Warsaw Years: CSR continued

Most corporations have departments dealing with CSR policy. One corporation I have dealt with requests a 1% donation from all of its employees for charitable work, work that in theory bears no reflection on the company itself.   This does not seem like much money, and it may not be, but governments have won elections on promises of a 1% cut in taxation or interest rates. However, the amount raised by this 1% is pitiful when the turnover and profits of the company are taken into consideration. The projects it sponsors with the 1% are all modest, well documented and, despite all claims to the contrary, used to promote the image of the company as a caring, responsible force in the community whenever the company is introduced to a new audience. I hope it doesn’t win any prizes.

 

Another corporation I have worked with, a sweet manufacturer, ran a CSR competition between primary schools: collect more of our wrappers than your competitors and we will clean up your school playground. This was merely a bribe for children to nag their parents to buy more of the product. Did it produce a surge in income? I imagine it did because the amount of money the company spent on its advertising campaign must have been considerable, unless the advertising agency, the media companies and the broadcasters gave their services for nothing. This I doubt since I was paid by the advertising company for my involvement.

 

The inability of corporations and smaller companies in Poland to detach their image interests from sponsorship or CSR is a huge problem. I have yet to meet a Ceo or marketing department that is willing to support projects that are clearly in the public interest but which do not match the specific marketing requirements and image of the company.

Surely, there can be no argument against supporting what we are trying to do? Music in schools, team building, developing imagination and the self confidence to express and debate ideas go to the heart of the nation. Without these tools Poland will be a failed economy. Once the Euros stop, as they will, Poland simply has no future other than to be a weeping sore on the flank of Europe. Yet, I cannot persuade. Unfortunately, most CSR is short sighted, short termed and self interested.

 

This is not to say that my arguments do not resonate. They do, but most executives are only able to respond personally. Yes, everything you say makes sense, butÂ…

There have been marked exceptions. The president of a bank dipped considerably into his own allocated resources when his marketing/CSR departments were unwilling. At a public meeting concerning CSR, one foundation manager in a huge telecommunications company let slip that she often gives ad hoc support to concerts that her friends like to go to. But, present these companies with a policy and programme to give to children something that until now has been at the heart of every human society and it is as if you are asking for a free trip to the moon.

 

Of course, in my sales pitch I focus on the benefits that better developed young people would bring both to society in general and business. I rarely mention the value of high culture per se nor the wonder of music. Since music has not permeated deeply into this society that would be an utterly daunting and futile task. And yet, when ministers in the Education and Culture ministries and managers at the Opera and National Philharmonic cannot see that there is a need for music in all schools, for every child, then there is really very little hope of persuading business people that they should invest where no one else is bothering to.

Warsaw Years: Christmas scandals

  Of course, change is something that has and has not been happening among the Warsaw music mafia over the Christmas period. The 22nd of December was a remarkable day. Waldemar Dabrowski was fired as chairman of NIFC. According to indiscretions, this shot came out of the blue. Yes, WD has some big questions to answer about how the huge Chopin Year budget has been spent.  But both the questions and the answers must be made public. I should like to see a public enquiry, firstly, into how and why money was spent in the Chopin and, secondly, a public audit of how public money is spent on classical music in general.  However, a quiet firing in the shadow of Christmas is no way for a peripatetic culture minister to deal with Waldemar Dabrowski. And who has taken his place?  A political appointee. A man whose work at Panasonic ended last year and whom, it seems, knows little or nothing of music or music administration though this, in the Polish experience, may not be a bad thing.

 

Before Christmas the happy news was circulating that Antoni Wit was leaving his post at the National Philharmonic. Apart from self-promoting himself remarkably through poster campaigns showing him conducting the orchestra with his eyes shut, so moved by his own art, (did he get the idea from that master of self promotion Herbert von Karajan who was, by contrast, a superlative musician eyes shut or not?), Mr. Wit has contributed little to the well-being of music making in Warsaw or elsewhere. Morale amongst the orchestral players is low thanks, in part, to his dicatorial manner.Yes, there have been some Naxos recordings, but Naxos seems to have discovered Poland as a cheap source of passable recording material. 

 

Anyway, the long and the short is that Wit is not going. Jacek Kaspszyk, though not an ideal choice, must be thoroughly irked because it seems the Ministry invited him to take over from Mr. Wit about now. For reasons unknown, Wit’s contract has just been extended for the next 18 months.  The fact he has been unable to organise 10 programmes acceptable to the European Broadcasting Union for broadcast, is further cause for his removalASAP. What is going on?

 

 

To give you a taste of what sort of people this music Mafia is, an instructive story emerged over the holiday.

 

At the end of last year, the New York Philharmonic was on tour in Europe. Mrs. Penderecka, always keen to be involved, organised a concert in Warsaw with the idea of a concerto with the winner of the Chopin competition. Now whether you think the tour orchestra of the NYP is worth hearing is another question. Personally, I don’t think it is. Once is enough for me especially at the outrageous ticket price demanded. However,  we have learnt that Prof. Dr. Antoni Wit created  difficulties in  allowing the orchestra to rehearse in the hall with the soloist.  A fit a pique?  Who can read the mind of the maestro? What seems to have been the reason was that the hall was not free. Why not? Because Mr. Wit wanted to hold trumpet auditions. Yes, that’s right. Trumpet auditions. For thousands?? No, one or two. You may ask why Mr. Wit would need the hall for auditions when his playing always abuses the acoustic of the hall. (I take earplugs now: it is all too loud). What alternative did he suggest? That the poor girl fly to New York for  rehearsals with the orchestra before they left home at even poorer Mrs. Penderecka`s expense.  What a shower! Surely Poland deserves better.

 

 

 

Warsaw Years

  Before I start, I hope everyone had a good Christmas. I wish you all a very happy New Year. Thank you for returning.

 

Corporate Social Responsibility is a halfway house that suits no one. The sponsored rarely get what they really need, which is independence; the corporations rarely get much more out of it than a self-delivered pat on the back. Two key factors have been forgotten in the equation. Firstly, that sponsorship is not a photo shoot for the distribution of fish: it should be the giving of opportunities that lead to independence. Secondly, corporations need to ask themselves whether they are deluding themselves, whether their “charitable” actions are merely a justification for not delivering a better service to their clients. Were they to generate more income through improving their products rather than cost cutting to raise profits, their contribution to society would be more effective, more sincere and less self serving.

 

A case in point is the Foundation for Corporate Social Responsibility here in Warsaw. Founded and run by an ever-tanned, wrap-around-toothed elderly American couple who, for whatever reason have made their home in Warsaw in one of the four high rise hotels, this organisation has created and cornered a “make me feel good about myself” product for Ceos for which, in return, the Ceos give their money, products or support. Highly organised, professional in every respect, the foundation is run on American fundraising principals. It succeeds in every way except two. Firstly, despite having a huge membership of both corporate and smaller businesses, it does not raise as much money as it might for its “Promised Land”. Secondly, it lets the corporations off the hook far too easily. The second factor is the most damaging for everyone else because it allows Ceos to claim that they are doing their bit for society. Bit, more or less, sums it up.

 

The foundation seems to be based on network not unlike a business club or a Masonic lodge. Sign up, pay up and you get an exclusive plaque to put on your office wall. There follows the weekly news letter and invitations to mass breakfasts at the high rise hotel. I have been to one of them. There is an inescapable Christian evangelical atmosphere which reflects the founders` strongly held beliefs. The members are the chosen. Omnipresent are the towering screened images of the Elder and his wife.

Looking down on the breakfasting horde from his pulpit, the founder-chairman, a high priest-like elder, calls on each person present to stand up and introduce themselves. This is both a humbling and a raising experience. Mighty corporate Ceos besides people like me, there if only as a member’s invited guest.

After the each introduction each person is blessed by the elder. This is a long process especially if all of the 100 or so members turn out, and it is seems they generally do.

 

Then the elder calls on individuals nominated by him to stand and be counted, “Michael, where are you?” Michael dutifully stands. “You are the greatest”. “Jan, where are you” “You are the greatest”. Each benediction is applauded warmly by the congregation. Newly enrolled members are welcomed and enplaqued.

 

Then follows a screening of a video showing the Elder and a few of the chosen on a visit to the school out in the sticks they are supporting. (Thank God some luxury car producers are among the chosen. It is a long trip).  The visitors are filmed dishing out food or visiting classes or just being of benefit through their presence and the presence of the Elder. Slushy music heightens the emotional effect of the commentary.

The outstanding memory of these films is of poorly decorated rooms, mean facilities, self conscious visitors doing what they are not used to doing. However, the viewers are clearly moved by the fruits of their bounty and when their egos are so expertly stroked, who can blame them. The problem is that most of them think that this is all they need to do.

 

The British Ceo of one hugely rich multinational that produces little of use for anyone if they stopped to think about it before buying, told me that he was supporting an orphanage. I asked him what he was doing to make sure he would not have to do so in 10 years time.  He took the point. Society must take responsibility. But with the passivity of the education system how will Poland develop enough to be able to produce either the wealth or learn the social skills to create a civil society?

 

The Ministry of Culture is advertising on television to encourage parents to enrol their children in music schools. This is a bad idea. As they are, music schools do a disservice to both music and society. They produce solo players, not team musicians, the subjective mentality not the openness which team work develops.

 

Business must also reform its approach to CRS. It must invest in education but in programmes that will bring a return for society. Unfortunately, music is not seen a candidate in either sense. Festivals such as the Beethoven Festival merely play on snobbery or on the “make me feel good about myself” factor. This must change.