The Caring Effect

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ~ Dr Suess
Nobody likes to make bad investments or waste money, so when it comes to financial investments, much work needs to happen prior to the actual investment. You would need to:

  • Understand why you are investing;
  • Plan – A careful analysis and focused approach are mandatory;
  • Explore what is available on the market to help you invest wisely: Go through the pros and cons of what’s available in detail, analyze the risk factors and look to invest in something, which will give you the maximum return;
  • Appoint a good manager who will take care of the investment.

The same can be said for Social Investment – companies have started to become more strategic in their social investments, aiming to achieve both social and business impact from their CSI expenditure. Gone are the days of the “cheque out”– where money was just handed over to any worthy cause. Nowadays, astute companies want CSI reports indicating (with reference to Trilogue’s measurements):

  • Immediate and visible outputs (e.g. no. of beneficiaries, sweat hours, no. food parcels handed out).
  • Beneficial outcomes: Specific changes in behaviour, knowledge, skills or wellbeing due to programme interventions (e.g. reduction in adolescent criminal behaviour, increase in numeracy and literacy skills, reduction in childhood pregnancies).
  • Beneficial impact: Community, society or system-level changes that are the result of effective programmes (e.g. improved effectiveness of education system).
  • Corporate benefits: Recognition of SED expenditure in line with the BBBEE scorecard, and internal and external communication of all CSI activities.
  • Stakeholder benefit: Meaningful engagement, with corporate, community and government working together in mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Competitive benefit: Project benefits that enhance the competitiveness of the business (e.g. Unilevers current product marketing).

Immediate and visible outputs, corporate, stakeholder and competitive benefits are relatively easy to achieve with the right strategy. However, in my experience, beneficial outcomes and beneficial impact often fall short of all they could be, largely due to what I believe is the absence of the “caring effect”. If we really want to foster community spirit to create change and add our footprint to nation building and a better tomorrow for our country – in the words of Dr Suess: we need to care a whole awful lot more for things to get better.

What is the caring effect?

Ted Kaptchuk, a researcher from Harvard Medical School was able to demonstrate what some medical thinkers have begun to call the “care effect” — when patients feel heard and cared for, their health improves.

“Patients with irritable bowel syndrome were told that they would be participating in a study of the benefits of acupuncture. One group, which received the treatment from a warm, friendly researcher who asked detailed questions about their lives, did report a marked reduction in symptoms, equivalent to what might result from any drug on the market. Unbeknownst to them, the researchers used trick needles that did not pierce the skin. The same sham treatment was given to another group of subjects, but performed brusquely, without conversation. The benefits largely disappeared. It was the empathetic exchange between practitioner and patient that made the difference.”
Kaptchuk’s study was a breakthrough: it showed that randomized, controlled trials could measure the effect of caring. But there was already abundant evidence from nursing science to suggest a healing power in the interaction between practitioner and patient. A study in Turkey found that empathetic nurses improved the symptoms of patients with hypertension. Midwestern cancer patients who received massages slept better and had less pain. Of course, nurturing is no replacement for science — care won’t shrink a tumor or set a broken bone. But mainstream medicine could stand to learn something important about caring from the alternative forms. Suffering people reflexively seek care, but in mainstream medicine, “care” tends to mean treatment and nothing more. Many patients who really need empathy and advice are instead given drugs and surgery.
Now let’s transfer this to the landscape of Corporate Social Investment, with:
  • Patients = Beneficiaries
  • Patient Symptoms = Apathy; Hand-out/ I am owed mentality; Lack of accountability or low expectations
  • Corporate = Hospitals / Research centres
  • Corporate employees and CSI manager = Nurses and Doctors
  • Treatment = Money / Programmes

What would this genuine care look like within a CSI programme?

  • Support, empowerment and beneficiary self-determination
  • Building reciprocal relationships
  • Showing up and stepping up
  • Doing what you say you will do – follow-through
  • Communication
  • Model and support resilience
  • Model self-responsibility for meeting needs, getting your hands dirty, be found in the trenches
  • Show appreciation and recognition
  • Set challenges and goals
  • Build trust and accountability
If we are involved in CSI, each and every one of us makes a difference, every day. The key question is, what kind of difference is each of us making? Are we happy with the outputs, outcomes, impact and benefits we are seeking? Do we want to leave behind a ‘numbers’ legacy or a ‘pay it forward’ legacy. Remember, the greater the impact on the individual person, the more likely the possibility that they will reach out in a similar manner and give back what they have received – thus reaching a wider audience not only in their communities but wherever they may go. This is only possible through the “caring effect”. It is important to remember that we should look at the quality of impact instead of the quantity of our impact:
we cannot save the world, but we can greatly impact a small number of people’s lives by managing the resources that we do have well, including our time.
Success is built on relationships – creating value and a feeling of being valued does not have to cost a penny.
“The faster you try to solve a problem with money, the less likely it will be the best solution”. ~ Mark Sanborn 
Megan-Lee Meredith is the Group Marketing Manager at WNS Global Services SA Pty Ltd.