Okay so I am having one of my “what’s wrong with this picture” conundrums whirling around in my head. I read in the Vancouver edition of the Metro today about “Philanthropist Audain gives $5M for Emily Carr expansion”. Emily Carr is a fine arts university in Vancouver BC which has plans to move to a new location in the city and along with that move will expand their campus. Great I say as I am a big fan of the arts, all of them and so welcome having more opportunities for people to engage their creative spirits and study and create art.
The conundrum that I am experiencing centers on this act of philanthropy. Again I think it is great when people are able to donate to worthy causes and there seem to be so many that need help these days. No it is not the act of generosity that has me puzzled. What has me shaking my head is that this $5M came from the company Polygon Homes a profit based company that is making its money building housing that is not affordable for most if not all of the students who will attend that university. Yes they did not have to give the donation so it is nice that they did but it represents no more than 1% of the company’s annual revenue. Just for comparison purposes this is the equivalent of someone working for minimum wage donating about $208. That is part of the puzzle, the donation looks good and Michael Audain gets to have the School of Visual Arts named after him because his company makes lots of money. I say this is yet another example of an advertising scheme dressed up to look like corporate social responsibility.
I wonder about the imbalance in our society demonstrated by this apparent generous act. That this company and others like it have the ability to make this kind of donation tells me that we are doing something wrong. We have many people who are homeless and although the retort we often hear is that it is because they are mentally ill or suffering from an addiction however we also have people who just cannot afford to find housing given their low income. We have many people living on minimum wage jobs who struggle to find affordable rent. We have even a larger group of people who make more than minimum wage yet will never be able to afford to buy and live in any condo or house built by Polygon or any other builder for that matter. So what’s wrong with this picture?
If the corporate world really cared about people and their community perhaps they would start examining their business practices and begin to look beyond the bottom line of profit and instead look at their impact on our world.