“The Arabs have traditionally been experts at resource conservation. When you live in the desert, you respect the few oases that you have; you use your water responsibly, you treat your flora and fauna well. But a growing city, with oil-wealth impacting every aspect of its life, changes things; which is why I felt that there was a need for a concerted effort to bring people back to those traditional values.” Habiba Al Marashi, President of the UN Global Compact Network GCC
EMG CSR spoke with Habiba Al Marashi, President & CEO of the Arabia CSR Network, Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group and President of the UN Global Compact Network GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, about what the Arab region can teach the rest of the world about making sustainability more than just a shade of green.
What are the biggest Sustainability & CSR challenges you face in the Arab region?
Perhaps the biggest challenge we have faced is the understanding of CSR. I realize that CSR and sustainability can be vague terms with flexible definitions. In the Arab region, most companies limit their definition to an act of philanthropy. So you will find companies asking why they did not receive an Arabia CSR Award even though they signed a check worth millions for a local NGO. I tell them that philanthropy is great, especially in countries where governments are not rich enough, but that’s only one part of CSR.
It’s only when companies realize its full potential that they understand that money spent for CSR is not an expense but a much-needed investment that brings value to the organization and its external stakeholders. The other challenge that I commonly hear from people in the business, is the lack of buy-in from senior leadership. Who hasn’t faced a boss, or a board of directors that wants nothing to do with contributing to sustainability issues, especially while the organization is going through difficult economic times? However, if you are an industrial company, isn’t it in your best interest to invest in the health, safety and capacity building of your workers? If you are a financial institution, isn’t it in your best interest to be transparent and show how you are tackling corruption?
What business leaders have to realize is that many issues of sustainability already affect our business and will eventually do so even more. So we have to get rid of the feeling of doubt and denial in our minds.
Another critical challenge is the lack of benchmarking and comparative credibility of CSR initiatives taken by hundreds of organizations in the MENA region. This is where we – the Arabia CSR Network – have played a vital role. The Arabia CSR Awards recognizes and honors those organizations that stand above the rest in terms of their sustainability strategies, business ethics and governance. We issue detailed case studies on the winners every year so that others can learn from these best practices.
To read the complete article in PDF click EMG CSR interview with Habiba Al Marashi President CEO of the Arabia CSR Network