Rudijanto, Contributor, Jakarta
U.S.-born Jiway Tung gets along easily with teenage boys who previously roamed the streets of Jakarta or provincial towns as he works side by side with them on a two-hectare organic farm in Bogor’s Puncak area.
Aged 13 years on average, the boys are participating in an organic farming program designed to help them become independent persons with the necessary skills to live in society. They were taken off the streets by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who provide shelter for street children.
"We want to give them the skill necessary to work as a team member, take responsibility and make plans. Here they learn mathematics, language and computer skill," says Jiway, who works for Boston-based NGO World Education.
Under the organic farming program designed by World Education, 27 street children are undergoing training for six months, which will possibly be extended for up to a year. Growing up on the streets of big cities and towns and facing a harsh life, it required great effort on the part of the children to adjust to their new situation.
"My palms have abrasions because I am not used to farming as I grew up in Jakarta," says Jaya, who is being sponsored in the program by Rumah Kita Foundation, which provides shelter for street children in Jakarta.
The cool mountain weather certainly poses a challenge for Jaya and the other boys, aside from the tough farming schedule of 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., followed by various activities including drama, handicraft-making and music recitals up to 4 p.m.
Brought to Jakarta when he was barely six months old by his mother and father from Sumatra’s Lampung region, Jaya did not enjoy the warmth of a family for too long as his father and mother separated not long after. After his mother’s house in East Jakarta was demolished, Jaya had to face the harsh reality of life at an all too young age.
"I like being here in this organic farming program because I love plants. I hope to have my own farm somewhere in Lampung when I finish this program," says Jaya.
Jaya and his friends may have found new hope for the future, which otherwise had only gloomy prospects. Jiway and his team are able to run the program due to the financial support of not a big multinational corporation such as Freeport Indonesia or LG Electronics Indonesia, but fast-growing serviced-office operator CEO Suite.
Korea-born CEO president Mee Kim underlines that what matters most are good intentions and concrete action, not the amount or appropriate time to start sharing.
"There will never be a perfect time for sharing, not if we wait until we have enough ourselves," says Mee Kim, whose company has two serviced office facilities in Jakarta and is expanding services to China.
Following the worldwide trend among companies to enhance their role as part of the community surrounding their facilities, Indonesian corporations have also started to experiment with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.
This phenomenon has been welcomed by NGOs that are more than willing to help in the planning and implementation of CSR projects. Hendro Suwito, communication manager of World Vision International - Indonesia, appreciates this trend.
"The government has very limited financial and human resources. Meanwhile, many NGOs in Indonesia cannot implement significant programs because of very limited access to financial or other resources. Growing CSR awareness can play a significant role in filling these gaps," says Hendro.
Hendro was touched by Citibank’s initiative when scores of the bank’s employees started to regularly teach street children in Jakarta. Also, he once saw all the employees of Schneider here calculate how much they earned in an hour and donate that amount to a humanitarian program in Papua.
In December last year, the Matahari Group invited its business partners to jointly donate funds for social purposes, Hendro said. They collected a substantial sum of money and donated it through scores of charity and development institutions to help fight poverty and backwardness.
However, a successful and sustainable CSR program certainly goes beyond collecting donations. In fact, companies need to do their homework, including carrying out feasibility studies of projects in terms of their own resources and expertise.
"When it entails more complex social-humanitarian initiatives, especially when the sites are far from the corporations’ offices, it would be much more effective and efficient to channel the funds through NGOs working in the targeted areas," says Hendro.
Corporations still need to monitor everything so that implementation and schedule are carefully followed and the program has the expected impact on the community.
Some people are still skeptical and suspect the motives of corporations in carrying out such programs. They doubt whether the programs really benefit the people, saying most programs tend to serve as camouflage for the corporations’ darker activities, such as spoiling the environment and exploiting workers.
In fact, some giant multinational mining companies that have bragged about their good CSR programs have turned out to be polluters of rivers and destroyers of the environment. No wonder some are suspicious of their CSR programs.
However, well-intentioned programs that are designed around the understanding of a community’s needs often prove to be helpful. Even established NGOs welcome corporations’ CSR programs and readily assist in accordance with their respective fields.
"I have no objection to CSR programs as long as they have clear objectives and really understand and meet the needs of the community," says Jiway, who serves as the organic farm project manager.
On the side of corporations, running CSR programs is not only a matter of carrying out their responsibilities as good corporate citizens but is also a form of investment. In the words of then chairman and representative director of Omron Corporation Nobuo Tateisi in his book Good Corporate Citizenship: Community-minded Management for the 21st Century, it is a way of boosting a company’s stature within a community and widening business prospects for the future.
Then vice president of Honda Toshikata Amino was quoted by Tateisi in his book as saying that community activities are actually something done not for the community, but for yourself, for you receive as much as you give.
Indeed, far from viewing CSR programs as simply a costly obligation, some corporations realize that the programs benefit their companies. CEO’s Mee Kim says her company’s CSR has made her team’s life more fulfilling.
"This involvement has also made a small difference in someone’s life," said Mee Kim.
The CSR program carried out by Mee Kim through her financial support and staff’s involvement will certainly boost the morale of all CEO employees. The awareness that they work for a socially responsible company not only gives them a sense of pride but will also make them loyal to the company.
CEO’s involvement in organic farming in the company’s CSR can help other companies realize that CSR is not just for giant and multinational corporations. A well-intentioned and sustainable program may prove to be beneficial for both the recipient as well as those who are willing to share their resources.