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Giving back to the community


BESIDES work and faith (or vision), giving stands out as a mystical force that contributes immensely to the moving wheels of the world economy.

It is not a coincidence or an accident that the most prosperous businesses, people or organisations are those that give the most to the community. It is also not a work of fate that the more one gives to the community in which they operate, the more they get opportunities to do business far and wide.

The intention of this article is to dissect giving from a business perspective and also interrogate the economic viability of giving as an investment decision.

Three key questions emerge in our discussion on giving. Firstly, what is giving? Secondly, why do people make all the wealth only to start giving it away to society at later stages in their lives? Finally, what is the economic rationale of accumulating wealth only to give most of it back to society?

The essence of giving
A simple definition of giving is that it is a unilateral movement of assets, valuables or purchasing power (usually money or forms of money) from one party to another without a corresponding commercial transaction or exchange of goods and services.

This definition implies that for giving to occur one party (the giver) must be propelled by its volition (will or heart) to yield or relinquish what is valuable to them to facilitate the benefit of others (the given). Giving is such an inextricable element of life to such an extent that it is as old as the human race.

We can not envisage a society without giving. In fact it would be a night mare to live in a world without giving.

Some people give because of their belief systems. Nevertheless, most people actually give because it is part of human nature to do so. In reality, stinginess does not make sense because eventually all of us will depart from this life, leaving behind everything we accumulated to those remaining behind.

Thus from a philosophical perspective giving is an attempt by one party to etch or immortalise its name in the collective memory of society.

Tremendous potential is released both in terms of human and non-human resources when endowed people plough back some of their resources to the community. There are current leaders of types in society who would never amount to anything if someone had not giving them a scholarship or a grant to pursue their studies at primary, secondary or tertiary levels.

There are millions of Zimbabwean professionals of all types who were trained by government and other benefactors who would still be wallowing in the rubbish heaps of abject poverty to this day. It is only logical for such leaders to give as a way of thanking providence and society for the privileges they currently enjoy.

The practical significance of giving
If financial and other resources are not easy to come by especially in the modern world with many economic and social ills, why do people accumulate wealth only to give most of it away? Since wealth confers power, it makes sense to express that form of power by salvaging those in need from the murky waters of poverty. This is the power perspective of giving.

Most people who give back to society to express their colossal powers usually advertise their giving activities in the print, electronic or other forms of media. In other words, such givers give to gain publicity or carve a good name for themselves and their associates in the collective memory of society.

It is not uncommon for such givers to assume political, social or reputable academic positions during the later stages of their lives. Obviously this type or motivation of giving is self-interested (if not self-centred) because it has a personal utilitarian dimension to it.

This is the reason why philosophers such as John S Mill believed that all that people do must benefit them somehow because human beings in the utilitarian school of thought are viewed as benefit oriented creatures.

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people will always need something. When a person becomes successful they work more on cultivating self-esteem and the esteem or recognition of others.

This may be definitely one of the most important motivations of giving. Of course there are some that give because they have reached the proverbial promised land in their chosen field of expertise.

For such people, it is only rational to give to the underprivileged in society as a means of self-actualisation or attaining the pinnacle of personal fulfilment. Business people such as Warren Buffet, Patrice Motsepe, Bill Gates, Strive Masiyiwa, Ali Dangote, the Rockfellers and many others apparently fall into this category.

Most of these prominent personalities are already so well known the world over to such an extent that it does not make sense to believe that they seek to gain popularity through their charitable activities. Of course, they may be giving to cultivate and perpetuate the fame and good name they already possess.

The economic rationale of giving
Wealth possessed by an individual or a small group of individuals often represents latent forms of economic power. One way of stimulating economic activities in a country is to encourage those who are privileged to give to the underprivileged and to just causes in society like education, relief activities and health.

When such giving takes place, there is a definite downstream and multiplier effect in the economy because a dollar given to others cascades through many stages in society thereby generating both employment and consumption possibilities. It is from this perspective that giving may be regarded as an economic decision.

For some people to spend in the economy they have to receive freely the purchasing power that they use to buy goods and services.

Therefore, it is in the best interests of those who have to perpetuate economic and investment activities by giving purchasing power to those who do not have.

If that was not the case, what is produced would accumulate in the economy leading to unavoidable losses for such business people. There is thus a definite synergistic and symbiotic relationship between the wealthy and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.

 Ian Ndlovu is a lecturer in economics based at the National University of Science and Technology.
His research interests cover business, development, economic and e-commerce issues. He writes in his personal capacity.

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