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#BellLetsTalk About the Effectiveness of Corporate Social Responsibility

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Now don’t get me wrong, I love taking money from corporations. Especially when its redistributed to mental health programs across Canada. There is no denying that Bell Canada has donated significant sums to various charities nationwide. And funding is necessary for these organizations to facilitate their services.

I will also credit BellLetsTalk for making it trendy to talk mental health in Canada. Although much of it can be deemed surface-level “good person” social currency, the impacts are real. The money is real. And this trend creates a stage for people to share stories.

A year ago, I wrote a Facebook status sharing my experiences with mental illness for BellLetsTalk Day. I’m unsure if I would have felt compelled to do so if I hadn’t been inspired by the onrush of social media support. I was worried my most vulnerable self would be treated like a circus spectacle. Thinking of the positivity I received can still make me tear up. I can’t explain the strength being vulnerable gave me. Without that Facebook status, who knows if I would have started this blog. My audience is small, and it’s cliché, but helping even one person really does inspire you. After the isolation of mental illness hearing echoes of other’s experiences in your words is a drawbridge. You can come home.

So what do we make of BellLetsTalk? Wikipedia (the mother of all knowledge), cites Bell’s net income at $2.979 billion CAD for 2017. The 93.4 million donated since 2011 makes a small dent in this total. Perhaps, a blimp in the advertising budget? Of course, BellLetsTalk is a marketing godsend. Every share is a free advertisement while also racking up brownie points for being socially responsible. But are these capitalistic ulterior motives inherently bad? Money is being diverted to an important cause regardless of the donor’s intent, which consumers must speculate anyways. If tidal waves of advertisements are going to hit us regardless, why not send rose-petal water instead of the shark-infested sewage we are used to. At least Bell isn’t advertising appetite suppressant lollipops à la the Kardashians?

And how do we reconcile a campaign from a company that  may contribute to the systemic issues causing mental health issues in the first place. There have been reports of mistreatment from Bell employees as aggressive sales targets push them to the edge. And then there is the infamous “Bell Effect” that causes doctors to prescribe leaves the moment you say your employer. There have even been cases of termination based on mental health stigma.

To navigate this, I see BellLetsTalk as a starting point and I warn against using it as a band-aid. Always be critical. We can do better than settling for a “something is better than nothing” mentality. So share the hashtag, use the filters and raise those funds. But then let that inspire you to research the mental health system in Canada more deeply. Educate yourself on the systemic barriers that make accessing resources more difficult for some demographics versus others. Think about the broader role corporations have on our mental health. Let’s change things on a higher level.

One day is important but so are all the days that follow.

Photo by Issam Hammoudi on Unsplash