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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

At the recent CSR Summit Awards Ceremony held in Dubai, where the company won two awards, Tarek Sultan, chairman and MD of Agility, said: “We believe passionately in giving back to the communities in which we operate – not just through donations or one-off projects, but through a comprehensive series of initiatives focusing on sustainability, disaster response and employee volunteerism.”

Making way for transparency

One thing that needs to change is the way people look at CSR reporting. An organization that faced an unexpected response to their transparent reporting of their CSR progress is the Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital (DSFH), Saudi Arabia. Soon after the hospital released its non-financial CSR report, a first in the region’s healthcare industry, it was taken to task in the local media for publishing performance figures that seemed too low for being in the news.

In a press conference at the Arab Health Congress 2010, Dr Mazen Fakeeh, the director general and chairman of the Executive Committee of the hospital, explained: “The numbers we are publishing are good numbers in the health industry globally.”

For example, the report shows the Saudi hospital’s staff satisfaction at 52 per cent, which is far higher than the average of 38 per cent of the UK and the 41 per cent of the US. In a region accustomed to CSR press releases loaded with self-praise, the unvarnished truth is to be applauded.

As more organizations and governments put regular monitoring and auditing systems in place, and publish accurate figures of not just the best parts but the areas that need improvement, transparency and honesty about the true state of affairs is to be encouraged.

The way ahead

Where do we go next in the region’s quest towards effective and sustainable CSR? “The ultimate step on the sustainability journey involves shifting mindsets and perceptions about what business is all about,” says Maria Sillanpaa, of the Sustainability Advisory Group. This involves moving from the traditional “the business of business is business” world to a new paradigm where “the business of business is the planet and its people”.

At the start of this new millennium, companies took over as the major economic force globally. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 turned out to be corporations; 49 were countries. Wal-Mart was bigger than 161 countries; Mitsubishi was larger than Indonesia. General Motors was bigger than Denmark. Ford was bigger than South Africa and Toyota bigger than Norway. With this level of might and influence, companies must accept a much wider global role than the purely economic.

“They need to be proactive seekers of solutions to our complex global challenges, not only reactive followers of new rules.”

Any efforts made to improve the standard of living of a community will bear more fruit when businesses, governments and individuals work in tandem towards a common goal. In the GCC and the Middle East, it will take more than feel-good press releases and token campaigns. The good news is, it’s starting to happen, and fast.

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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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