Compassion Beyond Ramadan

Hunger is not conducive to positive social behaviour. So what motivates individuals and corporations to actively engage in philanthropic ventures during the long month of abstinence- Ramadan?

Just before Iftaar time in Ramadhan, we see (and sometimes experience) the most horrific road rage. But that is also the time when strangers will stand on the roadsides and throw in packets of dates and fruits for the unfortunate who have not been able to reach home in time. In Karachi, a city of stark paradoxes, volunteers help clear traffic jams during the mad rush for iftaari. In all major cities of Pakistan, one of the poorest and most corrupt nations of the world, you will witness iftaar spreads on the roadsides, outside individual homes and restaurants for the long suffering poor. Even in the recent disastrous floods, people have voluntarily provided food to the distraught victims.

Corporations too are keenly aware of the importance of philanthropy with business in Ramadhan. The media is flooded with ads focussing on this theme- sharing your iftaari with friends and family and your ice cream cake with the family driver?s son. This Ramadhan, one brand of cooking oil promises to arrange many iftaaris and encourages you to become part of this scheme through purchase.

But why are our efforts at feeding and clothing the disadvantaged frenzied around Ramadhan? If the poor cannot afford to feed themselves properly in this holy month, it stands to reason that they cannot do so the rest of the year as well. Also, it seems our philanthropy is focussed on feeding others or at best providing Eid gifts and clothes. We need to assess the impact of our charitable efforts on the lives of the disadvantaged in the long run.

Tuning your mindset to spirituality

Our focus on food and clothing may be the subliminal result of our (mistaken) sense of deprivation when we too are forced to fast. So our feel-good deeds should include actions that have a far-reaching impact on the lives of people around us and on our environment. According to Mr M. Siddiqui Sheikh, VC-CSR Standing Committee of FPCCI, individuals in general and corporations in particular can benefit from following a three-pronged approach to Ramadhan:

Purification cleansing of intent and conduct with regard to manufacturing, personal and transaction practices to ensure fairness and excellence

Often, our ‘fairness and excellence’ efforts are limited to product and service quality. What about the rampant practice of under- or over-invoicing to avoid taxes? How ethical is the practice of bribing auditors? Since Ramadhan is about purification of intent and controlling our baser instincts such as greed, we loose the spiritual essence of Ramdhan when we indulge in such practices.

Our commitments to our employees and environment are limited to fulfilling legal requirements. Since the legally acceptable minimum wage is inadequate in this age of inflation, how else can we voluntarily improve the quality of life of our workers?

Cleanliness of intent and conduct also extends to the level of hygiene and maintenance in the workplace. Ramadhan is a good time to assess the prayer facilities you are offering your workers. In addition to ensuring that the mosque is well maintained, we can donate new prayer rugs and chairs. We can also donate a UPS for the mosque and hope for heavenly reward.

Courtesy of going an extra mile to demonstrate love and respect for people and the environment

One way of demonstrating concern for fellow beings is by donating to health facilities. Corporations have sponsored construction of hospital wings and equipment. Consider donating towards such efforts that many people can benefit from over time. One brand of baby diapers promises to fund child vaccines if you contribute through purchase.

As a means of contributing to the environment, consider sponsoring fruit tree plantations or water purification facilities in the area of your operations. It would have the dual effect of cleansing the environment and ensuring better quality of life for the community with which we interact.

We may be equal opportunity employers, but consider, for example, the prayer facilities offered to female employees. It is often a neglected corner of the workplace without adequate ablution facilities and clean prayer rugs. Invest in a properly maintained female prayer area and encourage employees using this facility to maintain it.

Generosity of relaxing office-factory timings and workloads while stepping up charity including Ramadhan packs and Eid gifts/ bouses for employees, family and the needy with a resolve to continue these acts beyond Ramadhan.

A good way to demonstrate commitment to social responsibility is to adopt a community. Every Ramadhan, this commitment can be renewed by initiating a new project for the community and then completing it through the year. Given the current destruction wrought by the recent floods, such an effort would greatly help rehabilitation efforts.

BankMuscat: An inspiring example

It is easy to be generous for just one month, but we need to strive to continue to support our employees and other disadvantaged people throughout the year. It would be wiser to initiate philanthropic ventures during Ramadhan, continue them and then assess and advertise progress the following Ramadhan.

Consider the example of Bank Muscat’s CSR efforts. Under its initiative entitled “BankMuscat for Family Care’ it will fund an extensive campaign that will provide food rations for low-income families in Muscat. For Ramadhan specifically, families will receive iftaar meals. Likewise they will receive meals for both Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha.

Beyond feeding the poor, it will also provide funds for assisting electricity and water supplies, making house rental payments and even furnishing homes. In an effort to support the education sector, it helps provide training to tutors and specialists who work for the Association for Early Intervention for Children with Special Needs.

In addition, BankMuscat has two other initiatives. BankMuscat’s Hearts’ seeks to support farming communities through training and sustainable research and technology for agricultural growth and it also provides youths job opportunities. ‘Equator Principles’ is a globally recognised system of guiding principles for social and environmental risk management and assessments designed to fund and implement such projects among corporations.

Even within our own workplaces, Ramadhan is a great time to evaluate the carbon footprint of your workplace. This checklist will help you:
Recycle- ensure that all paper products, glass and plastic bottles and containers, and even old computers and machinery is picked regularly by a ‘raddi-wala’. Old computers can even be donated to schools.

Go Green- use every available empty plot of land on your premises to grow fruits, vegetables and shady trees. Ensure that all food remains including vegetable and fruit peels from the canteen areas are used to make compost so as to maintain an organic garden.

Save Energy- invest in energy savers and make sure that all appliances are unplugged after working hours. Encourage employees to set the office computer and air-conditioning on energy efficient settings.
Carpool- encourage carpools as an efficient means of transport to the workplace. It will result in fuel savings, increase longevity of cars, reduce traffic stress and above all, result

in less air and noise pollution.Assess Suppliers- consider using local suppliers and brands instead of imported ones to reduce the environmental and financial cost of transportation. Support local organizations to build a reliable and sustainable local supply network. Re-think Packaging- try and minimize your product?s packaging. Try to use recycled materials or natural fibre such as jute, paper or cotton bags to package your products. This will cost you less and relieve stress on the environment.

Start small, think big

It may not be possible for all organizations to have such comprehensive and extensive social responsibility programmes. After all, the number of medium and small-scale businesses far exceeds that of larger corporations. But we need to realize that every single effort that we make has far reaching consequences beyond the limitations of time, space and generations.

The story of a roadside ‘pan-wallah’ who kept a jar of loose change on his counter top to which he would add at the end of each day’s sales is inspiring. Over time he prospered because of the goodwill he generated by helping anyone in need using that money. Consider maintaining such a jar of goodwill that will have a sustained impact on the lives of our stakeholders beyond one month and inspire our peers to do the same.

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Author Information

Sadaf Azhar, an avid reader, enjoys ethics and history-related literature. She strives to find the time to contribute to periodicals and holds an MBA from the Institute of Business Administration. She currently lives in Chunnia Cantt, Kasur with her young family.

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