The dominating news this summer and fall has been – and continues to be – the refugee crisis. Thousands of displaced and homeless people, many of them fleeing war-torn Syria, have been pouring into Western Europe every day for months, either across the Mediterranean Sea or via the Balkan route. And many who making the dangerous and tiring journey are seeking to reach Germany as their final destination. The current number of those who have formally applied for asylum here totaled approximately 40,000 for the month of September alone. Not to mention those who have not yet applied. On some weekends the number of people seeking asylum in Germany totals 10,000 or more. In the night before last the area of Passau alone had to deal with nearly 7,000 refugees.
The response by the German people has been nothing less than overwhelming. Scenes of Munich citizens applauding new arrivals at the city’s main train station, and then providing shelter, food and hospitality – or the many private initiatives providing assistance throughout the country – help reinforce the impression of the general kindness of man.
This, even more than the official response by the federal government, as well as state and local authorities, gives hope that those seeking protection will receive the help they need.
But help is not limited to official channels or the private sector. Companies can also help in numerous ways, for instance in the form of charitable donations. Donations are just one of the many activities that fall under the umbrella of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Wikipedia defines CSR as “a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model.” CSR, according to this definition, is a self-regulatory mechanism that sometimes goes beyond mere compliance and “engages in actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm.” Though CSR can contribute to the bottom line, a major trait is that these activities are outside of a company’s core business.
At AOE part of our corporate culture is a clear concept of social responsibility and ethics that goes beyond our daily work. It came as no surprise then, when employees joined forces and, after consulting with the City of Wiesbaden, collected donations for refugees in the region. Within a single week the collection of donated goods looked like this:
Items ranged from clothing to beddings, from books to toys. One cardboard box in particular captured my attention. It was labelled “Inhalt: 140 Teddybären” (“Contents: 140 Teddy Bears”).
Now, for most of us a teddy bear doesn’t seem like such a big deal. After all, all each of us needs to do is go to the nearest department- or toy store, choose the one we want and for as little as five or ten Euros we are proud owners of a new teddy bear, usually for our kids – but sometimes for us .
For a child who has traveled more than 2,000 miles under life-threatening circumstances to flee from a destroyed country (sometimes alone), a teddy bear has a completely different meaning altogether. The teddy bear is more than just an iconic toy. It symbolizes a new, very different and safer life. One where the child can hope to grow up, get an education and become a contributing member to society. The teddy bear symbolizes home.
This, far more than any possible financial benefit or hopes of improving a company’s “image,” is a much more powerful motivator in getting people involved.
Our donation action week wasn’t the first and surely won’t be the last such example of CSR at AOE. At the end of the week, the collected items, bears included, were sent on their way to the Office for Basic Security Benefits and Refugees to help those in need – and 140 teddy bears found new homes. And even though I don’t know what became of those 140 teddy bears, I can’t help but think that they will make a difference in the lives of 140 new citizens; citizens who will enrich German culture and society in the years to come and perhaps help us to understand each other a little better.