Happy? “I have FOUR colour Tv’s!!”

22 10 2009

CSR 09 Romania, appears, when you speak with many of the attendees, to have been a great success, yet the conference organisers seem to think otherwise. “Why is it these people keep coming to present to us, ignore our request for practical tools and methodologies on specific topics, and simply give us a 101 in CSR and tell us how great they are?”

I would add to this, many of the presentations were generally one way generic communications, made worse by the invasive use of MP4s. For example; the internal communications (and crisis) manager for DuPont Eastern Europe preceded her homemade video presentation (accompanied by the mandatory rock muzak) showing various internally referenced motivational messages and pictures of community volunteering by saying “you will enjoy this”!

What foreign presenters, to my mind, seem to fail to realise (again and again) is that a great number of Romanians are (and for generations have been) incredibly well educated, and they are also quick to grasp new ideas, highly sceptical, and require a great deal more meaningful engagement and debate around the CSR agenda in order to judge its appropriateness for their national cultural and political context. Alexandra and I have agreed to provide the organisers with some Ashridge Consulting style design ideas for next year’s event to help support such conditions.

One of the highlights of the day was a presentation from presidential candidate Mircea Geoană, a very polished Obama-esque, ex Romanian Ambassador, and a friend of Joe Stiglitz, with four years in the US under his belt. His per-election arguments and rhetoric appeared eminently sensible as did his calls for more transparency in Government in response to a question from the money channel news anchor Eli Roman around the social responsibility of central government. At this point faint sniggers could be heard though from an all Romanian table close by. They evidently didn’t believe a word of what he is saying. The word “transparency” in Romania cuts little sway nowadays it seems, standing for more corruption, more exploitation and more self-serving. The presentation ends with a crowd pleasing plea for us help him to develop a framework for CSR for Romanian operating companies if he gets elected (highly likely from what I understand). I worry the word “CSR” is going the same way as “transparency” before it.

I continue to be curious about happiness and included elements of positive psychology in my own presentation on social innovation and business model intimacy (let me know if you would like a copy!). In the cab to the airport, I asked the taxi driver:

“Are you happier now under capitalism than you were under communism?”

He replies “Back then if I wanted a colour tv I had to wait for six months. I got my first colour tv in 1988 and it was made in Romania. If I wanted a car I had to wait two years. Now I have four tvs and a foreign car”.

I repeat “You didn’t answer my question. Are you happier?”

He changes his tone “Nicolae Ceauşescu was a great man, he did everything for the people, he paid off the country’s debts completely so we could become the World Bank to the Arab Nations. In those days I had no debt; I worked less, had long holidays and went to lots of parties. Now we are stressed and struggling to pay our personal debts and have no time. This morning I awoke at two o’clock worrying and stressed before starting my work at four.”

“Would you prefer to turn the clock back?” I ask

“No, not really, but capitalism is not working for us. Something in the middle is what we need.” He said. “I think China have a far better model”

“Funny” I say, “Your presidential candidate said that too!”

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