in it for me' come back)- comes from individuals, not companies, unless it is family led. I don't believe as one of the speakers commented 'business has a contract with society'. Another mentioned that CEOs have big hearts. Those I've met have big egos and a keen interest in the bottom line, but their hearts have nothing to do with their business. To hope that companies have a social conscious is wishful thinking. I'm told it's different in the States and things are gradually changing but as a journalist commented when I told him I was going to this event 'they give when they have so much money the guilt eventually sets in, but they have to have an awful lot of money before it triggers.' The banks who are more than able to filter off money to charities fail to do so. Mind you, charities should get their act together, and its shameful that more is given to donkeys in this country than to kids charities. We have all lost the plot not just the companies. My view for what it's worth is companies will never give unless it is made in their interest to do so - that they are penalised if they don't. And it's weaved into their structure of business if they don't. Since the meeting I've been told about companies who have spent time and money on sustainability - a word that came up a lot in the debate. I've been at those meetings when that word has come up. It's at the bottom of the minutes and it's given scant time and interest, because it doesn't make 'wealth' and the PR gleaned from it, whatever some of those who spoke last night said, it negligible. Even the recent attempt at the Robin Hood tax on bank transactions has received little interest. Their business is to make money. It is in their DNA. They do not believe 'giving' in the sense we were discussing last night makes wealth, or the sort of 'riches' they find of interest. Philanthropy they have researched does not make money or wealth. If it did, they would do it. And their understanding of 'wealth' is limited to that of the monetary variety. Any other sort doesn't make an impact on the bottom line. And that is all they care about. That is, as one person said to me after the event (a CEO actually) they care about. But a very interesting debate.

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