By Bahar Gidwani
When your business involves Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ratings, it is easy to get depressed and discouraged. So many companies have such low scores. You start to wonder if corporations—and the people who run them—are fundamentally evil.
One day recently, when I was feeling this way, I stopped in to shop at my local supermarket. An old woman with two cats of cat food was standing ahead of me in line. When it was her turn to go through the scanner, I saw her lean towards the clerk and have a quiet discussion. The clerk nodded, took some money from her pocket, and put it into her register. The old lady then walked out the door with her cat food.
“What was that all about?” I asked, with my normal curiosity. The clerk looked a bit embarrassed, and then told me that the old lady was a “regular” in the store. Sometimes she had money; sometimes she didn’t. When she didn’t have money, she’d get a little cat food (it wasn’t clear if it was for her cat or for herself!) and then she’d ask the clerk to pay for it. Surprisingly, it seems that all of the clerks in the store had been asked to make this donation—and that most or all of them had done it.
My first thought was, what a good reminder that people are fundamentally good. Supermarket clerks aren’t rich—but it seems they sure are kind and generous! My second thought was, how telling it was that the clerk was a little embarrassed that I’d noticed her charity. A common thread for philanthropists (at least in the U.S.) is that many of them give anonymously. Their excuse may be that they don’t want to reveal their own wealth, etc. But I think another reason is that most of us are strangely reluctant to let others see our goodness.
Just like countries and governments, individual people are good—it is groups of people that can be evil. If the old lady had called all the clerks together and asked them for help as a group, they probably would have rejected her appeal. But, privately, one at a time, they each reveal their true nature.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons companies don’t perform well on CSR ratings? Are the managers and employees of the companies we follow ashamed of their good intentions, and unwilling to speak out internally for things they feel are right? Could we empower employees—maybe via anonymous groups—to prod their companies to reflect their own inherent justice, kindness, and fairness? Let’s try.
Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.