By Kenneth Amaeshi
I once wrote a piece on the spiritual undertone of CSR. I didn’t pursue it too far. And recently, the idea is still not bulging. I also remember teaching an MBA class on entrepreneurship as a vocation (ie spiritual call to use our talents to serve humanity) – a view of entrepreneurship stripped of its conventional and rampant glorious individualistic heroism, where the entrepreneur erroneously thinks he or she is the lord of the universe who creates things out of nothing and alone.
Arguably, entrepreneurship is also a spiritual activity. The Opus Dei (meaning Work of God) – the founders of Lagos Business School – preach and seek to practise the view that we can serve God or fulfil some spiritual needs through our work and business. The Jesuits see education as their work of God. That’s why they go all over the world building and supporting schools. They also have very well educated workforce. That’s a similar view at the heart of the protestant ethics that powered modern capitalism, because people needed “…to work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This orientation is contemporarily reflected in the humanistic management philosophy, which aims to refocus the essence of management and business on the human person and his needs (material, physical, social, psychological, and spiritual).
Humanistic management, I would argue is a clever way of making spirituality based management inclusive without using the “scary” word spirituality.
Spirituality in management and business was probably made scary and a taboo word by the godlessness of contemporary capitalism, which assumes the rationality of the economic man devoid of any form of spiritual influences. The key focus in this separation thesis is this often misquoted biblical passage: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17). The rest is now history, as money reigns supreme.
Unfortunately, the unbridled quest for money (ie the root of all evil) often trumps this spiritual dimension of work and business.
CSR/Sustainability, as the minimisation of negative impacts and the enhancement of positive impacts from organisations and enterprises, can be seen as a subtle attempt to bring back and or reinvigorate the spirituality of work and business. It seeks to bring a human face to profit-seeking behaviours in ways that reflect consideration of others, compassion, fairness, civility, and truthfulness.
Since many Africans, for example, are “religious”, could this be another way of selling CSR in organisations in Africa? Corporate philanthropy, an aspect but a dominant meaning of CSR on the continent, already draws from the spirituality of alms giving. I remember encountering a CEO who literally framed corporate philanthropy from this perspective. Perhaps, therein lies an opportunity to mainstream CSR and sustainability thinking in Africa?
Amaeshi is a professor of business and sustainable development at the University of Edinburgh and tweets