In recent years, corporate social responsibility (CSR), has gained prominence and support from companies in the Middle East and wider society. Organizations no longer see themselves solely as profit-making machines, but as contributing and conscientious members of the community as a whole. Adoption of CSR practices in the Middle East region has improved significantly over the past decade and is currently at an all-time high. One clear sign that CSR in the region is gaining momentum is the fact that the majority (66.9%) of respondents in Bayt.com’s Corporate Social Responsibility: Is Your Company Making an Impact? poll, August 2013, claim that their companies do engage in CSR activities. Another 74.7% also claims that their companies actively motivate employees to participate in CSR activities. With stakeholders across the spectrum (governments, corporations, employees, and not-for-profits) realizing the importance of CSR, adoption can only go in one direction from here: forward.
According to the Bayt.com Corporate Social Responsibility in the Middle and North Africa poll, August 2013, 95% of polled professionals in the region feel it’s important that their company is socially responsible. This is just one more reason why businesses should be widening out their CSR strategies to include the long-term impact of business decisions on their communities. For professionals in the Middle East, the three main benefits of adopting a CSR strategy are considered to be an enhanced corporate reputation (28.5%), improved relationships with the community and stakeholders (10.4%), and strengthened employee commitment (9.9%). According to 64.7% of respondents, companies that engage in CSR do make an impact. In fact, an overwhelming 94.3% of respondents feel that corporate CSR strategies can directly contribute to business success. In light of these opinions, corporations can no longer afford to take CSR lightly, since their reputation as an employer and that as a product/service provider is being cultivated as much through their social actions as through their business decisions.
Indeed, in today’s media-driven society, image is everything. There’s no business disaster worse than making socially irresponsible decisions that damage a company’s reputation and revenue. According to the Bayt.com What Makes a Company an Attractive Place to Work? poll, February 2014, seven out of 10 professionals in the Middle East wouldn’t work for a company they aren’t proud of. Similarly, 98% of respondents in the Bayt.com Values, Ethics and Integrity in the MENA Workplace poll, June 2014, believe that it is important for their company to have sound ethics and integrity. If some companies in the Middle East still think that business is solely about profit maximization and the survival of the fittest, then they are wrong. Business is about solving problems, and doing so in a way that drives sustainability. And perhaps the most profound area of intellectual change going on at the moment is in the broadening out of the concept of sustainability to include the sustainability of a business itself.
For CSR initiatives to result in a truly sustainable future there needs to be more coordination between MENA governments and corporations, where governments would put together the necessary regulatory framework and engage all stakeholders, while corporations would move from purely philanthropic activities to sustainable programs addressing development challenges. In other words, national governments need to legalize and formalize CSR through regulations while simultaneously engaging corporations to ensure a quick and smooth adoption of such regulations. Both local and multinational companies need to adopt a localized CSR approach by proactively identifying issues and working with local communities and governments to solve them. No words convey the importance of sustainable development for the MENA region’s long-term prosperity and stability. Governments, private companies and civil society organizations will need to coordinate and commit themselves to sustainable development if the MENA region is to achieve its environmental, economic and social potential. Transparency and a just and ethical approach to doing business are critical for the Middle East. Creating an environment that encourages ethical practices and upholds strong values is imperative in attracting top talent, who seek work at organizations that are in line with their own ethical values and moral drivers. In fact, the majority of respondents (76.8%) in the Bayt.com Corporate Social Responsibility in the Middle and North Africa poll, say that working for a socially-responsible company is very important to them, with 89.8% stating that they believe the corporate sector has a moral responsibility to do CSR work.
With this in mind, companies across the MENA should increasingly work towards adopting more policies that actively nurture an ethical, integrity-driven workplace– one in which sustainability, transparency and respect for values is vital.