Last updated: Paved with good intentions

Paved with good intentions


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One of the most impressive and my favorite things about social media is the power of its feel-good factor. And yes it may verge on the vicarious, but being reminded of altruism and philanthropy never fails to brighten up a cloudy day. There are good people out there, doing great things. Saving refugees, helping the homeless, eradicating diseases and just bringing smiles to dark places.

Companies, too, can make a huge difference. At SAP we take Corporate Social Responsibility very seriously, and were not alone. Topping a recent Forbes list of Americas most generous companies, Alcoa gave away 12.1% of its 2013 profits (5% more than the next company on the list). Companies from Google and Microsoft to McDonalds have far-reaching charitable programs, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg separates business from philanthropy, but has no qualms about sharing his wealth, mainly in local projects but significant sums.

Its easy to see the appeal of sharing this good news and for getting involved in the first place. For broadcasters and news agencies its an easy win and a welcome break from the daily fear mongering. And for all of them, whether its enjoying a nationwide telethon or sharing a link on Facebook, there’s also the hope that some of warmth will be reflected. By engaging with or talking about good deeds you are, regardless of motive, aligning yourself with goodness.

At this time of year, charities (quite rightly) make a big push. Its the season of goodwill after all and humans are incredibly generous in 2014, 70% of Britons gave money to charitable causes. The Salvation Army, founded in London’s East End in 1865, is still going strong. Its latest advert suggests a donation of 19. If you are able to give that much rather than a pound or two, your gift will achieve something concrete rather than be a drop in the ocean.

But if one thing tempers the warmth and positivity, its the fact that the proliferation of good causes means that were failing far too many people in the first place. In the UK and the US, more and more people are living below the breadline, so the Government directs them to food banks, saying it is doing the right thing. Its a depressing piece of spin, glossing over the causes of poverty by highlighting their so-called solution for the symptoms.

We shouldn’t need to give extra to fund simple things such as hospitals for children or dignified care for the elderly. We shouldn’t need to but we do. Spending money on others may make us happier than spending it on ourselves, but I wonder if the growing need for philanthropy shows that too many core services already rely on Joe Public taking up the slack, picking up what falls betwixt the cracks.

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