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Personal Finance

Be wary of corporate chest-thumping stunts

 

Many species all over the planet prove selfish in order to survive. Male lions kill the cubs fathered by other males when they take over a new pride, dogs will fight ferociously not to share their food, and the praying mantis female devours her mate. Humans find such behaviour reprehensible. Then we marvel at the perceived teamwork of some other animals such as ants, dolphins, and chimpanzees.

As a social species whose very survival depends on our ability over the millennia to work together, humans thrive as hardwired to abhor self-centred acts when we see them in others while championing those we view as selfless.

Selfish behaviour within social circles often comes with some form of social punishment from avoiding self-interested friends and pushing them out of our networks. Such cultural penalties keep people within societies from committing the most heinous selfish acts in public.

Inasmuch, we do not see individuals walking up to young children eating and then blatantly steal their food or rob the clothes of an elderly person’s back because there would be immediate and severe social castigation.

So, over the ages, people who hold some sort of power, whether economic, political, or social, over others found more clever, sneaky, and indirect ways to bear out selfish deeds while hiding in cloaks of respectability so as to not upset the masses and receive social reprimands and retribution.

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Much of the public conversation mitigating the selfish behaviour of political leaders ignores the selfish actions of corporations.

In other areas of the world such as Europe, North America, or Northeast Asia, corporations tend to receive the lion’s share of social wrath on corporate selfishness and greed.

In the days of old, major titans of the industry reported feeling guilty about their amassed wealth, such as steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who founded the now famous Carnegie Foundation or industrialist John D. Rockefeller who set up the prolific Rockefeller Foundation.

Nearly one-hundred years after their deaths, both their foundations continue to fund projects around the globe and right here in Kenya.

In today’s world, the wealthiest individuals still retain personal foundations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chandaria Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

But such foundations do not promote the interests of the underlying companies that made their founders rich. Microsoft, Mabati Rolling Mills, and Walmart respectively do not benefit from the foundations of their founders and neither do the older Carnegie or Rockefeller foundations. Such self-benefit disguised as charity would be viewed as distasteful in the public space.

However, all the rage for large corporations over the past 10 years involves starting a corporate foundation in order to channel corporate social responsibility funding through. We see from telecoms to banks to indigenous tech firms launching foundations. But what sets apart these newer foundations is their mode of public dissemination about their programming.

The older Hewlett Foundation founded in 1966 by Hewlett-Packard Computers co-founder William Hewlett and his wife Flora use their marketing budget to get the word out about the programmes that they fund so that potential beneficiaries can know that help is available and can then receive assistance or knowledge.

However, some of the newer foundations have bombarded the airwaves and social media accounts of Kenyans during the month of April with a very different form of advertising.

The campaigns seek to inform the public about their good deeds without the seemingly altruistic motive of getting others to apply for help but rather give publicity to their founding organisation.

Is it selfish to advertise such actions akin to “hey, look at me, notice me, I am doing good things by helping these poor people” with catchy slick photos or should the advertisement instead say “if you fit the following conditions, we would like to help, please find our support application form here”?

A large tobacco company based in the US infamously in the wake of the cigarettes causing cancer scandals of the 1990s spent heavily on advertising their own good charitable works as a way to take attention away from the fact that their products were killing people.

Researchers later uncovered that the company spent far more on advertising their good deeds than on actually doing the good deeds. The selfish corporate behaviour received immediate and intense social backlash in their markets.

So when we see corporation-founded and funded foundations advertising their good deeds here in Kenya, let us first stop and ask three important questions.

First, is this really charity or is this advertising for their parent founding company?

Second, what is the public benefit or selfish benefit of advertising the charitable good deeds?

Third, what is the ratio of marketing budget to charitable budget for the foundation?

[email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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