Corporate Social Responsibility policies are increasingly present in the core businesses, and not only in those listed on the IBEX 35. What is not so common is meeting great entrepreneurs who define themselves as philanthropists. And yet there are leaders who incorporate philanthropy into their lives, beyond their companies, and direct part of their efforts and personal resources to the common good.
Improving our planet, from a business but also a personal vision, is one of the constants in the life of Sergi Ferrer-Salat. The Catalan businessman chairs Grupo Ferrer, a conglomerate of leading companies in the healthcare and pharmaceutical system since the 1950s, with an international presence and a strong commitment to R&D&i.
In addition, Sergi Ferrer-Salat stands out for actively campaigning for social equity and environmental justice. A textbook philanthropist who promotes plenty of charitable causes in the field of education, culture and the fight against climate change.
But why are people of his profile committed to corporate philanthropy when they have reached the pinnacle of professional success? In his recent participation in the cycle World Watchers of the CEU UCH, in a session entitled “The businessman and society: a new philanthropy for the 21st century”, Ferrer-Salat gave us the key: for business leaders, philanthropy only makes sense when it transcends corporate commitment to become a personal challenge.
A new corporate philanthropy for the 21st century
Initially, the concept of philanthropy can lead us to the traditional idea of patronage, support for science and the arts. And there is no doubt about the positive impact of this classic concept: to give society back some of what it has provided to the company.
However, to understand modern business philanthropy it is important to detach this concept from the idea of charity. Because, ultimately, the goal of philanthropy has to be precisely to prevent people from relying on charity. The point is empowering and making the value returned to society truly systemic. And to do this, it is essential to commit to two key factors, such as research and education.
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The United States stands out for being one of the countries with the world’s largest philanthropic activity, with annual figures reaching several billion dollars. This reflects how deeply rooted is the commitment of the country’s large companies to educational excellence, social justice or disease eradication. All of them are elements that support the idea of business philanthropy as a vector of empowerment for the society, with the ultimate goal of eradicating dependence on the welfare state.
For Sergi Ferrer-Salat, the new business philanthropy of the 21st century can only be achieved through an unimpeachable ethical commitment to society or the process of wealth creation, which can later be translated into philanthropic and patronage actions, must arise intrinsically from social ethics.
The inequality and imbalance industry
We have seen all too often in history a business obsession with maximizing short-term profit to the detriment of people’s health and the environment. Something that undoubtedly involves a frontal assault on the theoretical social equity and cohesion that should be guaranteed. And this is a dramatic phenomenon that totally defines the business development of recent years.
Consider sectors such as technology, automobile or the so-called fast fashion, and why they are offshored. Offering their products at low prices is often linked to very unfavorable working conditions for their workers. Not to mention the exploitation of natural resources and its harmful effects on air pollution.
The process of creation and economic development of the company has to respond to an ethical criterion, which is a fundamental question for the global balance. It’s good and it’s because there’s accountability from the business fabric. But, at the same time, the consumer also has to be aware of their role in this transformation process that we need.
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The call to responsibility stems, therefore, from social and environmental interest. Not only that. The consequences for human health of a polluting model of production and consumption are scientifically proven: vascular accidents, lung diseases, cancer… The obsession with private profit, to sell more, ends up having dire consequences for society, also in terms of public health. Other industries of great economic weight, such as food and tobacco, also contribute to this by promoting dependence and consumer addiction to unhealthy substances.
The resulting situation is totally unsustainable. And, lastly, Ferrer-Salat considers it essential to return to the ethical dimension of businesses, that is, to a well-understood philanthropy that is based on a process of creation and business development underpinned by a solid ethical commitment.
Climate change and economic development
The current socio-economic crisis reflects not only the absence of this ethical approach at the social level, but also at the environmental level. More importantly, it highlights our absolute dependence on ecosystem services.
And that hackneyed idea of “save the planet” is totally wrong. The planet does not need human beings to survive but the other way around: Earth’s biological generation capacity is enormous, and it is our existence that depends on the ecosystems. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the absorption of CO2, the biological degradation of waste, our food… Everything that allows human beings to live on this planet comes from the services that ecosystems give us for free.
Therefore, when we talk about climate change we should actually be talking about climate justice, pure social justice. Because we all know that the mass industrial activity, which underpins economic growth, is the main cause of climate degradation. In order to grow, we must destroy. And in order to generate wealth, we must push part of the population into poverty, especially the one that depends on agriculture and livestock to survive. The latest The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report by the FAO shows that malnutrition rates worldwide continue to grow at the same rate that economic development does.
Overexploitation due to productivity and habitat degradation have also led to the phenomenon of climate refugees. Entire populations fleeing their environments because they can no longer live in them as a result of the destruction of ecosystems or the war derived from it. It is estimated that, between 2016 and 2018, there were 227 million climate refugees in the world. And, as the German sociologist Harald Welzer sees it, the climate issue and environmental degradation will be responsible for the great war of the 21st century.
Globalization is undoubtedly what has enabled the growth and expansion of the West and the world and, at the same time, it is responsible for the great socio-economic crisis that we are facing. A humanitarian and environmental crisis that ends up greatly affecting the reputation of the entrepreneur and the pillars on which our democracy is based.
Social ethics, key to the new corporate philanthropy
Where will these socio-economic inequalities lead us, this lack of business ethics? We could be constantly blaming our rulers for cases of corruption and unethicalness. Or demanding responsibility from the consumer.
ACCORDING TO THE UN, 74% OF THE WORLD’S POVERTY IS DIRECTLY AFFECTED BY LAND DEGRADATION
However, a large part of the responsibility also falls into the business world. The obsession with placing private profit above social benefit will end up sowing the seeds of violence, collapse and social conflict. And the rise of populism is already a reality in the West, a reflection of a disgruntled society that feels despised and needs to be heard.
For this reason, the new business philanthropy of the 21st century shall be based on the development of an unimpeachable ethical relationship between the entrepreneur and society. It is a fundamental aspect, according to Sergi Ferrer-Salat, to defend and create a much more equitable society, with more social justice, that is also democratically sound. A better society that will eventually benefit us all.