Some­thing new and fresh is afoot in Qatar's busi­ness world. Cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity is evolv­ing be­yond phi­lan­thropy, be­com­ing more strate­gic and or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally em­bed­ded.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE -

Some­thing new and fresh is afoot in Qatar's busi­ness world. Cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity is evolv­ing be­yond phi­lan­thropy, be­com­ing more strate­gic and or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally em­bed­ded.

Glob­ally in the past decade, we’ve wit­nessed a stun­ning tran­si­tion as CSR evolved from a nice-to-have silo to a fun­da­men­tal strate­gic pri­or­ity.

Un­like many im­ported busi­ness prac­tices, the con­cept of Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) was em­braced with­out re­sis­tance in the GCC as it aligned neatly with the Is­lamic tenet of Zakat, or char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. So hith­erto com­pa­nies here have been per­fectly con­tent with CSR ac­tiv­i­ties pri­mar­ily fo­cused on cor­po­rate phi­lan­thropy. This is an “easy” form of CSR en­gage­ment; it re­quires lit­tle man­age­rial ef­fort be­yond the sign­ing and post­ing of a cheque but these do­na­tions to lo­cal char­i­ties and in­ter­est groups have served to sat­isfy the in­ter­ests of a broader group of stake­hold­ers.

De­spite the deep cul­tural and re­li­gious un­der­pin­nings of cor­po­rate phi­lan­thropy, there have been no­table at­tempts to em­brace the spirit of CSR and not look at it just as a mar­ket­ing chan­nel. Such ini­tia­tives gen­er­ally tend to be trans­par­ent in their mo­tives and un­sus­tain­able and hence end up be­ing counter-pro­duc­tive. The idea is to lever­age the op­er­a­tional strength of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to­wards pos­i­tive im­pact. If done right, CSR is a win-win. In­creas­ingly, mean­ing­ful CSR ap­pears to be be­com­ing the norm among the re­gion's cor­po­ra­tions, large and small.

Glob­ally in the past decade, we've wit­nessed a stun­ning tran­si­tion as CSR evolved from a niceto-have silo to a fun­da­men­tal strate­gic pri­or­ity. More re­cently, we've watched as com­pa­nies went be­yond their own walls, us­ing their in­flu­ence to ad­vo­cate for global solutions around is­sues such as cli­mate change, ed­u­ca­tion, poverty, and equal and hu­man rights. These trends are not go­ing un­no­ticed in the GCC. As the Gulf moves to­wards the next phase of its CSR jour­ney, there have been earnest at­tempts to cul­ti­vate a deeper un­der­stand­ing of CSR and its im­pli­ca­tions.

An ex­am­ple of this is the CSR Ma­jlis by Voda­fone Qatar and Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity which brought to­gether scores of peers and ex­perts in CSR and sus­tain­abil­ity to de­bate the crit­i­cal role a well-de­fined cor­po­rate pur­pose and solid busi­ness ethics play in cre­at­ing sus­tain­able change. The CSR Ma­jlis pro­gramme aims at pro­vid­ing an open plat­form that fa­cil­i­tates di­a­logue and knowl­edge shar­ing be­tween peers rep­re­sent­ing both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors of Qatar. It is held reg­u­larly and un­der themes to con­nect the lead­ers of this field and bring them to­gether to ex­plore ways of col­lab­o­ra­tion and mu­tual sup­port.

This col­lab­o­ra­tive at­mos­phere can be con­sid­ered unique to this man­age­ment branch. As there is no “one size fits all” model for CSR, any strate­gic de­ci­sion will de­pend on the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. So it's largely ben­e­fi­cial to come to­gether to dis­cuss these is­sues, be­cause there are sev­eral fac­tors to con­sider; to re­gard CSR from a strate­gic per­spec­tive is largely about pay­ing greater at­ten­tion to po­lit­i­cal and so­cial risks, as well as op­por­tu­ni­ties.

This is why it's eas­ier for CSR prac­ti­tion­ers to share knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences. It is from these global dis­cus­sions that some trends emerge, which can be ex­trap­o­lated to suit the needs of the re­gion. There is a call for cor­po­ra­tions to stick to their com­mit­ments to sus­tain­abil­ity re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal changes. This is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant to the USA which is ex­pect­ing to see a weak­en­ing of so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. CSR ex­perts also in­creas­ingly see cor­po­ra­tions step­ping up as ad­vo­cates and prob­lem-solvers. In 2017, we can ex­pect to see more cor­po­ra­tions step up to ad­dress chal­lenges out­side the com­pany and tackle large global prob­lems, like cli­mate change and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals. The role of the Chief Sus­tain­abil­ity Of­fi­cer also con­tin­ues to grow more so­phis­ti­cated; the bar has been raised, of­ten they re­port di­rectly to the CEO and there is a new de­mand and re­liance on CSR lead­ers to in­flu­ence the pri­vate sec­tor.

It's all in the se­man­tics. There is a shift in ter­mi­nol­ogy in ad­dress­ing these ac­tiv­i­ties; from “cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity” to “so­cial im­pact”. This brand­ing shift re­flects a grow­ing con­sen­sus that the key driver for a com­pany's pro-so­cial pro­gramme should not be some generic stan­dard of re­spon­si­bil­ity or as penance for per­ceived neg­a­tive ef­fects, but rather unique, mea­sur­able, pos­i­tive im­pact – hu­man, en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­ci­etal, and fi­nan­cial. Although it sounds counter-in­tu­itive, cor­po­ra­tions are also ex­pected to play a big role in ac­cel­er­at­ing the tran­si­tion to the cir­cu­lar econ­omy. With a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and ever-ris­ing de­mand for re­sources, it's be­com­ing nec­es­sary to find ways to elim­i­nate waste and re­use valu­able ma­te­ri­als end­lessly, to re­place the “throw away” cul­ture with a “fix it” one.

Im­por­tantly, much dis­cus­sion about CSR con­cerns the cor­po­ra­tion's im­pact on so­ci­ety which some­times leads to its in­ter­nal stake­hold­ers be­ing for­got­ten. For ex­am­ple, a cor­po­ra­tion's em­ploy­ees are per­haps its most im­por­tant con­stituency, in part be­cause of the per­va­sive in­flu­ence that the cor­po­ra­tion has over their lives, but also strate­gi­cally be­cause they are the hold­ers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion's core com­pe­ten­cies. This is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to com­pa­nies in the GCC who have been find­ing it in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to at­tract and re­tain em­ploy­ees with the right skills.

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