Do Coloured Ribbons Make a Difference?

From the Standford Social Innovation review on critiquing cause marketing:

“Yet the long-term effects of consumption philanthropy are troubling. The first of these effects is that consumption philanthropy—which usually takes place as individual market transactions—distracts its participants from collective solutions to collective problems. This distraction steers people’s attention and collective resources away from the neediest causes, the most effective interventions, and the act of critical questioning itself.”

For the full article:

allribbonsThe popularity of helping-by-buying in today’s “free-market” economy is not surprising, and reflective of our desire for quick and easy solutions that don’t require any critical questioning.

It strikes me that this issue raises similar questions as does volunteering at casinos to support social causes. True, charitable organizations get the funding they need, but on the backs of people’s addictions (be it gambling or shopping).

The key problem is the lack of questioning. Let’s not ask too many questions where the money comes from or where it goes as long as money is going to a worthy cause. Bruce Harris, an advocate for street kids in Central America, recalls a saying, “When I feed the hungry, they call me a hero; when I ask why the people are hungry, they call me a Communist.”

The answer is not a simple black and white in my opinion. Companies can take on social issues in serious ways (See Patagonia or DIRTT), but we also have to remember that the market is severely constrained as to what issues it pays attention it and how deeply it assesses the issues. The question in the stereotypical boardroom tends to be about choosing the most prominent issue for mainstream population because afterall, the cause should help promote the “goodness” of the company.

Relying only on where corporate interests and social interests intersect misses the other important areas of the “solution space” for social issues.

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