5.3 What is social responsibility?
Social responsibility is related to social accountability but is a broader concept that includes us all. Social responsibility means individuals and organisations behaving and acting for the benefit of, or at least not causing harm to, society at large.
Consider a person who you see urinating on the side of a building in your local town, even though there is a notice that reads ‘Urination is not allowed here, you will be charged 10 birr!’ He has ignored the notice. The notice has not protected this public place in the town from such undesirable use and the offending smell that results.
Why do you think this person was urinating on the street?
He had a personal need to urinate. He may have been unaware that the practice of urinating in an urban street is an undesirable practice.
The composition of most urban communities in Ethiopia is quite diverse. Many inhabitants of Ethiopian towns have migrated there from rural areas. As a result there is inadequate awareness of the importance of maintaining sanitation and hygienic conditions. There may also be inadequate latrine facilities and poor regulatory mechanisms to ensure that the notice is obeyed.
How could you influence undesirable individual behaviours such as urinating on street corners?
You could perhaps organise a community group to raise awareness of the need to avoid the practice of urinating on street corners.
Such a community group could be used to provide information and raise awareness of social responsibility and the need to avoid undesirable practices. The group could discuss the cultural context and possibilities of citizen monitoring, as well as legal enforcement to ensure the well-being of the wider community.
Now read Case Study 5.1 and answer the questions that follow.
Case Study 5.1 Gemechu and the community who won’t obey the bylaws
Many households in the town of Shashemene are quite reluctant to obey the municipal and local bylaws and they pollute their neighbourhood by simply dumping solid waste (see Figure 5.5) and improperly releasing their wastewater. A project has been initiated to enable residents to dispose of their liquid and solid waste in collaboration with youth entrepreneurs.
Gemechu is a WASH practitioner working in Shashemene who wishes to influence the behaviour of those who irresponsibly pollute their neighbourhood. He sees the need to (a) educate the community and (b) ensure that local bylaws are obeyed, so he works with the local administration to take corrective measures. These include campaigns to educate the community and the introduction of municipal directives to ensure local bylaws are enforced.
In what ways are the members of the Shashemene community failing to be socially responsible?
Dumping solid waste creates an unhealthy environment, as well as being unsightly. The individuals in the Shashemene community should think about their neighbour’s safety and well-being.
This example illustrates the gaps between the personal and collective responsibilities of the inhabitants of the town. Personal liberty should be respected. However, it is part of the responsibility of each individual citizen in a community to manage their solid and liquid waste in accordance with the environmental and social safety procedures. When we live in a community, we should behave in a way that agrees with the norms of the community and avoid actions that negatively impact on the well-being of our neighbours.
Read Case Study 5.2 and then answer the questions that follow.
Case Study 5.2 Alula and Aster meet their targets but encounter difficulties
Alula and Aster are WASH practitioners responsible for the promotion of water supply and sanitation services in a small rural town called Wechale. They have served in this town for more than five years. A couple of years earlier, during an annual planning and orientation workshop, they were instructed to work hard and ensure 100% household latrine coverage.
Despite the refusal of some households to dig a pit and construct the necessary superstructure, the WASH practitioners finally managed to achieve the desired target. Alula and Aster managed to influence most of the households because they considered the fulfilment of this task to be a precondition for getting various other services from the woreda administration.
The whole kebele declared 100% coverage of latrine facilities and they were selected as a model. Alula and Aster were both rewarded for their extraordinary achievements. They became determined to focus on fulfilling the requirements of their next annual plan and the locally designated quotas they had been given for the year ahead. To fulfil these requirements, they fixed handwashing facilities near all the latrines.
However, they were dismayed to discover that both the latrine and handwashing facilities were abandoned just after the inauguration day and that the residents of Wechale returned to their unhygienic practices. Since that time, there has been an increase in the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases (typhoid, amoebiasis, shigellosis, cholera and others) and a case of trachoma was reported to the nearby health centre.
Why might these diseases have occurred?
The latrines and handwashing facilities were not being used and as a result the households’ health conditions deteriorated. The inhabitants of Wechale had returned to practices such as open defecation and other unhygienic behaviour.
Can you identify the source of the community’s discontent and suggest why Alula and Aster’s initiatives ended in such disaster?
Alula and Aster were so focused on fulfilling their annual plans and locally designated quotas that they disregarded the opinions of the community they served. The installation of these important WASH facilities was therefore not driven by local demand, but was imposed on the community. The community was not involved throughout the planning and implementation processes.
Can you suggest a solution for the problems?
Alula and Aster now need to involve the community in tackling the problem and convince the households of their collective responsibility to prioritise the use of WASH facilities, to prevent further incidence of disease.
You may know of other situations in which similar problems have arisen. You may be able to identify how the community could have been more involved in planning and implementing WASH facilities and made aware of their social responsibilities. The recognition by the community as a whole of their social responsibility is crucial for the success of any new WASH initiative.
You may have realised that social responsibility is closely related to personal accountability that we described at the start of this study session. To conclude this study session, Case Study 5.3 brings together personal and social accountability. Now read the case study and answer the questions that follow.
Case Study 5.3 Dejene and the urban and rural community friction
Dejene is a water supply engineer. He works at the Amhara Regional Water Bureau. He is asked to assess the problem of lack of access to safe water supply for people living in major towns of the region. While conducting the assessment at one of the big towns, he found out that the existing water supply system was no longer adequate to meet demand and there was a significant shortage of water for domestic purposes. The present water supply system only covered the water supply needs of 40% of the population of the town and the majority of the people living in this town were suffering from lack of clean water.
As a WASH practitioner, he was keen to find a solution to the problem. When he looked for a source that could be used to enhance the town supply, he found a spring with a strong discharge that could cover the additional need. Then he proceeded with the design of the new water supply system.
He presented his design to the regional water bureau and succeeded in getting funding for the construction of the system. The construction was completed and the people living in the town started to get enough safe water.
However, after the water supply system had been providing water for the town for several months, there were repeated breakages in the pipes where they crossed a more rural area between the source and the town. An investigation of the situation revealed that the people living in this rural area had broken the pipe network intentionally. This was because they themselves had a shortage of water and they were disappointed to see the water supply system crossing their villages without providing any additional water to meet their needs.
Give examples from Case Study 5.3 of people who have not demonstrated personal and social accountability? Explain your answer.
The people living in the rural area close to the town have not demonstrated personal accountability or social responsibility. They have acted irresponsibly in intentionally breaking the pipe network. They have not shouldered responsibility for their actions.
In addition, the regional water bureau has not demonstrated social accountability in the eyes of the people in the surrounding villages. When they agreed on the plan to construct the new water supply system, the rural people were not taken into consideration. Dejene and the water bureau did not consider the wider community in attempting to improve the water supply service, improve people’s welfare and protect people’s rights.
In any WASH programme, there may be cultural, administrative or environmental issues to be considered. Inclusive engagement and negotiations with all stakeholders are required to understand and adapt WASH management approaches in line with these complex issues. A negotiated approach can help in bringing both town and rural administrations together to understand and manage the underlying complexities associated with each project.