Pay It Forward Through CSR

Image by: Laughing Gas


“What goes around comes back around.” Something we have grown used to throughout the process of taking and giving out in life. As an individual, each one of us strive to find our purpose, our calling and make the best of it. We rush to find the balance in our lives and our focus is mainly on what we can get out of the world we live in, the grounds we dig to find the fruits of our tomorrow. Day and night we plot ways of attaining the resources of our realms and we think so little of ways of giving back.

It is true,

“What goes around does indeed comes back around.” But today we have found another definition to the saying. “What goes around comes around twice and more as much.”

The Swedish institute management programme (SIMP) Alumni, in collaboration with the Embassy of Sweden in Addis Ababa invited us to take part in a conference on the topic “Ethical and Effective CSR- Ethiopian Perspective.” That took place at the Swedish Residence on February 28, 2017.

The Sweden Ambassador Jan Sadek, gave an opening speech welcoming the invitees followed by Swedish Institute Management Program Alumni Marshet.

Ambassador Jan Sadek

Murad A Issa, Senior Officer at the Commercial and Cultural Affairs, opened the stage for the CSR clear briefing walking us through the general concept of the idea abridged to the Ethiopian perspective, the objectives and long term goals of the system. Speakers then involved in CSR activities briefed the invitees about the system and their backgrounds.

What is CSR?

Corporate social responsibility means that organizations have moral, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities in addition to their responsibilities to earn a fair return for investors and comply with the law.

It’s the firm’s duty to operate in an honorable manner providing good working condition for employees.

CSR prioritizes Accountability, transparency, competitiveness which sums up both and sustainability.

The act is run through the different economic, social and environmental aspects. Ethically, it basically signals what’s of right or wrong universally (universal standards through multiple cultures) and relatively (multiple set of standards through different beliefs, cultures and behavioural norms across countries).

When we come to the Ethiopian perspective, it is simply defined as የኮርፖሬት፣ህዝባዊ/ ማህበራዊ፣ ተጠያቂነት፡፡

We have learned that almost all are 100% positive in implementing the act. 40% of companies’ are positive about periodical disclosure of information. 80% believe in fair wages and security of employment.

In cross validation; 69% of employees not happy with companies’ policies. 71% of customers thought they were manipulated and 75% of general public were not pleased with CSR from Ethiopian companies.

After the briefing, the guest speakers Yasser Bagersh owner of Cactus communications, Lime tree and other businesses, Tihitina Mulushewa Legesse, Managing Director of WARYT  Tesfaye Mekonnen EcoPaper and Kibret Abebe a professional anesthetist shared their experiences in applying CSR within their businesses,how they were first introduced to it and how it changed their productivity and work environment in general.

Tihitina Legesse, Kibret Abebe, Yasser Bagersh

Yasser Bagersh took us on a 12 year journey where it all started out for him. Tihitina Mulushewa Legesse also shared her experience on how she is applying CSR. Her way was focused on creating jobs for others and also turning waste in to treasure.

“It all started with this bag. It’s a sack I used to pack a backup clothes and so for my kids when we go to our family. And I was sitting one day, looking at it and I said to myself, this bag looks like something we could use in our company because we have boxes and all that we bring to our country and we trash it. We pay for it to be collected from our company for over years.” and so later on they provided the waste to the ladies in Muday organization where they produce the bags and she buys it back. That then grew to another means as she was introduced to a guy Tesfaye, who does the same kind of bags but with other means of production like banana papers, pineapple papers and others. His business also targets waste management. And at last kibret,

Kibret Abebe ,The Founder of “Tebita Ambulance”, the leading provider of remote medical assistance and pre-hospital care in Ethiopia, shared his way into the system as well.

Later on we had time to brainstorm the ideas through our coffee break. It was also a way of recharging for an interesting panel discussion led by Biruk sewenet with

-Samron Adane from Crown Agents

– Marakie Tesfaye, Tikuret

– Mahider Gebremedhin, Architect Ke Bett Eske Ketema

– Markos Lemma, IceAddis

– Representative from Total Ethiopia explained how the CSR is activated within their businesses. They were questioned about how they back their finances, the resistance of the community and how their business is engaging others into their system.

Bruck Sewnet,Mahider Gebremedhin, Markos Lemma, Marakie Tesfaye, Representative from Total Ethiopia, Samron Adane

All the individuals, public figures, leaders, family people and so much more had a lot to say about how  productive the act is and how each company and organization should have a CSR policy for better environment and growth. They all have something in common. They all are successful. And most importantly, they all believe in giving back. Sharing and creating possibilities.

So, back to you?

How are you going to practice CSR? It doesn’t really require much, just willingness. And it sure does pay back twice and more as much.

Below is an inspirational story Yasser shared with us,

“ what is 2+2, 4 right?. What’s 4+4, yes 8. Now let me trick you, what is 7+3?…10 right? Those are the main principles of mathematics. But some things changed in my life that actually changed this entire formula. About 12 years ago, I woke up on a Tuesday morning about 6:45am and I started asking myself why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What are my values? Is life as simplistic as earning, taking care of my family, paying rent and living my life. Can life be that simple? Then I started asking myself deeper questions. How come I have this beautiful house, stunning collection of art, I run multiple businesses, I go to Novis and buy these expensive ingredients for my food, I drive a car, no, I am driven in a car, I am served. And how come just across the street someone else is struggling to just get a simple meal. Where is the injustice in this earth? How did I make it in the 5% of the globe, how did I make it in the top 5% of the most privileged people on this earth, how did I get there? Did I earn it? Well some of it. I was born into it. I was born into shelter, into 3 meals a day, clean water, clothing and education. Those are the privileges I was born into. And those were the keys, the jumpstart that opened and allowed me to thrive and grow into who I am today. But I did start with a different set of ingredients from the girl across the street from me. I started with onions, butter, chicken and eggs to make “doro wot”.  Her ingredients were dried injera (dirkosh), pepper and oil. If she’s lucky that is. I’ll cook “doro” in my kitchen and she’ll have something very different. So those questions started bothering me every single day from that Tuesday morning. So I called a lady called sister Tibebe who runs an organization called Hida. And I went and I just started to cry and I told her I just feel there’s something completely unfair, there’s something formatively wrong with this, what do I do? She then said come with me and let’s just visit some homes.

Now let’s put that on pause and let me take you to another story. I run an AD agency called Cactus communications where we handle strategy, creative production for some of the biggest multinationals in the country and we have lots of employees, We have restaurants we do catering business with 400/500 employees, so I am proudly, transparently a successful man. I will not say “minim ayilim.” Which means it’s ok. In fear that people will start looking at you as wealthy and be knocking on your door asking for more money. So I’m proudly and very happy in my life. And I’m proud to say that. This is my life. I am not hiding and I’m not shying away from it.

Now, let’s put this on pause and go to another place.

I opened a restaurant called lime tree. Lime tree was on bole road. The rent was ridiculously expensive. By the time I moved there it was the singular most expensive rent paid in the country because I had hope that we’d do well. I had 34 employees, paying rent and I opened my doors and 20 customers walked in Vs. the capacity of 200. Day in and day out I couldn’t sleep at night because I was financially drowning to pay rent, to pay my staff salaries. Month after month after month we were struggling.

Now let’s go back to the first Scene,

I said, sister Tibebe, my life has to change. And she said well come with me and let me introduce you to our community. So we went to the neighborhood, to several homes, and as I was walking out, I saw one plastic sheltered home and this little boy was sleeping inside. It was Tuesday morning and I asked why isn’t he at home why is he in bed? So I found out that the child was dying of HIV AIDS. And because he was in a dying situation, he was the one I was asked not to invest in or see. Because he was dying anyway and why put your finance on a dying being when there were others with high chance of surviving and living. And I said well, let’s visit him anyway. He cannot take his medication because he doesn’t have enough food to digest,to process the medication. And I asked how many of those cases where there and they told me there were 20 of those cases. And we went to all those children. So I started feeding those children, visiting them twice to three times a week, tucking them in bed for about one month. All those children needed to know that somebody cared. That’s all they needed to know, not even love, but that somebody actually cares. So out of the 20 children , today only one died. That was years ago. I realized the cost to feed a child back then was 4birr and 20cents per child, per meal a day. That’s easy. That’s the power to give life. We have a God given gift to give life. so I started “Father’s kitchen” with 50 children.

Now going back to the lime tree story, going back two weeks after starting father’s kitchen, there weren’t 20 costumers any more, there were 50. There was something good, the energy was right. Something was going on the right direction. A few years later I increased it from 50 to 150. And at lime tree, people were waiting in line for a seat. It’s about the way the universe works. What you give out, you receive. And when you receive, you receive more. I’ll tell you something, before the transformation of my life, I made sure that everything I do at my agency and my restaurant, there’s an element of sharing, an element of giving back and an element of something very simple, being good. How can we find that goodness in us? Today I encourage all at my agency to do good. Just for an hour a day, to do something good. Whatever is meaningful to you, make a difference. Since then we started programmes with St. Paulos hospital my staff and I that is. If the staff make any donations, the organization matches the donor. And guess what happened? Productivity went up, staff are happier, everybody thrives and community is well. Now what is 2+2? 4+4, is it still the same? It’s more….”









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