Who among us did not suffer when hearing the news of the over 200 souls who drowned in the sinking of an illegal migrant boat off Egypt’s coast? Most of them were young men who were desperate to realise the dream of becoming rich in Europe. In the end, they did not come to realise anything except death at the bottom of the sea.
This tragedy is repeated from time to time and we have become accustomed to hearing news of illegal migrant boats and death tolls without the presence of effective actions to identify the causes of these tragedies and find solutions to them.
Responsibility lies with everyone, including the state bodies, businesses sectors, civil society organisations, and media. I also believe that the banking and financial sectors have a role in dealing with this issue. Officials must understand the role of these sectors according to their corporate social responsibility, in order to achieve sustainability in local communities through programmes that target disadvantaged and marginalised groups.
Let me first identify what corporate social responsibility is before turning to the role of banks in contributing to solving the problem of illegal immigration through development and sustainability programmes.
There are many synonyms that are used to express corporate social responsibility (CSR), such as corporate conscience, corporate citizenship, or responsible business. Also, various organisations develop different definitions that share common ground.
CSR refers to business practices which involve programmes and initiatives that banks, financial organisations, and companies can adopt to benefit local communities. Consequently, they require a self-regulating internal mechanism of which banks can monitor and ensure compliance of the laws, ethical standards, and international standards that would create an overall positive impact on society.
The involvement of banks in the local community is the basis of all initiatives in a good social responsibility policy. However, common mistakes must be avoided, and social responsibility should not be mixed with charitable donations, so banks can offer innovative projects for social responsibility.
Some examples would be permanent educational programmes for the disadvantaged segments of the community, entering into strategic partnership with agencies specialised in offering microenterprises, provision of research study grants that involve sustainability in local communities, direct and indirect contributions to healthcare programmes, and material support to development programmes in areas that suffer from a lack of basic services like sewage and water.
Moreover, there must be material support provided to youth to enable them to become entrepreneurs; hence, enabling them to benefit from grants offered by the agencies concerned with financing small projects.
This list is not exclusive as it contains a limited number of the fields to which banks can contribute. It is expected for each bank to have a work group that suggests strategies of social responsibility and the fields that the bank can adopt.
It is important to stress that banks’ social responsibility is much more than charity. In this context, banks are encouraged to improve the future of individuals in the local communities they work in through social responsibility programmes that are designed to suit these communities, with the goal of bringing hope to the youth. It can renew their faith in the fact that there are agencies that can offer them support to enable them to achieve their simple dreams.
Hany Aboul Fotouh is a banking expert.