Words by Damilola Layode
Whilst at a meeting in Mai’s office, an image on the TV screen makes him say, ‘I like this Yvonne girl’. I turned to the screen and realised he was referring to one of the contestants of MTN Project Fame. Yes, that’s the show that brought us Chidinma, the female artiste with the track ‘Jankoliko’ that features Sound Sultan. For those that have forgotten, this was the same show that discovered the talented Darey Art Alade who happens to be the host of the current Glo Naija Sings show. These shows are the product of these companies’ effort at giving back to the society an act widely termed “Corporate Social Responsibility ( CSR ). Anyone that is observant will realize that the street formerly called ‘Ajose Adeogun’ is now called Zenith bank street in honor of the company that has taken it upon itself to see to the maintenance of infrastructures on that street, as part of its CSR efforts.
The term ‘corporate social responsibility’ is one that is often used when describing charitable activities by big companies and multinational corporations, aimed at impacting their host or local communities positively. This is not to say that the underlying principle or intention that guides these activities is/should be limited to these companies. Ignoring the ‘corporate’ word that precedes, the other words ‘social responsibility’ represent a term that implies; duties of members of a society. The limitations associated with executing these duties include prominently amongst other things, the issue of resources and the ability of individual members of the society to generate them. This is the reason why Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR (a term which came into common use in the late 1960s and early 1970s) is associated with financially capable entities in the society. Other duties expected of members of the society that do not require resources, a variation of CSR are what we know as ‘civic duties’. It should be noted that this practice is not limited to any one region as an International standard has been formulated to guide this practice, a standard called ISO26000.
Our music industry here in Nigeria has come a long way since its inception. Back then, music was associated with being a failure and social reject so much so that parents whose wards opt for a career in music engage every weapon in their arsenal to overturn their children’s decision. Fast forward to the present day, music has become a more profitable venture with a lot of importance and prestige attached to it. As the profitability of music improved, so did the social status of anyone associated with music to the point where a presidential aspirant will deploy the services of a musical artiste to rake in more votes. The prestige associated with music is evident when you observe the rate at which multinational corporations associate their brands with successful musical artistes. All of these points to the fact that music has become a profitable venture implying that the average Nigerian artiste wields more power of influence and is in a good place financially. It is important to bear in mind that most of these artistes have emerged from deplorable social conditions (a fact that socially conscious artistes never fail to reflect in the messages contained in their music) to assume the position of importance they’ve attained in the society. Some of these artistes realize this and make use of the opportunities provided by their position, to give back to the society they came from. Others are blinded by greed or some other factor and as such use their position to enrich themselves, forgetting where they came from in the process.
Artistes that are conscious enough to give back to the society they come from do so in a variety of ways. Ideally, the most effective approach for CSR that is becoming more widely accepted is a community-based development approach. In this approach, the personality financing the venture or whoever has been in-stated by the person (in this case, artiste) financing the charity work, will work closely with local communities with the view of helping them better themselves. An example of this approach to CSR is the effort of the artiste Bono (of the rock group U2) who is a UN ambassador for peace. In this role, he travels all over the world executing charity projects on behalf of the UN. In Nigeria, being selected as an Ambassador like some artistes have been is seen as an honor or an award to brag about rather than a call to duty that it is. A popular approach to CSR that is rampant here in Nigeria is philanthropy. This includes monetary donations and aid given to local organizations and communities in need. An example of this kind of effort was M.I and the rest of the Chocolate city Crew’s distribution of relief materials to victims of the Jos crisis, an initiative they themed ‘Jostify’. They didn’t stop at distributing relief materials; they went further with media campaigns to bring the attention of the Nation to the plights of the Jos people by rallying for supports amongst their industry colleague. A similar trend was witnessed when the rapper Wyclef spear-headed efforts to bring relief to the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Refer to the ‘We are the world’ song by 25 artistes that co-signed the relief effort and the activities surrounding the recording of the song. Another example is the effort of the rapper Lil’ Wayne during the post-hurricane ‘Katrina’ period. Not only did he help generate relief materials, he also helped quicken the government’s step towards rehabilitation for the area by shedding light on the issue in his songs and interviews. The question now is, should we wait for the occurrence of disasters to carry out CSR and charity activities?
The song-writer/ singer Ty Bello who recently launched her project known as “Ekundayo project” which aims to support and source support for an orphanage run single-handedly by an 80-year-old woman of limited means says this about charity and CSR initiatives: “the project is for all Nigerians to realize that the people who are really making a difference don’t have much and the people who are giving don’t have much, and the rest of us should not pass the bulk to the government or to the big organization. We all have our parts to play in making sure that we are all taken care of in our society”. This was best characterized when the HipHop World Awards crew held their nominees’ party at Ajibogun village in 2009 and executed bore hole projects there to alleviate the sufferings the villagers experience from lack of fresh water. But not all artistes that engage in CSR and other charity activities are inspired by noble intentions. Questionable motives for engaging in CSR, including concerns about insincerity and hypocrisy arise as some artistes start CSR programs for the PR and commercial benefit they enjoy through raising their reputation with the public. Those that fall into this category have Projects and Foundations they’ve founded, on paper. When it comes to the structure to carry out the activities that represent the essence of these causes, there’s none in place. Critics of CSR also point out that most of these organizations are not driven by any conviction and as such, lack direction when it comes to executing projects that will address issues they seek to redress.
Artistes that sincerely pursue their CSR and charity duties to the best of their abilities will be the first to tell you that the road is not all rosy even when your intents are to help others. Note worthy amongst the challenges they face is the issue of our government subjecting Nigerian not-for-profit companies to a value added tax (VAT) under the Value Added Tax Act (1993), the VAT Amendment Act (2007) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (Establishment) Act 2007. Other challenges they face include insufficient funding and lack of resources, selfish and greedy nature of rich Africans as well as a lack of vision in the leadership rank put in place to manage the Projects. But all these should still not be enough reason to deter any one with a sincere drive and zeal to help others, like the adage says ‘where there is a will, there is a way’
For the sake of artistes out there, who are already nursing the desire to help others or are considering taking up the challenge, what you can do or rather take up as part of your CSR efforts fall into % categories basically. The first of these categories is, trust for the relief of poverty. Activities you can undertake in this regard include promoting vocational and entrepreneurship training amongst the youths. Another category one can focus on is, trust for the advancement of education. CSR activities in this category include donation of educational materials, campaign to encourage the youths to subscribe to education, etc. International music artiste, Akon’s ‘Konfidence project’ focus its efforts on this issue with the supply of education materials to various regions in Africa. Another artiste that focuses on education trust is the singer Shakira who founded the ‘Pies Descalzos Foundation’. It is a Colombian charity with special schools for poor children all around Colombia. Trust for the advancement of religion is not a common area that people focus their efforts on. An important area that cannot get enough attention is the Trust for the advancement of good health. There are so many health issues to campaign for and try to address, the artiste Contradiction aka Tosyn Bucknor champions a foundation called ‘These Genes’ with the aim off sensitizing people on the issue of Sickle Cell. All other issues worth addressing that have not been stated above can be categorized into Trust for other purposes to the community as there can never be a shortage of need in the community.
The most important factor that will guarantee an effective execution of efforts at CSR is; picking a cause one is passionate about when deciding on social issues to address. This is evident in the way Now Muzik and Tuface Idibia have approached the issue of fake drugs and infant mortality caused by premature delivery. On the issue of Infant mortality, rather than start another dormant foundation like most would do, they partner with a charity called the ‘Little Brother’. They don’t allow a lack of adequate resources limit what they can do as they have helped the charity raise resources by cashing on the profitability of Tuface’s image. They challenge fake drugs with the same resourceful thinking. They don’t just throw money around, rather they capitalize on the power a Tuface song wield by having him record a song that addresses the ill of manufacturing and peddling fake drugs. This song they distribute at drug markets all over the country, they went one step further by trying to influence the country’s legislature to introduce stricter penalties for erring parties.
These efforts show that provided there’s enough passion for a cause, an Artiste won’t need to expend a lot of resources to effectively impact their society positively. I hope they see this as a wakeup call, remember that ‘it is better to give than to receive’.