Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Businesses lend a helping hand to Muslim charity

Anita Pati,

A Business in the Community scheme encouraged three companies to assist the Muslim Youth Helpline.

Although the war on terror has undoubtedly stirred up some hostility towards Muslim communities in Britain, a number of business giants have realised the benefits of aligning themselves with young Muslims.

After the 7 July London bombings, Muslim Youth Helpline received a call from ScottishPower asking whether it needed any help. The call was sparked by a Business in the Community Seeing is Believing visit to the charity a few weeks earlier. When BiTC makes these visits, company executives are invited to meet disadvantaged communities - and groups set up to help them - in the flesh.

The telephone counselling service for young Muslims receives 5,000 calls a year. Although the bombings did not lead to an increase in calls, the charity needed help in other ways. Its main problem was that it had no computer system and, as a result, its operations had become unmanageable.

"We had a mammoth list of record sheets in the office but couldn't analyse any statistics or reports on what our client profiles were like," said Shareefa Fulat, director of the helpline charity.

Fulat said the charity's staff and volunteers had prepared well for the Seeing is Believing visit, which was attended by Ian Russell, chief executive of ScottishPower, Chris Baker, vice president of Oracle Corporation and Gavin Rennie, a partner at Accenture, among others.

"We researched what the companies did and made a wish list - we were bold," said Fulat. "We told Oracle we needed a database for our helpline, asked Accenture for consultancy and ScottishPower for a business plan review."

All pro bono help has been delivered and is continuing. The bespoke database, installed in December by a graduate team, had a big impact, enabling the charity to generate reports and profiles for funders and use this data to inform policy-making.

Rennie, from Accenture, said the visit had made "a very deep impression" on him. Oracle's Baker found the visit "enlightening". Both leaders said their teams felt more motivated as a result.

The helpline still needs £50,000-£100,000 for next year but, as Fulat said, gifts in kind can prove just as useful.

"People can give us money but unless you know how to spend it, it's not helpful," she said.

COMMENT - Krishna Sarda, chief executive, Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations.

In modern, diverse Britain, the corporate world remains disconnected from the poor and the disadvantaged. It is even more disconnected from minority communities and the issues that concern them. There are numerous examples of Seeing is Believing 'expeditions' leading to giving by corporates.

But it is not always money that is needed, although that is a great help.

Quite often it is access to power and influence that makes a real difference.

I have yet to see examples of how access to power has been granted through such programmes and has led to substantial long-term change.

Those who have very little appreciate and value considerably whatever assistance flows from such visits. The key question is whether the visit has sufficiently engaged the hearts and minds of these corporate leaders, not just in giving but in terms of the role they can play in influencing social policy and securing equitable outcomes.

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