Patrice Motsepe handing out gifts to children at a squatter camp outside Pretoria in 2010.
FROM his powerful position in a nervous sector, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe last week brought a gentle breeze to a few sceptical hearts, beaten into disbelief by perceptions of those who share his income bracket.
With a portion of his wealth reportedly heading to fund good causes, he raised hopes to change our views on billionaires. He may also have unearthed a secret layer of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Beyond self-actualisation, perhaps a satisfaction with the level reached in personal wealth can bring insight and help us understand the benefit of uplifting the world that borders ours.
While we cannot each launch a foundation in our honour, Motsepe’s move offers a moment of pause to reflect on the question to oneself: how am I socially responsible?
For many, the habit of stepping into a shoe that fits the needs of their surroundings comes easy. For others, the task of doing good things outside their comfort zone creates some unease.
Left unanswered, the human heart can easily wonder why one's time on earth must be spent in improving the fortune of others.
Lessons from corporate brands on why they incorporate a good cause into the spirit of a company are helpful in answering the question.
Reputation experts will point out that being good for the community you operate in (and make money from) is a step towards winning the hearts of customers and fans. We like seeing that others do good things. It creates warm feelings towards them.
While it may be a long leap towards capturing the affection of a new customer, a range of other factors predictably share the top spot: are your products worth buying, do you have the right guys in the boardroom to take decisions, do your staff smile when they should? And so forth.
Similar standards may rule in personal efforts to enhance standing. In your neighborhood, place of prayer, in your children’s school activities (or related examples), your role in guiding and giving can be a bedrock of your individual social responsibility drive.
In doing so, the theory goes, you will move forward by being actively in charge of tailoring your own reputation.
The will to extend a helping hand beyond our own bank balance and comfort is often questioned in this country. Do we care enough for those we share our spaces with to enter their troubled worlds?
Or is it by the design of our desired standing that we choose to enter a philanthropic layer (or as some may suggest, qualify for tax write-offs for the millions we may already own)?
The question is if it matters.
Those who benefit from the gesture by Motsepe, and others across the globe doing similar work, do not access this secret layer of ultimate worldly achievement. They strive towards the basics only: survival and a desire to exist and participate.
In return, a new breed of “if they do better, I do better” emerges and we are given an opportunity to evaluate personal contributions on the impact they have on society, big or small, monetary or otherwise.
Whatever his reasons, Motsepe had many options for placing his loose billions. In the end, he chose well.
May his example become a trend in a country that rushes to hang plastic red rhino horns over the logos of our expensive cars, showing our support for the marginalised beast. And may our actions be noisier than the swipe of our credit cards.
*Follow Adriaan on Twitter @aiBester to join a foundation towards an informed society of fellow citizens who want to know more.
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