I will tell you what phony is? A soft drinks-and-instant-snacks major sending out a press release on its campaign for promoting whole grains in our daily diets. The manufacturer of fuel-guzzling SUVs planting saplings to offset its carbon emissions. Any company, NGO or social enterprise using the phrase ‘touched such-and-such number of lives’ to tell us that their social programme is making a difference. Something about this phrase is unsettling (and doesn’t ring true) – those using it clearly think that the rest of us are buying it.

(Yes, I recently read The Catcher in the Rye for maybe the 8th, 9th, or 10th time, and this time felt even more grateful to Mr Salinger for supplying this word ‘phony’. It sums up a lot of the things about the world today that can’t stand any test of time, reason, reasoning, and fairness.)

What else?  

Being grandiloquent about what one’s CSR/social/education/empowerment/healthcare project has done is acceptable to a certain extent perhaps. But in the grand scheme of things, if one were to be really realistic about the scale at which goals will need to be set and met to make more than a ripple and a splash”in other words, make a difference, make the difference count, and make it sustainable”our CSR reports, sustainability reports, impact reports, evaluation reports, progress reports, etc., will reflect this. Solutions and insights will be in the context of the problem to be solved, and include all stakeholders and all peers.

That failures are a part of those solutions and insights is a given. But do we hear of any project, initiative or experiment in the social or sustainability domain that has failed? Of course we don’t! And of course they do fail some of the times at least.

So why? Why don’t we share stuff on that? Isn’t it possible that by sharing the stories of not-so-successful projects we may be helping others – they will be the wiser for our oversights, won’t they – and more importantly, ourselves.  

And what about those projects that needed to do a longer journey before finding acceptance and participation from the communities they were meant for? For every project that gets a spontaneous welcome, there must be five or ten others that have to deal with initial indifference and scepticism, if not outright resistance. What was that journey like, and how did it turn the corner?

For every corporate willing to put their money where their mouth is – which means they are putting in intellectual and financial might, making a commitment that they are there for the long haul, building up capacities, and so on, there are the numerous others looking for the immediate publicity that aligning with trending hashtags can bring, with results that are never quite clear. Indeed, I am going to remember examples of press releases that arrive just in time for World Environment Day (WED), World Toilet Day (it’s true!), International e-Waste Day, World Financial Planning Day, Children’s Day, International Day of Girl Child, National Energy Conservation Day (for which a zinc and lead mining company is observing a ‘no vehicle day’), and suchlike.  

In response to one of the WED-related press releases from a soft drinks-and-junk-snacks company, my email wanting to know ‘how does 2030 actually look like – the optimistic scenario vis-à-vis the  pessimist’s  scepticism’ – and the company’s understanding of ‘ecosystem restoration’ (the theme of this year’s World Environment Day) met with radio silence.  

This I wrote back:  

‘It is one thing to ‘mark’ days like WED – more tokenism than real commitment. And quite another  to be able to spell out commitment in terms of action on the ground and real impact, and also striking a balance between profit and people’s/planet’s wellbeing.’

Radio silence.

In a nutshell, when you say you are looking to ‘positively impact’ those thousands of lives (land life, marine life, any life), I want to understand what exactly you mean. If you can’t explain that, I suggest you go back to your programme objective and basics, and come back with a great ‘true’ story.