No time for apathy

This week I went to see Nelson Mandela at Trafalgar Square, London. The turnout transformed the square into a giant beehive. Mr Mandela was part of a number of launch events for the ‘MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY’ initiative (please visit . This group brings together a wide cross section of over 200 charities, campaigns, trade unions, faith groups and celebrities who are united by a common belief that 2005 offers a great opportunity for global change. I could not help thinking while I stood there, what more can we could do? How can we harness the empathy that everyone was exhibiting? Sure, 20,000 of us stood in Trafalgar Square in solidarity for the cause. We all cheered unanimously for the need for us to rid the world of the scar of poverty. We all loved it when Bob Geldof yelled, ‘I’m tired of politics being nice. I want politics to be responsible’. We collectively roared in agreement to Mr Mandela declaration that, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

However, what does being responsible actually mean? Interestingly, earlier in the week in Switzerland, the Davos forum was concluded. Also known as the world economic forum, it was founded in 1971 by a Swiss economics professor. Its motto is ‘committed to improving the state of the world’. This year’s agenda included coverage of African poverty, climate change and Middle East change. During five days of forums and 200 sessions, it was good to see attendance from 96 countries, 23 heads of state, 72 cabinet ministers, 35 ambassadors and 500 business leaders. In summary, many people and ideas for action were raised. At one of the earlier sessions, Hollywood actress Sharon Stone, stood up and amazingly raised £1,000,000 in 5 minutes. Money can certainly help but I believe there is something within our own social fabric that needs to change. Consider for example, corporate responsibility. A leading computer company’s ceo recently suggested that it was now no longer enough for firms to develop profits for shareholders. It should not be a case of making good (money), we should also consider delivering good. Although many economists may argue that, it is either the shareholder or the customer/buyer that has to ‘pay’ for this good. NB A redundant but full bank account in the possession of an already rich organisation fails to deliver benefits to anyone.The potential to deliver good certainly exists, from both a monetary and programme perspective. Lets consider a recent oil company’s profit announcement of £9.3M, up 38% from the previous year. We will need to examine the ratio or proportion of profit made and compare this to how much this organisation has ploughed into charity funds or help initiatives.

The politics of being responsible starts with us. We need to unite to demand that our retail chains and suppliers understand the meaning of delivering good & social responsibility. The irony is that we make-up and ‘drive’ these firms! What appears to be obstacle? My view is that it could be the nature of our day-to-day dependencies and obsession with looking after ‘number 1’. Has there ever been a performance appraisal scheme that incorporates the welfare of others? In addition, corporations are not forthcoming in suggesting secondments and sabbaticals for voluntary schemes. Corporate global improvement programmes exist but is there linkage between any of them? For example, is there a fund available for African development focused on delivering clean water by a consortium or membership of firms? If so, good, lets all work towards supporting it and in contributing resources that can provide expertise, outside of our work dimension.

Its easy to be apathetic but unless we suggest to the organisations we work for and the governments we vote in to encourage a ‘joined-up’ world, we will become an even more divided world and poverty will remain a scar on our society, in our current generation. Our conscience must be committed to sharing our wealth and energies.

Categories: 2005

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