A Paper presented by High Chief Obiora Okonkwo, Ph.D, at an event marking the International Day of Charity organized by the Faculty of Social Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, (UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra State.
I want to thank the management of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), for inviting me to deliver this paper. I always like to be among the Unizik family, one of which I have become. You know how exciting it is to be among your own family to share ideas and analyze issues as they arise. Unizik has gradually transformed itself into a centre of thoughtful discourse in a manner that would make the great Zik of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of blessed memory, whose name the university bears, happy. Zik presented an intellectual side to the struggle for independence, working very hard with words and letters, to ensure that no blood was wasted for Nigeria to become an independent nation. I am, therefore, not surprised that the university, which was named after him, has taken the bold step to redefine learning and scholarship through intelligent discourse on diverse issues.
Today, we are gathered here to analyze the concept of giving back to society. This, to my mind, is a very thought-provoking topic as it seeks to probe into the why, and the why not, one must, should, or, ought to give back to society. The questions these raises are varied. For instance, one may like to know why one should even give back to society? Who is society by the way? What exactly should one give back, assuming, but not conceding, that one has to give back? What does society expect from those who want to give back? Is the giver to expect anything in return? Should what was given be public knowledge? This is considered against the Biblical injunction at Matthew 6:3 where it says “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. Responses to these are as varied as the questions themselves. While working on this paper, I interacted with some people. In doing so, I sought to know their thinking about the idea of giving back to society. While there are a few misgivings occasioned by public perception about the rich, the preponderance of opinion, however, supports the fact that one should give back to society, no matter how little. Those who had misgivings also add an angle to it -that is, that giving back has become frightful drawing from what is now beamed into our homes as home movies where there is a connotation of the fetish in giving and receiving. While I see that as art, it is, however, unfortunate that we now see life mimicking art instead of art mimicking reality. But let’s understand what we are faced with first.
What Is Giving Back To Society
Giving back to society, according to Eric Dushimirimana (2018), “is recognizing that you have been empowered to empower others” He says “it is a moral obligation” because “there is no government law which obliges its citizens to be charitable; in other words, you will not be imprisoned for not being charitable.” In the mind of Dushimirimana, giving back to society is a recognition that “all we have got is by the grace of God—those who give back recognize this fact. Indeed, such people are wise.”
The open-source dictionary, Wikipedia, sees ‘giving back to society’ as charity. It further defines charity as “the voluntary giving help to those in need”. According to Wikipedia, the word charity originates “in the late Old English to mean “Christian love of one’s fellow”. It said this meaning remained so until the beginning of the 20th Century and has always been synonymous with charity. So, etymologically, the word charity is linked with Christianity and Wikipedia said the word, charity, eventually entered the English Language “through the old French word ‘charite’ which was derived from the Latin word ‘Caritas’” We are told, also by Wikipedia, that “over time, the meaning of charity has shifted from one of Christian love to that of providing for those in need”.
So, in the evolution of Caritas (charity) as a Christian principle, we read in Wikipedia about the charitable revolution in the Latin church where, in the 12th and 13th Centuries, rich people raised money to establish, and fund, leprosaria and hospitals for the sick and the poor. This also led to the development and growth of religious orders, and groups, with the sole vocation of taking care of the sick and the poor like Sisters of Charity founded by St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta. If you look around today, we still have so many religious orders of priests, brothers and sisters dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor. These were concepts built around the understanding of Christian love, or, charity.
Apart of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other religions developed concepts of giving back to society, otherwise known as charity. In Judaism, it is called Tzedakah. In Islam, it is called zakat, though there are two forms here -Zakat and Sadaka. Islam makes Zakat compulsory. It connotes that 2.5% of one’s earnings be given back to society under the Zakat mandate, in a calendar year, as one of the five pillars, while Sadaka is voluntary giving. In Indian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, it is called Dana. Dana is explained, by Wikipedia, as “any action of relinquishing the ownership of what one considered or identified as one’s own, and investing the same in a recipient without expecting anything in return”.
In a nutshell, Dushimirimana argued that “giving back implies that you have received something from your community, and you are both acknowledging that, and contributing into your community, specifically, to others within the community, so that they experience receiving something from their community as well”.
Scriptural Foundations Of Giving
The development of charity, or, giving back to society, as Christian love, or Christian religious concept, has its footings in the words of the scripture at 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: It says: “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”.
The above words, properly understood, to my mind, lays the foundation for Christian charity. It is a concept of giving freely to society. It says “not reluctantly under compulsion”. This is an indication that the faith we practice encourages giving back to society freely and not grudgingly.
There are other biblical verses that help us understand the concept of giving back to society: For instance, at Deuteronomy 14:28 we read; “At the end of every third year, you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year and shall deposit it in your town”. At Chapter 15 verse 8 it said: “but you shall freely open your hand to him and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks”. At Job 31: 16-22 it says: “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it; if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, if his loins have not thanked me, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm be broken off at the elbow”.
Further, the Palmist said at 122:5-9 that “it is well with the man who is gracious and lends. He will maintain his cause in judgment. For he will never be shaken. The righteous will be remembered forever. He will not fear evil tidings his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is upheld, he will not fear until he looks with satisfaction on his adversaries. He has given freely to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. His home will be exalted in honour”. And at Proverbs 19:17 we are told that “one who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed”. At Ephesians 4:28 we read: “He who steals must steal no longer, but rather he must labour, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need”. Finally, let me take this from I john 3:17 where it was asked: “but whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”.
I am almost drawn to talk like a priest here. Though I am not a priest, I understand the biblical foundations of giving which are couched in charity. The early fathers of the Church have a way of explaining charity alongside love. For them, charity cannot be expressed without love. In giving back to society, you do not know the end-user of your donation. But you give anyway because it is the right thing to do. What it means here is that even the one who considered himself or herself your enemy may actually be the beneficiary of what you have given back to society out of love for humanity. I think it is for this reason that St. Maximus The Confessor (Greek Orthodox Church) wrote: “But I say to you’, the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you’. Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God”.
Importance of Giving Back?
The simple reason to give is that it is good to give. Nothing else! However, beyond the psychological feeling of satisfaction for adding value to the life of your community, or assisted someone or community in need, there is the assurance of divine blessings for giving. In giving, we share. We share what we have with the have nots. It is part of our humanity to be of assistance, and add value, to our communities or the life of the people around us. As it is said, all fingers are not equal. This, to my mind, suggests that the God who is the creator of all things had designed his creation in such a way that some will be more blessed than others. That is the reality we see and live with though we do not know why. If we accept that as divine reality, it thus means that we must also accept the charge, as readout in the scriptural passages above, to give.
We read in The Beatitudes that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God”. Contextually analyzed, one would ask who is a peacemaker? Simply put, a peacemaker is one who makes peace. As we know, peace is a necessary adjunct for development and growth. If we see it from that context, we may then begin to see a peacemaker as one who also freely throws in his weight, material, time, skill, knowledge etc., towards creating the necessary conditions that will eliminate such things that make peace difficult to achieve. In this regard, I see one who gives (a donor) as a peacemaker. When you give back to society through the creation of opportunities for poverty eradication, through skills acquisition for youths, for instance, you have inadvertently caused the possibility of elimination of such indices that lure youths to violent conduct or criminal engagement which in all tend to make society unpeaceful.
However, though some people had argued that there is no need to give back to society on the assumption that giving back means that you owe the society a debt for who you have become, I rather think, and argue, that we owe society something irrespective of how well or how not- well, we are doing.
Motivational speaker and author, Tony Robbins said: “the importance of giving to others can’t be understated and that is because the secret to living is giving”. He adds that “if you really think about it, what is life all about? Creating meaning. How do you create meaning in your life? It is not about what you do for yourself: it is about how you are able to better the lives of the people around you -our loved ones, the people in your community, or the lives of people somewhere else in the world”.
Robbins also said that “meaning never comes from what you get. It comes from what you give.” Therefore, it is not actually the amount of money that you make in your life that makes the difference in you, but what you are able to give away. I think that is why Jesus Christ said at Mark 10:25 that “it is easier for a Carmel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”. I am sure all of us here have heard several sermons preached in our different churches on this passage of the scripture. So, I don’t need to re-emphasize it here. But what it tells us is that there is more to gain from giving than in accumulating and storing.
In popular social interactions, you get to hear that the hand of the giver is always on top while the hand of the receiver is always under. While that may not convey any immediate meanings, a deeper reflection will show that it is indeed deeper than actually thought. It calls you to reflect on the truism that the giver is already divinely blessed.
Reasons to Give
In researching for this paper, I found a plethora of reasons we must give. However, I find the following, as enunciated at lyceum.co.za, apt to our discourse. It said that giving back “creates a feeling of gratitude; encourages a culture of giving; strengthens communities and nations; alleviates poverty, struggling and suffering; helps you to share resources; creates a nation of emotionally aware people; provides people with the building blocks for their future development; helps you to grow as a person; makes you enjoy the health benefits of giving back; and lastly, it feels good to give”.
Rightly examined, giving is about compassion, our common humanity and a sense of support. When you give, you come off with this inner feeling of satisfaction that you have helped someone to achieve their purpose in life. Helping someone, who probably does not know you, to achieve his or her purpose in life is probably the best way to give. Also, when you give, you become an inspiration to others. Remember, behaviour is contagious. Therefore, when you donate to a community development effort or give back through behavioural correction latitudes like skills acquisition, you inspire those around you to also begin to think and act, as you do. The collective gamut of your actions in this regard uplifts society and make things better.
In giving, you also unite people and strengthen dialogue among communities. Such dialogue has a way of creating friendships and removing barriers to unity. So, in some way, you are also helping build stronger communities and closely-united people who work for a common goal. That way, you are also helping to eradicate poverty and creating sustainable solutions to problems as well as helping spread resources for the development of communities and eradication of social problems. This way, you add value to life.
When you give to causes, you somehow awaken the people to the realities that exist around them. You help them bring some issues to general consciousness and begin to drive creative solutions to them. Normally, it is easy for people to fall into a sense of moral sleep when we are not faced with the realities of people who are less fortunate than us. Giving will make you an initiator or motivator. When you give, you motivate the people through your action and enable them to connect to their future plans. It could be that what is lacking is a school facility. Donating that helps the people to connect with their aspirations in a more practical way. And like Robbins said, “when you are engaged in philanthropic and humanitarian activities your emotional awareness increases, your care and consideration for others is awakened and you are exposed to new and different people”. That means you are growing as a person. Growing is not about adding inches to your height or body mass. Besides, it feels good to know that society is growing because of you.
Giving Back and The Development of Communities
Nothing, to my mind, demonstrates the give-back-to-community attitude much more practical in Nigeria than the decision of the people of Imo state to build an airport for themselves. The airport was commissioned in 1994 under the administration of Navy Captain James Aneke. Before him, the people of Imo state, through their Military Administrator, agreed to build an airport for themselves. Though a levy called ‘Imo Levy’ was created making it mandatory for civil servants in Imo state to contribute to the airport fund, several sons and daughters of the state made free-will donations towards the realization of the project.
The decision to do that came from a feeling of deprivation which the people believed held back the development of the state. Though the airport is now owned by the federal government through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), it went into history books as the first, and the only airport in Nigeria, which the people built out of their free will. The airport changed the story of Imo state in a more profound manner. That, however, underscored the story of the development of several communities across Igboland.
A look across Igboland today will prove this thesis right. Igbo communities are dotted with schools both primary and secondary, hospitals, churches, town halls, roads etc., built and donated to the communities as give-back, by wealthy sons and daughters. This is the spirit that has propped up the development of communities in Igboland. Those who made such donations have never come back to their communities to ask for special privileges. They have always believed that they did such for God and the benefit of mankind.
This spirit is not, however, exclusive to the Igbo. Across the world, there have been great men and women who created foundations through which they gave back to society. Notable foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has made over 100 grants in Nigeria, is involved in efforts to “eradicate polio, improve family health, strengthen healthcare systems, improve nutrition, increase agricultural productivity and, enhance access to financial services”, through which it “aims to ensure that women, smallholder farmers, and other marginalized populations have access to the country’s financial system, which can help them save, spend, and plan for the future more effectively”.
The TY Danjuma Foundation is also doing something similar. You also have the McArthur Foundation which has since 1989 worked in Nigeria with the aim of “reducing corruption by supporting Nigerian-led efforts to promote an atmosphere of accountability, transparency, and good governance”.
There is also Pro-Value Humanity Foundation, which I recently founded with the aim to “reorient values that inspire, encourage and equip individuals to not only be transformed but also to become value reorientation advocates and transformation agents; provide activists, leaders and future leaders with quality training essential to develop their skills to be exceptional leaders of character and effective agents of transformation in society, and, also promote authentic human development and to establish recreational, technical and vocational education and training centers that will offer new opportunities and alternatives to people, especially the young, women and the physically challenged to reach the potential heights of their identity”.
Pro-Value Humanity also aims to “promote and defend the family, marriage and the fundamental rights of the human person; promote environmental stewardship, peacebuilding and to put in place effective mechanism for disaster prevention and management; promote new evangelization to enable Christians deepen their faith, believe in the gospel message and go forth to proclaim it; promote positive African cultural values; interface with local and international organizations, agencies, institutions and persons of goodwill to realize the above objectives and, engage in research and publication to realize the above objectives”, as another avenue to give back to society and enhance humanity.
As gleaned from the above, foundations dedicate themselves to specific causes as a way of giving back to society. These causes attract the interest of members and help them pursue their passion to give back to society in a spectacular way. There are people who give back to society specifically for religious causes. Some of them donate money, estates, libraries, food items etc., that help in the formation and training of priests and religious. In making such donations, they don’t look forward to knowing who the beneficiaries are. They are rather satisfied that they have added value to someone’s life and aspiration. That, to my mind, exemplifies more practically what giving back to society is. In all, therefore, by giving back to society, the giver ensures that society becomes somewhat better by his action. Today, Nigeria is three years polio-free. If you look critically at it, more than 80 per cent of funds that went into making this possible, came from donors who have nothing of direct benefit from the achievement. Rotary International is at the forefront of the campaign to eradicate Polio from Nigeria. Today, Rotarians all over the world are happy that their effort has put smiles back on the faces of many parents who are now sure that they will not have babies whose lives will be bugged down by the effects of the poliovirus.
Giving Back Vs Corporate Social Responsibility
Over time, the concept of giving back to society has had to metamorphose, within corporate circles especially, to become known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Under this tag, corporate businesses have given back to society in support of causes they believe in.
For instance, The Coca-Cola Foundation, expressing itself through the CSR mechanism, donated $500,000 to Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Fund. It also donated $700,000 to the Alternative indigenous Development Foundation and $800,000 to the China Women Development Foundation among many others. So, while we call it giving back to society, the corporate world calls it CSR.
In my lecture titled ‘Managing Business in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects’ delivered last May at the maiden convocation dinner of the Unizik business School, I said: “When your business grows, as they sure will if you imbibe all the lessons learnt from your time at UBS (Unizik Business School), do not forget to give back to the society that made you. Sometimes, we forget that we belong to a particular society; and in forgetting same, we inadvertently argue that society’s problems belong to the society while my problems stay with me. But the truth is, we are our society and therefore, society should mirror us. Remember the popular saying, ‘givers never lack’. As you grow in business, always keep those three words handy in your mind. Try as much as possible, also, to work with them. Giving to society through donations to the security agencies, hospitals, schools, youth groups, religious organisations etc., makes your business a corporately responsible one which also looks beyond just making profits and expanding, but also, is concerned about problems that confront the immediate society where you operate. The secret of CSR is that the rewards are immeasurable. The little you give today can be the transformative input that would change the business landscape for you.
“So, it is important, as a business leader, to associate yourself and your business, with one social cause or more. Such gestures open doors to more business prospects. According to nibusinessinfo.co.uk, benefits derivable from being a corporately responsible citizen include better brand recognition, positive business reputation, increased sales and customer loyalty, operational cost savings, better financial performance, greater ability to attract and retain good hands, organizational growth and easier access to capital.
“It also stated that by engaging in CSR, investors are more likely to back your business haven established a reputation as a corporately responsible citizen; your business will attract positive media attention and somehow, it will reduce regulatory burden as good relationship with local authorities can make doing business easier. So, don’t forget to spare some thoughts for the place of CSR in your business. Identify a social cause, and push on with it.”
Meera Gandhi, CEO and Founder, The Giving Back Foundation, writing on how businesses can give back to society in ‘Entrepreneur India’, said: “As entrepreneurs and business people, we should ask ourselves, why do we exist, and what keeps us going. At times we forget that doing business should be a mutually beneficial thing. The provider should reap benefits in return for providing and the receiver should reap benefits from receiving. So, our product and our service should encompass the objective of providing ultimate satisfaction to our consumers, and the consumer in their totality make up society. A business that gives back to society and cares about its growth and sustenance is seen as a business that inflicts equal or more care in the products or services they provide as a part of their operations.”
According to her, businesses can also give back to society by identifying and supporting causes that are in line with your company’s mission, get in touch with other NGOs and organisations with the view to push a common cause, collaborate and build partnerships with other businesses for events and causes, like social empowerments for communities and, also employ people from your host community. The last one is particularly instructive as cases abound, in Nigeria, of how overlooking that had created problems for many businesses with their host communities.
How to Give Back to Society
E.C. LaMeaux, a Texas wellness coach and author, identified three broad ways of giving back to society. He lists them as volunteering, offering your skills and donation. LeMeaux writes: “You can give back in different ways, by giving money or giving your time. No matter how you do it, giving back to your community will touch many people’s lives. Whether it’s volunteering at a local event, helping a neighbour or making a monetary donation, it is not the act that matters. Even the teeniest good deed can ignite change and positively impact the community by providing a renewed sense of hope.
By volunteering, you give your time to a cause you believe in. it could be to help sweep the church or clean village and market square. It could also be to attend to the sick and needy. You could volunteer to raise funds for community events. Simply put, there are several ways in which one can apply volunteerism in giving back to society. You can also give back to society by offering your skill in the service of the society or your immediate community. It could be offering your expertise as an electrical engineer to fix a broken powerline which could have caused the death of so many. Often, we find simple problems that could be solved by the ordinary application of our expertise, but we overlook them until the grow to become a complex problem. If we gave our skills to solve such simple problems, without asking ‘what’s in it for me’, we would have given back to society in a more profound way. Therefore, to give your skill for the good of society, just do it and don’t ask ‘what’ s in it for me’?
Also, you can give back to society by donating something. It could be a material or financial resource. You could donate food items and clothing for the poor and the needy. In the Catholic Church, St. Vincent de Paul, is notable for this. You could donate your time too. This is one huge challenge in our communities. Everyone seems to be in haste to get somewhere. For this reason, people tend to overlook little things that demand their time. Maybe, the one minute you give to help and elderly or visually impaired person to get across the motorway may save some family from heartache and pain. The little time you give to teach, or correct, some young people who are misbehaving, may save then a lifetime of pain. Time is very important to all of us and that is why we must invest it wisely in giving back to society.
Michael Lewis, writing about volunteerism, identified other ways in which one can give back to his community as a volunteer. According to Lewis, to offer to help a family, assist at a local school, organize fundraising for charitable causes, help out at an old peoples home, mentor a youth group, teach in church groups or classes, serve meals at events or feeding centers, serve in community or estate associations, help out in hospitals and clinics, donate blood, organize to gather food for the hungry or persons hit by natural disasters, and even be a good neighbour, are other ways of giving back to society.
I am particularly interested in the idea of being a good neighbour as a way of giving back to society. Not many will think of this. According to Lewis, “participating in a neighbourhood organization builds a sense of community and provides valuable services to those within the neighbourhood. Many neighbourhood associations have community watch programs, assist with neighbourhood beautification and park projects, and represent the community to local government officials. Knowing your neighbours increases a sense of personal security and connection to those around you”. That, in a nutshell, explains the concept of being a good neighbour as a way of giving back to society. It means that when you help create an atmosphere of peace and conviviality in your neighbourhood, you are inadvertently contributing, in no small way, to the good of that neighbourhood. It means you have added value to the neighbourhood. So, I encourage you to be good neighbours.
Ladies and gentlemen, In the end, it is about our common humanity. In his song titled ‘Heal the World’, the phenomenal Michael Jackson said:
“Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make it a better place
For you and for me”
No song captures the essence of giving back to society than those lines. It is about making our world a better place for you and for me. When you give back to society, you aim at making things better. So, the call to give back to society, either as a donor or a volunteer, is actually an invitation to make things better for all. As we rightly know, the government cannot provide all of our needs. So, the privileged is called upon by situations and needs, to answer a divine call to help ease the burdens live has placed on some.
As we leave here today, it will be great if we make commitments to give back to our immediate societies in every little way possible. If it means helping to fix your village road, do it. Even if it means lending a hand to help an old woman carry her chair to the village square, do it. If it means donating blood, money, skill or time to enable the other person to live, or to make your community safer, do it. You don’t have to do it because you are compelled to. You rather do it because you have to and because it is about common humanity.
In doing this, it is important also to understand that the issue of giving back to society is gradually becoming a debate because of our lost values. In times past, to give back to society was a thing of pride. Many people gave back to their local societies to enable some others to get education abroad. We grew up seeing youth groups organize to clear road paths leading to farms. We saw them move to clean village squares, markets, playgrounds and kept the environment clean. But with growing modernity, we lost those values and now created situations where public assets belonged to the public, which is actually nobody, but mine belonged to me. We gradually created situations where our youths now decline to be guardians of our local communities, as it used to be, but champions of bad morals. Our youths gave their time and energy in protecting our communities. Today, they deploy the same time and energy criminally.
The question is: where did we begin to get it wrong? There is nothing wrong in the pursuit of wealth and good life. But there is everything wrongdoing so criminally. We started derailing the moment our youths overlooked the need for good name and told themselves that money speaks louder than good name. While money is good, it is, however, better if earned legitimately. Your parents, family, the community will be the happiest if you gave back wealth earned legitimately. Let no one think, or believe, that giving back stolen wealth to your society will make for a better name. Those who know that you made that wealth illegitimately, will still spurn your charitable gestures.
Therefore, while I will encourage us to give back to our communities in every way we deem pleasing, I also encourage our youths, especially those who are challenged by the desire to make it big, to be a lot more circumspect and work for the sweet benefits of their sweats, not their guns; of their brains, not their brawns. And as you do so, don’t ever forget that “God loves a cheerful giver”. Like Winston Churchill said, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.