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The Straits Times

Philanthropy As Civic Engagement

The 7,370 StarHub customers who have donated their unused mobile phone talktime, as well as unused data and SMS message allotment, are among those who understand the value of communication in the creation of a just and fair society” (Digital Charity, The Sunday Times Editorial).

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StarHub’s scheme could also inspire its customers, who might be accustomed to charitably giving money and time per se.

The donation drive started by telco StarHub – which allows customers to donate “their unused mobile phone talktime, as well as unused data and SMS message allotment” (ST, Oct. 19) – is a refreshing corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. In Singapore because CSR is commonly operationalised as corporate philanthropy, companies are content to either offer grants to community causes, or encourage their employees to volunteer for non-profit organisations and voluntary welfare organisations.

It is unsurprising that CSR is often perceived as self-serving public relations endeavours. The company measures the success of its CSR through superficial key performance indicators – the amount of money it has disbursed, the sum of volunteer hours its employees have contributed, the number of beneficiaries the company has partnered with – yet gives little thought to the sustainability or the ultimate outcomes of its programmes.

In this vein StarHub has taken a good step forward. Around the world (corporate) philanthropy has evolved from basic relief to improvement, to social reform, and then to civic engagement. The telco has identified an underlying challenge – one that makes it hard for students from low-income households to be plugged into the technological infrastructure of schools, for instance – with a solution which ties in neatly with its business operations. The 500 beneficiaries from five charities StarHub has helped may pale in comparison to the 150,000 households in Singapore who “have no computer, Internet access, or both”, but it should galvanise the government and other telcos to follow suit or complement the initiative.

StarHub’s scheme could also inspire its customers, who might be accustomed to charitably giving money and time per se.

The prosperity of Singapore masks the problems of those who have fallen through the cracks, and convinces many that monetary contributions, in the form of financial grants for companies, are sufficient. However the creation of social change starts with a worthy cause – like the digital divide as a consequence of income inequality in the country – gradual improvements thereafter, before momentum gathers for greater, broader engagement.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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