Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ghetto Fighters and CSR

What do the Ghetto Fighters  have to do with CSR? Stay tuned. I will explain.

Who were the Ghetto Fighters ?
These were the group of people who led the resistance to the final liquidation of the  Warsaw Ghetto which was established by the Governor of the Warsaw district in Poland in 1940. A fighting organization was declared in 1942, led by Jewish leadership in the Ghetto, to stage the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising , the "first urban uprising in German-occupied Europe", which succeeded in holding out for over a month until it was finally defeated in May 1943. All those who were left were deported to extermination camps, though a certain number survived. Of those who did, some made their way to Israel and founded Kibbutz Lohamei Ghetaot (Ghetto Fighters) Museum in 1949, on the sixth anniversary of the uprising. In addition to building a cowshed, a kindergarten and living quarters, one of the founders' very first acts was to lay the foundation for a memorial museum, which would be not only a way of remembering those who had lost their lives, but also serve as a tribute to the survivors' spirit and the renewal of life. Warsaw had been home to over 350,000 Jews before the occupation. By 1943, only 11,500 remained.

So, what has this to do with CSR?
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a triumph of vision and leadership under the most impossible circumstances one could ever imagine. Instead of waiting till the "storm had passed", or committing mass suicide (a very real option at the time cf: Massada), the choice was to use every possible option to survive and leave a legacy. Some incredible leaders emerged from within the Ghetto population to pioneer what would be a miraculous fight against inhumanity and abuse of everything we know about human rights,  respect for and acceptance of othersequality and tolerance. The community drew  itself together, gathered its collective spirit and capabilities, developed a network based on trust and mutual support, to fight the good fight. But these were not the only people who made choices. There were many righteous people who assisted the oppressed Jews during the occupation and during the uprising. Those people had chosen not to be complicit in the evil of the Holocaust, but risked their lives to help where they could. The entire story of the Warsaw Ghetto and its Fighters is a tragic but wonderful manifestation of  values and how we adhere to values when under extreme stress.Ultimately, the Warsaw uprising is the optimistic a story of the spirit and victory of humanity. The survivors, few though they may have been, went on to recreate life, share and teach their experiences, and promote humanism and democratic values for generations to come.Ultimately, the Warsaw Ghetto is a lesson in sustainability.

So, you are STILL wondering what this has to do with CSR. Here is the final piece in the puzzle.
In my meetings with a long-standing friend and fellow professional in the field of advancing social justice, who is today the Marketing Manager of the Ghetto Fighters Museum, we discussed how this unique and inspiring place could serve as a platform to teach sustainability. The Warsaw Uprising may be over, but globalization of business has contributed to the continued oppression of many different  peoples in the world, there is discrimination in business organizations, abuse of human rights, complicity in supply chain irregularities, erosion of values, particularly in times of crisis,  a lack of collaborative spirit and a reluctance to combine and share resources to ensure the best collective chances of survival on our shared planet. Competitive forces work against the best outcome for all. These are issues of CSR and sustainability, which we can see in every aspect of the Warsaw history. By using this platform, we can create a learning experience which is powerful and associative in a way which no other learning framework I know can achieve.

And we have a little time for Q&As:

Q: Wouldn't it be totally depressing to attend a workshop surrounded by a memorial to the tragedy of the Holocaust?
A: No. The Museum celebrates the survival, the bravery, the risk-taking, the astounding capabilities of those driven by values, humanism and a better future life. The Museum celebrates the human spirit and what it can achieve. It's an optimistic message.  

Q: But did those people really have a choice? They were attacked, they defended themselves. What choice is that ?
Of course they had a choice. Anyone who has read
Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, will know that life is a conscious choice, survival is a choice, sustainability is a choice. They could have chosen to do nothing. The righteous ones amongst the Polish people could have chosen to be complicit, like so many others. This is the parallel with business today. Business, or the people who run businesses, have choices. Choices which are not so easy to make. But they are choices. The Warsaw Ghetto may seem like an irregular backdrop, but those who have attended workshops there to date have proven  that this format can be a catalyst for deep paradigm change.

Back to CSR
We are now developing a series of workshops in partnership with the Ghetto Fighters Museum  team (the Museum has been running workshops, courses and learning programs, including management training, for a long while)  The CSR workshops will cover: sustainability principles, ethics and assimilation of ethical values in business (especially in times of extreme pressure) , diversity and inclusion, collective and personal accountability and more. These workshops will blend with existing CSR processes in businesses to support new generations of CSR leadership at all levels. 

Oh, and we might even serve Chunky Monkey in the afternoon break.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at:  

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