Indigenisation of creative capitalism
The very concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) has been
practised in Sri Lanka for centuries which can even be traced back to
the glorious days of the hydraulic civilization.
Although the concept was not known in its present form, community’s
responsibility towards its individual members and vice versa has been
emphasised in the unwritten code of ethics practised in the hydraulic
civilization which was built on the three cardinal pillars of temple,
paddy field and the tank.
However, the earliest pieces of evidence vindicating that the
business community patronised social endeavours are found in the
Buddhist canons and in the jataka stories. It is mentioned in the jataka
stories that Anatha Pindicaa, a wealthy merchant, was the main patron of
Buddha. It was Pindica who built Jetavanaramaya, a temple complex for
Although such patronisation for social activities can hardly be
counted as CSR projects, they may have been the forerunners of the
modern CSR projects.
In the agrarian society which flourished under the spiritual guidance
of Theravada Buddhism, the practice of helping one another was taught.
Accordingly part of one’s income was set aside for social welfare, or in
other words, to help the community.
In later periods, under the feudal social set up, the landed gentry
patronised religious activities and major cultural events in the
However, the relationships they had with members of the community,
other than those of their class, can not be described as friendly. Under
the monarchy, community welfare was either looked after by Ministers in
charge of respective provinces or by the elite of the community.
The motive of their contribution to the welfare of the community
would not have been to avoid taxation or build up a good rapport with
the community or to promote brand names as most of the arch foes of CSR
projects claimed to be but to assert their authority over the community
by other means.
Tool of social integration
The resurgence of interest in creative capitalism was recently
stirred by none other than the Microsoft chief Bill Gates. Gates in a
series of lectures emphasised that although capitalism has improved the
lives of billions of people, it has also left out billions.
He further argued that as these people who are stuck in poverty due
to their inability to express their needs in a way that matters to the
market, there is a greater role on the part of the governments and
non-profitable organisations in helping them out of poverty.
However, Gates states that the fight against poverty can not be done
by the government and the non-profitable organisation alone.
The cooperation should come forward as they have the skills to make
innovations work for the poor. Gates states “ we need a more creative
capitalism: an attempt to stretch the reach of market forces so that
more companies can benefit from doing work that makes more people better
off. We need new ways to bring far more people into the system -
capitalism - that has done so much good in the world. “.
Bill Gates points out that “Today companies like Gap, Hallmark and
Dell sell (RED)-branded products and donate a portion of their profits
to fight AIDS.
(Microsoft recently signed up too.) It’s a great thing: the companies
make a difference while adding to their bottom line, consumers get to
show their support for a good cause, and - most important - lives are
saved. In the past year and a half, (RED) has generated $100 million for
the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, helping put
nearly 80,000 people in poor countries on lifesaving drugs and helping
more than 1.6 million get tested for HIV. That’s creative capitalism at
Although Bill Gates theory of creative capitalism emphasizes more on
stretching market reach by empowering people on the bottom-line of the
market who are often left out, the by-product of creative capitalism at
work is social integration.
In other words, creative capitalism integrates more and more people
into the system. The principal difference between conventional CSR
projects launched by conglomerates and non profitable venture under
creative capitalism is that it is not corporate philanthropy.
The aim of such projects is not to donate money for impoverished
segments of the population thus making them perpetual dependents but to
Among the potential benefits that a company can derive from CSR
projects are improving public perception on the company and improving
Companies that have been engaged in CSR projects are on an
advantageous position over the competitors as modern consumers are more
concerned about ethical business practices than products in a
competitive market environment.
Changing faces of CSR
Given the changing nature of CSR projects launched by small and
medium scale enterprises in diverse parts of the country, it can be
concluded that CSR projects launched were designed taking into
consideration of the specific immediate needs of the community.
K.P. Swarnaraj, the immediate past President of the Vauniya Chamber
of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, runs a business in the
Northern Province Construction Association and the individual
businessmen like Swarnaraj has launched vocational training projects for
youth in the area and currently vocational training programmes operate
at centres in Vavuniya and Jaffna. Apart from empowering the youth, CSR
projects would supply skills needed for the industry.
While the CSR project launched in Vavuniya concentrates on skill
development, the one launched in Galle had focused on building bridges
among communities.Communal disharmony has become a flash point in areas
like Lunuwila in Dewata, where, communal unrest had become the order of
As a CSR project, Reconciliation Committee comprising members from
the Sinhala and Muslim communities has been set up in Galle. Galle
Chambers of Commerce coordinated by the Business for Peace Alliance (BPA)
has joined hands with Reconciliation Committee to maintain communal
harmony and peace in the area.
Galle is a case in point where business community’s intervention
through CSR projects has brought about tangible results in terms of
improving conducive business environment in the area.Significant aspect
of the changing face of CSR projects is that the projects have been
designed to cater to the need of the community.
Lakshman Walapitagamage, an entrepreneur in Dahayagama, Anuradhapura
who runs a factory which produces basic machinery like rice processing
mills, has been conducting a CSR project where six month’s vocational
training is given in manufacturing machinery.
Suresh de Mel, owner of the Lanka Fishing Sliced Private Limited, has
launched a community based handicapped rehabilitation project,
“Navageevana” in Tangalle.
Through the engagement of handicapped or differently able persons in
company activities, the CSR project has contributed to change the public
perception on handicapped persons.
In addition to the CSR project, through the Hambantota Chamber of
Commerce, small and medium scale entrepreneurs have been conducting CSR
projects such as patronising religious activities, giving aid to flood
and drought victims. It is clear that nature of project is case
For instance, in Hambantota, CSR projects launched by SME sector are
aimed at tackling issues relating to capacity building and human
Suresh points out that networking of regional chambers of commerce
through Business for Peace Alliance has enabled the individual
entrepreneurs to share the innovative application of creative capitalism
in their CSR projects.
CSR at micro-level
Case-specific nature of CSR projects launched at regional level has
been a common characteristic in most of the CSR projects in SME sector.
CSR projects aimed at building communal harmony and understanding among
diverse communities in Kagalle are models of CSR at micro-level.
I.R.A. Chandrasena, who is engaged in production of ornamental
pottery in Kagalle, has launched CSR project where industrialists in
Kagalle district joined hands in conducting the programme aimed at
building communal harmony through social activities.
Religious and political leaders and together with industrialists in
the areas like Aranayake, Hemathagama, Rambukkana, Mawanella and Kagalle
have launched community activities like new year celebrations with the
participation of Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities. Reconciliation
Committee oversees the project.
In Trincomalee, extra classes have been conducted as a CSR project.
Special evening classes are conducted for students who sit for the Year
Five scholarship programmes. In addition extra classes have also been
conducted for Advanced Level students. The classes are conducted in
remote areas of Thampalakamam where pass rate has been very low.
According to K. Tiruchelvam, an entrepreneur in the area, pass rate
has dramatically increased since the commencement of the extra
classes.Although the CSR remind us of mega donations by corporate
giants, time has come to change the entire perception on CSR projects.
It is clear that creative capitalism at work at regional level is as
effective as at national and international levels.