Once a tick box exercise for the world’s most powerful organisations to soften their image, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has now established itself as a legitimate strategic pillar for businesses of all sizes.
The modern workforce is concerned not just about the dirhams in their pocket, but about the state of the environment; fostering diversity and inclusion; and the general preservation and advancement of society for this generation and those to come.
This ‘millennial mindset’ as it has been coined has played its part in shaping best practice in businesses around the world; from the way energy is generated and consumed, to responsible procurement policies and sustainable operational strategies.
In short, mankind’s moral compass has taken a hefty shunt towards north over the past decade – and that movement hasn’t been lost on bosses or government bodies in the GCC.
A chief objective of the UAE’s Ministry of Economy is to establish the country as the most philanthropic nation in the world.
And the ministry is making progress, formalising a National Index and CSR Label to recognise, measure and reward firms that choose to adopt CSR policies and initiatives.
Holders of the CSR Label – which comes in Platinum, Gold and Silver tiers – can earn fee reductions and exemptions, and qualify to participate in national and economic events.
“Corporate social responsibility is becoming the globally brightest endeavour to secure the wellbeing of both mankind and nature,” states the ministry’s website.
“The recent sense of corporate in CSR extends to go beyond commercial, profit-making entities to cover not-for-profit organisations and even government agencies.
“Under the current unprecedented rapid growth in the awareness of the importance of corporate social responsibility, the future of many organisations is becoming largely incumbent to how far entities are committed to practicing the CSR concept in the countries where they exist and operate.
“For the past two decades, organisations from every continent are involved in a CSR marathon to achieve sustainable development to their societies, environments and nature at large.
“Many innovations and creative endeavours have been introduced to bring novel CSR initiatives into action to better people’s lives, build development infrastructure, and protect the environment.”
To help fuel the movement, the ministry has positioned itself as a conduit to connect uninitiated firms with ventures that fulfil CSR remits; ranging from renewable energy schemes to marine conservation projects.
Becoming the world’s most philanthropic country will certainly be a marathon, not a sprint, especially at a time when a sharp focus is on the cash flow narrative in which the construction industry finds itself embroiled.
The subject was heavily debated at the annual MEP Middle East Conference in April, during which industry experts called for regulation to protect them against inhibiting and risky ‘pay-in, pay-out’ models.
The establishment of “proper mechanisms” to ensure firms are paid in line with schedules agreed in contracts was seen as the best way to move forward.
Without effective regulations protecting cash flow, it is easy to see why perceived extraneous – some still argue superficial – business objectives fall by the wayside.
It is hard to argue with the unvarnished expression “cash is king” and in this day and age the bottom line matters most. However, the first step of a CSR journey doesn’t have to be the most daunting.
Interdisciplinary firm KEO, with offices across the GCC, as one example, has forged a vast calendar of events centred around the theme of social good – suitably entitled KARES.
Staff are actively encouraged to participate in World Blood Donor Day and skip lunch so that an undernourished child can instead receive a meal on World Hunger Day.
“Corporate social responsibility isn’t just about not printing a report or switching off the lights,” explained managing director of corporate business development, Brad Batcheller.
“It’s about cultivating relationships with staff, clients, vendors and other interested parties, encouraging them to work together to create a long-term commitment to people and the world around us.”
For some companies, CSR has been woven into their legacy goals. Engineering consultancy firm Aurecon has a particular focus on building stronger communities through education programmes.
Its strategy is moulded around the belief that by stimulating an interest in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – at a young age, Aurecon can help incubate the creation of “vibrant and sustainable economies.”
“Aurecon and its people embrace the philosophy of giving back to the community by encouraging proactive involvement in the company’s multiple corporate social investment initiatives,” the firm says.
“We understand each community’s needs are unique, so our programmes encompass different aims.
“Our profession enables our people to contribute in the most practical and effective ways by providing input into community development and infrastructure in needy areas around the globe.”
Of course, mankind has a duty not only to serve itself, but Mother Nature, too.
Universal Group Holding LLC, which provides a gamut of electrical and mechanical engineering services, carries out that duty with pride.
Green-fingered staff are responsible for the planting of Mangrove seedlings in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Lagoon District, an initiative that will grow to support a vital ecosystem, underpinning the health of the local natural environment.
It could be argued that in isolation these programmes have obvious limitations. What can one firm realistically do to turn the tide?
But as Universal Group Holding puts it: “Tiny drops make the ocean.”
As with all worthy causes, external praise is in hot pursuit.
For three years the Gulf Sustainability and CSR Awards have recognised corporate social responsibilty champions from a vast range of industries.
And earlier this year some 100 finalists across 25 categories were hailed during a prizegiving ceremony in Dubai. Oxygen in the form of subsidies, government recognition and third-party accolades will all help fuel the adoption of CSR.
And, in time, bosses will realise that such an investment can work twice – paying dividends not just on the bottom line, but in the air we breathe and water we drink.