Individuals and businesses can support collective failure

JP McManus recently donated €100,000 to every GAA county board across the island of Ireland to be shared equally among the counties’ clubs, a total of €3.2m

THE role of any Government in its most basic of functions, is to protect citizens and to provide goods and services for society that it cannot provide for itself.

The issue is of course that the competing needs of so many elements of our society as well as the pursuit of given political ideologies can leave significant gaps in the quality and quantity of those functions. Great examples where government has a had clear vision and commitment to invest in the long-term provision for society, include the establishment of the UK's National Health Service in 1946 by Clement Attlee's Labour government and, as highlighted previously in this column the ‘New Deal' reforms set out by Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1936. However, as the testimony of time has confirmed these much-needed policies would never be a panacea for UK health or indeed US economic prosperity.

What should we as a society do where there are gaping holes in equality, civic prosperity and health that are not or cannot be addressed by either regional or national government? Across the UK and Ireland, homelessness, child poverty, mental health and suicide and the gap between the have and have nots is a shameful reflection on us all. It's clear that no one company or individual on their own can make a discernible difference to support these challenges, but the impact of the collective cannot be underestimated.

It's a little clichéd and much overused but JFK's ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country', still very much relates to our society and to local communities today, especially as we approach a very challenging time of the year for those that are most vulnerable.

There are few in the business community that don't recognise the privileged position that they are in with many giving back to help address society's needs. Giving back can come in many different forms varying from volunteering staff time and expertise, participating in employment initiatives as well as donating those much-needed financial resources. Business people are after all, just people, who like everyone else are impacted directly by our civic failures and have causes close to their heart. One of the great philanthropists Andrew Canregie said, ‘No man can become rich without himself enriching others'. ::Philanthropy doesn't have to be institutionalised and there are thousands of examples of businesses as well as individual people of both considerable, negligible and indeed no wealth at all that are committed to supporting society's inequalities and needs.

Last year, it came to light that between 2012 and 2016 some Cambridge colleges failed to take in any black students at undergraduate level. This revelation in turn inspired London grime artist, Stormzy to create a scholarship that will pay for tuition fees and provide a maintenance grant for up to four years of an undergraduate course for black students who have received an offer to study at Cambridge. The scholarship won't change the structural and societal issues around income and accessibility that many black students face, with these issues still needing addressed by government, but it will make a real and tangible difference to those who are successful in attaining the scholarship and sets a marker down for society as a whole that it cannot sit idly by.

Bill Gates the formidable and peerless co-founder of Microsoft is recognised as being the most generous business leader of his generation, donating some $27bn to worthy causes throughout his lifetime to date, now focusing most of his time on philanthropy. Closer to home JP McManus recently donated €100,000 to every GAA county board across the island of Ireland to be shared equally among the counties' clubs, a total of €3.2m. While there will always be challenges in how donations like this cascade to grassroots, McManus has been a lifelong supporter of the organisation and his donation provides much needed support for small clubs throughout Ireland that make life defining contributions to local communities. The GAA, like society is a collection of individuals and in helping clubs directly, these donations are contributing to the well-being of thousands of members.

But of course there are very few Bill Gates' and J P McManus' in this world who are in a position to donate so generously, and collectively we must consider how and where we can make a difference. No matter how well our taxes are put to use, no matter how efficiently run our public services are and no matter which government is in power the nature of any large system of governance means there will be gaps and, within those gaps, people will be left behind.

As individuals and as companies whether it's giving time, money, expertise or a combination of all three the power of the collective cannot be underestimated and together we all can make that discernible change. No better time to have it front of mind as we enter the season of goodwill to all, afterall as Anne Frank said, ‘No one has ever become poor by giving'.

:: Claire Aiken is managing director of public relations and public affairs company, Aiken

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