CSR Middle East: CSR Dubai 2014 took place from 18-21 May 2014 at the Address Hotel, Dubai Marina, UAE.
Following the opening by Conference Chairman Drs Daan Elffers, Founder and CEO of EMG, whose focus was on creating shared value for society, the environment and the corporate sector; the first session touched on the youth demographic. Christian Grage, VP, Arabian Peninsula, for Hilton Worldwide, highlighted that matching 70 million young unemployed people with the 75 million jobs which the hospitality sector will need to fill in coming years is a must, not just a ‘nice to do’. He gave examples of events, training schemes and team awards to encourage young people to develop the skills need by organizations like Hilton.
A local perspective was brought by Annelies Hodge of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce which assists companies in UAE and the broader region with CSR strategy and frameworks. She emphasized how CSR is a great opportunity to engage and motivate employees, and how the Chamber has led by example with its internal programme to dramatically reduce paper consumption.
Unilever’s Arijit Ghose, Managing Director for the Gulf, showed how a leading company can go beyond philanthropic activities and make CSR a core strategy, driving product development and consumer behaviour for increased sustainability. Furthermore this approach has driven company growth in revenues and profit, innovation and employee retention.
A further example of a global corporation making a difference was the Nestlé Healthy Kids initiative, presented by Karine Atoniades, which promotes nutrition awareness and healthier lifestyles for children.
The panel discussion which followed, moderated by Dr Fabiana Di Lorenzo of EMG, provided clear evidence for the value of partnerships and the role of local government and NGOs in social initiatives, in this case to address the serious and growing issue of obesity in MENA.
Genny Ghanimeh, Founder and CEO of Pi Slice, gave an excellent example of how a single event can transform a life and propelled her from MBA student to social entrepreneur, connecting investors to micro-finance providers in the MENA region, ultimately enabling funds to reach those on low incomes.
Waleed Khaled Al Kashti from Zain (Kuwait) presented the comprehensive range of CSR programmes which it is possible for a committed larger corporate organisation to undertake.
The International Medical Centre in Jeddah, KSA, is an inspiring example of an organisation based on a combination of Islamic and CSR principles from the outset, as CSR director Noor Serafi eloquently communicated. The hospital is a centre of excellence both medically and in terms of CSR, designed with sustainability, community and a holistic healing experience for the patient at its heart. Key to its success is the top-down leadership commitment combined with a bottom-up approach to shared progress.
Returning to the subject of youth engagement and development in the afternoon’s first panel discussion, moderated by Dr Richard Manlove of EMG, summit attendees heard about two social entrepreneurs from Lebanon and Egypt who are supported through the Arab World Social Innovators Programme, a partnership initiative between global NGO Synergos and leading consumer corporate PepsiCo. This arrangement enables the entrepreneurs to maintain independence in their approach, receiving direct input from Synergos, whilst fulfilling PepsiCo’s purpose of addressing social and environmental issues in the region.
Cascading CSR strategy was the subject of the final panel on day 1, moderated by Bart Burghgraef, Associate Partner for EMG Qatar. Zahra Hamirani left the world of global finance to set up a small, sustainable children’s nursery business in Dubai and related how a sense of purpose can truly engage staff and private partners to give generously of their time and resources to achieve remarkable things, including building the world’s longest sustainable fence from recycled bottles!
By contrast Rania Tayeh Pahl of Dubal exemplified engagement and purpose in a large industrial company.
CSR Middle East: Day 2, Tuesday May 20th
The first session of day two linked the passion of individuals, stakeholder engagement and good planning and implementation as a formula for success in corporate CSR.
The first of these was exemplified by Dr Sven Rohte, Chief Commercial Officer for Daman, whose passion to get people involved in sport for preventive health has resulted amongst other things in a growing band of regular runners at the Dubai Marina circuit.
Manar Al Muraikhi presented examples of TV content and competitions which leverage the current generation’s attachment to social media, and delighted the audience with video clips of the highly successful Alrabaa characters which Ooredoo has created to engage youngsters.
Then Herluf Nis Thomsen gave an object lesson in a well-planned and implemented campaign to tackle diabetes in the region, an initiative in which Novo Nordisk has partnered with Maersk Oil Qatar and local health organisations. A three-year timetable with clear objectives, KPIs and an appreciation of critical success factors have underpinned the success.
A highlight of day two was the panel discussion moderated by conference chairman Drs Daan Elffers in which HRH Princess Banderi Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia represented the King Khalid Foundation and President & CEO Bill Reese the International Youth Foundation.
Her Royal Highness referred to the challenges of establishing and managing successful partnerships, and Bill Reese talked with great authority on the critical importance of engaging youth not only in the MENA region but around the world. Together their organisations have created the ‘Passport for Success’ programme, a life-skills curriculum building on partnerships with the private sector to give young people the relevant skills and confidence they need to enter the workforce.
Drs Zeljka Davis-Vorih, Managing Partner with EMG, shared her knowledge and experience of strategic positioning and organizational reputation management. She emphasized the need for a focused strategic approach to CSR, and laid out clear steps on how to embed CSR effectively in the organization.
Finally the presentations to three young social entrepreneur teams, and the judging of their entries in a competition sponsored by the Al Ahli Group, was a great climax to the morning.
Al Ahli’s CSR director, Lina Hourani, was the Master of Ceremonies and the audience was captivated and moved by the teams and what they were doing:
1. ‘She Dares’ is a coaching programme set up by a team of three young female students in Dubai, using local professional life-coaches to support women in the development of leadership skills.
2. The ‘Get off the Couch’ team has partnered with Gold’s Gym, Dr Nutrition and Fatafeet TV to provide events, educational materials and seminars to promote physical activity, healthy nutrition and lifestyles for children.
3. ‘Ray of Hope’, the competition winner, comprises a team of two young women who were concerned by the contrast between the opulence of modern Dubai and the conditions in the accommodation camps of the labourers who provide the workforce required for the vast array of construction projects. Taking a direct approach, they visited one of the camps and asked groups of workers about what they most needed. They then sourced and donated toiletries and blankets.
All three initiatives were truly worthy and the competitors will benefit from input by conference participants who were inspired and responded warmly to them.
Professor Dima Jimali updated the conference on trends in CSR in the MENA region based on her team’s research at the American University of Beirut (AUB). She contrasted areas where regional CSR is converging with the global picture, such as the increase in companies which have signed up to the UN Global Compact, with other areas where it diverges due to cultural specifics such as an emphasis on philanthropy.
An interesting contribution was from AUB student Farah Matar, President of Net Impact at the university. Net Impact is a global leadership network in business schools dedicated to driving change for more sustainable business. Farah described the Reverse Vending Machine on AUB’s campus which gives points in return for recycled items.