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From Philanthropy to Investment

Ireneusz Białek - since 2013, Board Chairman of the Managers of the Future MOFFIN Foundation, where, together with Polish and international partners, he strives to develop and promote community engagement programmes for enterprises.

An article by Ireneusz Białek published in "Bulletin of the Jagiellonian University Disability Support Service".

Corporate social responsibility is an idea increasingly often addressed in discussions concerning the role of business in the world of today. Many international and local conferences are held on the subject and examples of companies which put the CSR1 notion into practice show that it may influence the positive perception of enterprises by the public, and consequently translate into a profit, although seemingly such actions generate expenses only.

Various activities in the area of social responsibility are taken up by Polish companies, too and undoubtedly the implementation of that notion is becoming another field where economic operators compete. I wish to point out, however, that there is one area which has been largely neglected as regards such competition, i.e. disability has not been incorporated as part of the social responsibility notion.

I am perfectly aware of the reality to which we have become accustomed by the Polish system for supported employment: employers associate people with disabilities to be a valuable tool for securing subsidies from the National Disabled Persons’ Rehabilitation Fund (PFRON), yet rarely to be competent, educated and prepared for work in a given position. This has been pointed out by Wojciech Maj2. Persons with disabilities themselves have also grown accustomed to such a perception and made disability a market commodity: I have got my official disability attestation and you, Mr/Ms Employer, can receive a PFRON subsidy linked to my job position. If things are seen that way, competence is not that important. In Poland, we have created a new occupation called a disabled person, fair enough, but is it really what we wanted?

When I started at the Jagiellonian University as Rector’s Representative for Disability, the prevalent mood at the school was that there was no need to open it up to the specific needs of such people as they simply did not come to such a university, could not possibly reach it, were unable to meet the criteria, they were simply not there. Should they appear one day, then the Jagiellonian University would open up to them. Back then, I would explain that given some experiences from Western universities, particularly British and Scandinavian ones, the first move should be made by the institution. If we opened the university – however little – persons with disabilities would be encouraged and come on their own. Because the then university authorities believed in such arguments, we followed that path and over a decade the number of students with disabilities have increased ten times. Today, the Jagiellonian University is a leader in educating persons with disabilities on an equal footing with all the other students. To describe the situation experienced by such students at our university it is fitting to use the term from British legislation: reasonable adjustment. This is exactly what our students receive.

Let us transpose this procedure and the term of reasonable adjustment into the business sector. From my experience talking to Polish entrepreneurs I conclude that disability is the last topic they see as interesting, inspiring, creative and able to build the brand of their companies. At the same time, Poland is one of the countries where businesses are very keen to sponsor various charity events for persons with disabilities.

It is not my intention to say that such actions are unnecessary or worse. I only want to stress that this is but one side of the coin. The other one, not thought about since disability is hardly associated with it, is making a profit using the company’s image through various activities aimed at the education and employment of persons with disabilities, long-term activities seeking to attract competent staff, who may have a disability, who will not be dismissed once state subsidies are cut off and as a company owner one will feel proud to employ such a person, and to have its brand built in such a way. So here is a suggestion to open up business entities following in the footsteps of universities, to make the first step, to initiate a programme, to set up a disability section as part of the company’s CSR unit, to take more responsibility for the entire process of developing future staff, rather than just to offer a gift of money to a charity event.

In the academic world this approach has proved successful. There is no reason why this should not work in the business world and the example from Thales Group is a proof for that. For such a process to take a proper form, however, disability awareness must be systematically enhanced, something postulated throughout this publication. Better knowledge of this area can after all lead to a significant social change, the encouragement of appropriate civic attitudes and the “society of tomorrow”.

"Bulletin of the Jagiellonian University Disability Support Service", issue 4/2011, Kraków 2011.

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1. Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, means the voluntary embracing by companies, going beyond minimum legal requirements, of social and environmental issues in their commercial operations and relations with various stakeholders. The basis assumption behind CSR is the responsible and ethical conduct of business towards the social groups it affects while respecting the natural environment as much as possible (source: www.mg.gov.pl).
2. See p. 65 in "Bulletin of the Jagiellonian University Disability Support Service", issue 4/2011, Kraków 2011.