WITH Ramadan upon us, the spirit of giving is ever-present, with corporations and individuals giving back to society.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or the concept of a corporation taking responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social well-being, is becoming more important as society becomes increasingly aware of the disadvantaged.
In the months of Ramadan and Syawal 2017, huge companies such as Shell, the Shangri-La Group and Tesco Stores Malaysia held charity events, with these three companies alone raising almost RM2mil.
But while these events often happen during festive seasons, when the charitable atmosphere is most prevalent, we must also ask how sustainable these gifts are.
The philanthropic mindset is there – Malaysia ranked as the 22nd most generous country in the 2016 World Giving Index, published by UK-based charity group Charities Aid Foundation.
Despite this, education for children with disabilities remains inaccessible to many, and many children’s homes and orphanages are crowded and rundown.
On top of that, the number of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur alone increased threefold between 2014 and 2015, leading to the question – what difference are these donations making?
While RM2mil in donations may initially seem like a lot of money, this short-term input is merely a drop in the ocean.
As the CSR field grows, measuring its impact on the needy becomes more important, in order to ensure the donations flow to the correct recipients.
It can be argued that donations made in the form of education and resources as opposed to monetary gifts are more beneficial.
When education or a specific resource is given, as opposed to cash, those who donate can be assured that their donations are not misused.
Though there are two sides to this coin, it is commonly thought that it is better to educate rather than simply provide.
After all, many of the larger businesses would rather implement strategies to create better working environments or living standards for their workers, seeking to educate and create long-term impact.
For example, fashion retailer H&M entered a strategic alliance with Solidaridad to launch the Better Cotton initiative, which worked to educate farmers to grow cotton in a more sustainable manner.
The alliance also worked to educate workers on their rights with the distribution of educational videos, as well as efforts to combat child labour.
In some ways, this can be seen as a CSR programme, as H&M seeks to mitigate any negative social or environmental impact it may cause.
Such an act is known as a social investment, in which an enterprise seeks to create a social impact as opposed to maximise financial gain.
In many cases, it has become the norm, with companies establishing foundations focused on giving back to the community, or setting company-wide standards to ensure the well-being of workers, their families and the environment.
By going beyond the act of charitable events, and ensuring sustainability becomes a staple in everyday routines, simple policies such as H&M’s Sustainability Commitments or IKEA’s policy to only use FSC certified wood can make a huge impact.
What’s more, these companies guide and educate their suppliers to ensure improvements are made in a timely and stable manner, thus securing the long-term impact of the change.
Charities and foundations aim to help the most needy, and for much of the time their aid and donations go towards children in need, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities.
One such example are autism spectrum disorders, a developmental disability affecting the ability to communicate due to difficulties interpreting language and abstract concepts.
Signs of such a disorder typically appear during early childhood, making it incredibly important to secure quality care and therapy as early as possible.
In Malaysia, such care is extremely limited.
Every year in Malaysia, some 9,000 children are diagnosed with autism, yet NGOs are only able to cater to 1,500 children.
Many of these centres are pricey and can only provide half-day care, thus making it difficult for both parents to remain employed, thus subjecting families with an autistic child to a vicious downward spiral of plunging incomes and rising prices.
With only around 28 primary schools providing special education, there is a severe shortage of affordable early intervention services available for low-income families.
“Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” as the proverb goes.
As affordable care and therapy for autistic children in Malaysia is limited, the IDEAS Autism Centre (IAC) was established as an early intervention initiative that provides full-day care, therapy and education for autistic children aged between three and nine that come from families in the bottom 40% income bracket.
Our aim is to assist these students in their transition into the mainstream education system, as well as provide the necessary knowledge to their families for their care and growth.
Since 2014, IAC has received generous support from many organisations, our main donor being Yayasan Sime Darby, who has supported us with our overhead costs and invested in training for our staff and parents.
Like any other institution that relies on donations for financial sustainability, IAC is always grateful for the support it receives.
In the spirit of Ramadan, we are calling on the public to make donations to IAC, which will go towards providing students and their families with nutritious meals throughout this holy month.
Your donation this Ramadan will also help bring about long-term change, funding education and therapy sessions, as well as parent and teacher training.
With these donations, we can make all the difference and continue this life-changing work.
Help IDEAS Autism Centre reach their RM50,000 goal this Ramadan.
This article is written by Leah Saiful, first published in thestar.com.my, 21 May 2018.