by Dan K.
Today, words like “responsibility,” “sustainability,” and “shared value,” are all the rage. Jargon aside, there are many companies doing amazing things in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
This summer, an assignment to shoot a collection of CSR videos for Samsung took me to Phomolong, a disadvantaged township near Johannesburg, South Africa. I met a girl there named Lefa. And through her story, all these words and concepts ingrained in today’s corporate lexicon became real for me in a very personal way.
Lefa is tall, beautiful, and intelligent beyond her years. She is beloved by her friends, and deemed a leader in her community. Like many bright and ambitious teenagers, she wants to change the world. Above all, she struck me as a young woman of rare strength and character. I believed in her.
How did she become this way? She told me this story.
Lefa’s father was a truck driver. His job was to take bricks from demolished buildings and transport them to a dumping ground. Instead, he brought them home, where Lefa’s mother took each and every brick and washed them by hand. From sunrise to sunset, she scrubbed. She did this every day for seven years, until finally she had prepared enough bricks to build a new home. It had a living room with several windows, a bedroom, a kitchen that looked out onto a small courtyard, flanked by two additional rooms that the family now rents for extra income. As Lefa told this story with her mother beside her, she placed her hand near the entrance of her home and pointed to the bricks on the ground. With tears in her eyes and a proud smile, she declared “my mother’s hand is here in every single brick.”
Talk about a humbling story. As a parent of two girls, I could only marvel at this demonstration of strength, vision, patience, ingenuity, foresight, humility, sacrifice, and love. In the person Lefa is today, her mother’s hand of wisdom is there, just as beautifully as each brick is part of their home.
Lefa also delivers a sharp reminder of “what it’s all about.” CSR initiatives can sometimes seem like an end unto themselves—sprawling, operational initiatives defined around conference room tables. We talk about CSR, and we know it’s about people, but it’s not until we have the opportunity to get on the ground and stand face-to-face with the individuals CSR touches that you understand its true potential. This proximity also helps lift the mist of cynicism that can sometimes hang above CSR (to which I am not immune). Surely it’s naïve to think all companies have only charitable ambitions when they engage in CSR, and surely some programs are stronger than others. But if there’s even a chance that an organizational effort can empower a person like Lefa, to reach her goals and help her shine just a little brighter, then the value of CSR becomes undeniable. And that’s a nice feeling.
To See Lefa’s story and other CSR stories we tell on behalf of Samsung, visit the YouTube Channel.