Thursday, September 4, 2008

Corporate Citizenship

The story on Illovo which is posted here is an example of excellent journalism which I prefer to stories like ‘Illovo Donates to X or Y’, which unfortunately, companies in Malawi like, the media too.

I don’t write donation stories or similar stories because I want to do excellent journalism and I think the story on Illovo is an example of such kind of brilliant journalism. The genesis of the story was in January this year when I went to Shire Valley to assess the flood situation—this was a consultancy for World Vision Malawi—and I met people who had been displaced by floods and they told me the first help they had—shelter, food—was from Illovo.

This is a story, I thought. But for me, the story was not that Illovo had helped those affected by floods. Instead, the story was what Illovo is doing in Shire Valley, hence I had to visit the company and other areas for the story. (It is also important to say that I used my own car and my own time.)

I have worked for five years but during this period of excellent journalism, I have not met a company that is so committed to its social responsibilities as Illovo.

Still, as we say, there is a lot Illovo can do. But to what extent can it take its corporate citizenship? This is a good question because this year the company made a profit of K7 billion before tax. It came to K5 billion after tax, meaning Illovo paid K2 billion in taxes. This is a lot of money to government.

But K5 billion profit is also a lot of money, meaning Illovo can do more than it is doing. Yet we should remember the shareholders want profit. One thing I think Illovo should do is to establish a community radio station for Chikwawa and Nsanje.

Such a radio can help preserve songs of the area by way of recording them. The radio can entertain people after a day of work at Illovo and elsewhere. The radio can be an important tool to perform the surveillance function of journalism: to warn people of floods, for example. The radio can help with agriculture in the area. (Awareness on health and environment, agriculture—how to care for Illovo cane estates.) In short, the Shire Valley is unique: it has its own needs and requires its own radio station which can address the needs of the area while connecting people with the rest of the country and the world.

It is not an expensive venture. This is something Illovo can do. Otherwise, we should not demand too much from the company because it has done a lot in health and environment. But the room to do more in social responsibility is there, Illovo.

Finally, let it be known that Illovo is a model. The challenge is to remain a model and do better than it has done now. I hope some day, I will visit Dwangwa for a similar story.

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