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CSR: good business, or PR ploy?

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

“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 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 offering a series of CV clinic sessions for UAE professionals looking for employment.

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  1. Bassem el Zein on April 4, 2010 6:41 am

    CSR (most of it) is a new trend to generate more media coverage through using the goodwill and commitment.
    People react with anything related to human causes, reliefs, charity and so on and the media tends to publish such stories.
    The main objectives of CSR should be the proper support of societies and not media coverage.
    It should be audited and an essential part of company’s report.
    PR agencies should be more mature about CSR implementation and companies should be more responsible towards their communities, without having the objective to raise media coverage and conduct more interviews

  2. Shel Horowitz - Ethical/Green Marketer on April 4, 2010 10:22 pm

    Farrukh, than you so much for spreading the news of my new book all the way to Dubai. i think the book makes a very strong case that CSR (including environmental principles) is a key component of business success.

    Oh, and BTW, it is available in electronic form,and those of your readers who register their purchase at are entitled to many useful extras.

  3. Miss Anne Thropic on April 12, 2010 10:38 am

    It is easy to be cynical about CSR because of the cheesy photo/PR opportunities it creates. But we don’t live in a perfect world where everyone does good things purely out of the goodness of their hearts. If the company MD gets photographed handing over a big cheque to an orphanage or special needs centre or whatever, so what? As long as the cash gets to those who needs it, who cares if it was motivated by the need for PR or not.

  4. Andrew on April 13, 2010 6:39 am

    CSR for most companies in this part of the world is purely PR, but some companies – GE being a good example – have a highly developed and embedded citizenship agenda. An effective and honest citizenship agenda should ultimately be about innovation and savings for the company, the twin benefits being to the company itself as well as the environment it operates in and the people whom it impacts. It’s a far more honest proposition, and there’s a clear motivating factor for everyone involved.


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