Carrie Stultz recently visited one of Restless Development’s (our chosen charity) programmes in Uganda.
Below, Carrie talks about CSR and what drives her to be part of it at IPI. One of the most important things for Carrie on the trip was that she saw work being done that changes the way we look at international development.
What drives a business to start a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative? Publicity? Stakeholders? Altruism?
Scepticism around what motivates a business to invest in CSR can fuel debates of legitimacy and effectiveness. But these days CSR comes standard. Most businesses participate in efforts to behave responsibly and engage with their communities for one reason or another. CSR is even taking on different names, continuously evolving and changing shape as it becomes more prevalent in our world.
As an advocate of these efforts, I believe that the inevitability of CSR is what makes the way we question it so important. What happens when a business partners with a charitable organisation? Sure, they may want some publicity opportunities or a logo on the website. Is that ok? Well, my answer is yes, but personally, I think we need to dig even deeper.
How did that company decide which organisation to partner with? Where are their resources going? On a wider scale, how do we link the people who know how to best allocate those resources with the people who have them? How can we use this inevitable, growing pot of money and skills to invest in sustainable change? In the abridged version of my life story, those are the questions that ultimately brought me here.
A few years ago I moved from the non-profit sector into the corporate world, hopeful that I could one day help to connect knowledge and resource in the CSR space. So when I learned that my company was going to partner with Restless Development I immediately got involved.
As a small business we were new to this; it was experiential learning, full steam ahead. With a goal of raising £10,000, we assembled a team to fundraise and represent both Restless Development and IPI. It was a success, and after a year we sent 2 staff members to Uganda to see the work being done. I was grateful to be selected alongside my colleague Mick Lee who is equally passionate in this area of the business. Wide eyed and bursting with energy, Mick and I were now on the brink of an incredible adventure.
What’s the impact of our partnership? That’s the question we were tasked with answering. When we arrived in Uganda I knew we were going to meet a lot of people and visit several programmes. But otherwise, this was a ‘figure it out along the way’ type of adventure, which thankfully is my favourite kind!
With our minds fully open and our bodies fully vaccinated we stepped out of Entebbe airport and into our awaited adventure. Mick has written a wonderful blog sharing the details of our trip, so I’ll refer you to that for the day-by-day story. What I will say is that in just 5 short days, I met some of the most exceptional people I’ve met in my life. I felt some of the strongest emotions I’ve felt in years. And perhaps most importantly, I saw work being done that changes the way we look at international development.
Previously while working in the non-profit sector I often found that resources donated by well-intended people were evaporating away with no real, long-term impact. Volunteer organisations were bringing people over from other countries to build infrastructure without involving the communities actually affected. Small charities were being overlooked for funding because they were investing in long-term impact, while large aid-giving organisations with unsustainable models were receiving millions. The waste of resource was maddening, but it felt like we could at least start to change this by shifting the conversation and asking different questions around resource allocation and donor culture.
Fast-forward several years to the day I met representatives from Restless Development to discuss our partnership. I was so relieved and energised to hear that they were also shifting the conversation and asking different questions. They acknowledged the problems around resource allocation and donor culture that had become so important to me. At that moment, my already strong interest in the partnership grew exponentially. I became an emphatic advocate. But those emotions don’t compare to what I experienced when I saw the programmes in Uganda and witnessed their impact.
I don’t even know what word to use to describe it; I’m not even sure that one exists. But the feeling was overwhelming. I thought – amazing! Local young people are driving development in their own communities. Thank goodness! Our resources aren’t evaporating away. Wow! Lives are changing before my eyes. I thought – this is what can be achieved at the intersection of business and charity. And the view was remarkable.
During our time in Uganda, we met several young people who were starting businesses, generating income for their families and combating systemic issues that restricted local development and education. They were doing this through Restless Development programmes conceptualised and managed by members of the community.
This approach is so important when implementing development initiatives that reflect true need and will stand the test of time. It’s a matter of sustainability. It’s a matter of longevity. And quite frankly it’s a matter of human rights because I believe that implementing development initiatives in a community without local participation is a rights violation.
One of the reasons I’m an advocate for CSR is because I believe businesses are well equipped to invest in change. Sustainable solutions don’t always show immediate results, but businesses can appreciate a long-term return. However, in order to tap into the potential that sits at this intersection, we need to examine how they interact.
Understanding how businesses engage with their communities and participate in impactful change is a growing and fascinating subject. The discussion is already happening all over the world. My intention here is to hopefully be a tiny spark that helps to ignite this conversation and encourage us all to think about the questions we are asking.
How can we ensure that contributions from businesses are being invested rather than evaporating away? How can we fuse knowledge and resource so that these partnerships are impactful rather than wasteful? I know we can unlock incredible potential at the intersection of business and charity. I’ve seen it first-hand. Let’s explore it together.