CSR: good business, or PR ploy?
Is corporate social responsibility just about the giant, camera-friendly donation cheques? Or is it a solid business proposition? Gulf Marketing Review investigates.
March 30, 2010 12:01 by Farrukh Naeem
“Philanthropy aside, the region is now clearly acknowledging that corporate responsibility goes well beyond the cheque book,” she says.
The genuine concern leaders in the Middle East have for responsible business was evident at this year’s World Economic Forum. “Business needs to invest in society,” said Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of the Jordan-based logistics company Aramex International. “If we don’t act responsibly, who will pay the cost?”
“We are not late, but we are running fast in trying to bring social responsibility to our society,” said Mohammed Alshaya, executive chairman, Alshaya Group, Kuwait. Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, Prime Minister of Egypt, noted that social responsibility is not just about taking care of the environment; it is about taking care of the whole society. As the need to have solid CSR planning and implementation is being realized, interesting case studies are emerging in the region.
CSR as part of brand values – the regional experience
Governments across the GCC and the Middle East are increasing their investment in community development with brands like Qatar Foundation and Dubai Cares helping local and global communities. From a marketing point of view, CSR activities are being conducted by businesses as part of their brand mandate.
In the retail sector, a brand that is doing CSR in a whole new way is Dubai-based THE One, or the ‘Total Home Experience’ brand. Its stated purpose is “to change the world together”.
Thomas Lundgren, the founder of THE One and winner of the CSR Leadership Award at the CSR Summit Awards, believes: “Whatever you do, if it’s not built into the vision or values of your company, it will never stick.” The brand trains and employs special needs staff, encourages staff volunteering, and has special products which can be bought to contribute to its CSR efforts.
With stores in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE currently, THE One aims to run 99 stores by 2020 to support 99 villages around the world through its Onederworld initiative. The first project is the Pimbiniet community in Kenya where the company is building schooling facilities, digging wells, eliminating child labor and creating volunteering opportunities. “It’s about engaging with society on a significant level and empowering our communities to evolve as a by-product of our core business.” THE One has a dedicated project blog at www.theonederworld.com where pictures and videos of the progress of the project are posted regularly.
In the technology arena, the region’s largest managed ICT cluster, Dubai Internet City (DIC), has focused its efforts in facilitating the exchange of ideas. It hosts the Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) events to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and facilitate start-up companies.
“During challenging times, DIC continues to initiate significantly valuable programs to support small and medium-sized business in the region,” says Malek Al Malek, executive director of Dubai Internet City.
DIC also supports BarCamp meetings in the UAE – an informal gathering of technology and new media professionals to share knowledge, exchange experiences and analyze new developments in their respective fields. To support the IT employment industry in the region, DIC is working with the career portal Bayt.com offering a series of CV clinic sessions for UAE professionals looking for employment.