Despite The COVID-19 Crisis, Dubai's Commitment To Sustainability And Corporate Social Responsibility Remains Strong In 2020 Dubai's sustainability and CSR model is unique in its approach, and the Emirate continues to serve as a leading example in the region for promoting responsible business.

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The rapid economic development of Dubai over the last few decades has often raised a question of how much cultural and social dimensions have been taken into consideration when shaping the overall economic landscape of the Emirate. The answer is evident on a daily basis with the UAE government-driven developments embedding an institutional and managerial culture that ensures a promising future for all who contribute to it, from small businesses to large conglomerates, from couriers to CEOs.

"Dubai's sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) model is unique in its approach, and the Emirate continues to serve as a leading example in the region for promoting responsible business," says Dr. Belaid Rettab, Chief Economist and Senior Director, Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development Sector, Dubai Chamber, when speaking with Entrepreneur Middle East. "The model leverages partnerships and collaborations between public and private sector stakeholders as effective tools in addressing key CSR issues and maximizing social impact. As one of the world's fastest growing cities, Dubai has managed to achieve a perfect balance between economic and social development, thanks to the vision of its wise leadership, effective planning, and implementation, and commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which have boosted the Emirate's competitiveness in this area, and put it on a path of sustainable growth."

Dr. Belaid Rettab, Chief Economist and Senior Director, Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development Sector, Dubai Chamber.

Through its various projects and initiatives, Dubai is inspiring the enterprises based in the Emirate to incorporate sustainability and CSR into their business strategies, community initiatives, and organizational cultures as well. One example of such an event is the recently held Dubai Chamber Sustainability Week 2020, which encompassed more than 417 projects, activities, and events, attracting the participation of over 350 delegates from 221 local businesses. Within the overall theme of of the event, "Employee Health and Happiness," Dubai Chamber led a campaign entitled "Let's Create a Healthy and Happy Workplace" in order to raise awareness about the importance of prioritizing employee happiness and health. The campaign drew the participation of more than 57,000 employees across 42 companies, and nine academic institutions and non-profit organizations, with a valuable conclusion that top management should lead the way by being visible, advocating for employee health and wellbeing, and managing with compassion and empathy during unprecedented times such as the COVID-19 outbreak. "Another important facet of Dubai's sustainability and CSR model is its strong culture of corporate volunteerism," Dr. Rettab adds. "Following the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses rose to the challenge and stepped up in a big way to support their communities. A shift to virtual volunteering has created plenty of opportunities for organizations to give back and expand their reach."

Related: Dubai Chamber President And CEO H.E. Hamad Buamim's Message For Dubai's Business Community Amid The COVID-19 Crisis

Speaking at the CEO Dialogue event that was also held during the Dubai Chamber Sustainability Week 2020, Phil Malem, CEO of Serco Middle East, confirmed that, although 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak was a challenging time for businesses everywhere, at his company, the staff decided to come together and support their clients, despite the circumstances. "We have never been stronger, and that's down to our employees," Malem says. The UK-headquartered Serco is one of the world's largest providers of public services to governments, and Malem explained that the importance of ensuring that the company's employees are supported to deliver on their tasks was clearly evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. "We did everything we could for employees, and they were kept motivated," Malem notes. "They were proud to work here, and together, we served the UAE government and the people that call the UAE home– whether that was keeping Dubai moving through our work on the Dubai Metro, ensuring that the universities were a safe place for students, or mobilizing our team quickly on the Dubai World Trade Centre field hospital. It is no doubt a difficult time for our colleagues across our business- many of our employees have had difficult circumstances, and as leaders, we need to acknowledge that, and connect with our employees on a human level by leading with empathy."

Phil Malem, CEO of Serco Middle East.

Serco has made its staff's health and happiness a top priority with its Employee Assistance Program that includes 24/7 counseling support, flexible working, regular wellbeing sessions, and the company's RUOK program, which is designed to check on and improve employees' mental wellbeing. "Sometimes, implementing these programs does come with an additional cost, but investment in people is something that will always pay dividends in the future," Malem explains. "In some workplaces, there is a stigma attached to asking for help. When we first launched our employee assistance program, it was under-utilized, and people perhaps felt like they shouldn't need to ask for help– but it's an education, and a communications piece that needs to go along with that, and also line managers leading by example."

Besides Malem, the CEO Dialogue event was attended by other high-level speakers and panelists, including H.E. Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman of Dubai Chamber, Rola Abu Manneh, CEO of Standard Chartered, UAE, Stuart Harrison, CEO of Emrill Services LLC, and Andrew Shaw, Group CEO of Ducab, among others. At the forum, Abu Manneh shared with the audience that while the wellbeing of employees at her bank has always been of crucial importance, the COVID-19 has led the enterprise to prioritize mental wellbeing above all other aspects. "In the GCC, the topic of mental health is still a hurdle we have yet to overcome, so, at Standard Chartered, we aim to give our people access to personal and anonymized tools that will help them maintain privacy about their support needs," Abu Manneh says. She notes that the bank has implemented many initiatives that are aligned with the Dubai Health Authority's inclusive mental health strategy, "Happy Lives, Healthy Communities." These initiatives included flexible and wellbeing policies, upgrading the company's employee assistance program, creating practical toolkits, and training more mental health first aiders, among others.

Rola Abu Manneh, CEO of Standard Chartered.

"CEOs and entrepreneurs should lead the way by being visible advocates for employee health and wellbeing, and managing with compassion and empathy during unprecedented times," Abu Manneh notes. "Now is also the ideal time to embrace technological innovations in the fields of health and wellness. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to adopting technological solutions for employee wellbeing, and initiatives should be tailored to the organization's specific needs. Also, it is now more important than ever for business leaders to rethink their work environments and develop systems and skills that empower employees. Organizations also need to make employee engagement a front-and-centre issue, while leaders need to learn to trust their employees by providing the necessary skills and tools to reach their full potential. To that end, communication is always key."

Related: Dubai Chamber Demonstrates UAE's Successful E-Commerce Performance Amid The COVID-19 Crisis

Another speaker at the CEO Dialogue, Stuart Harrison, CEO at Emrill, said that the culture that his company has created led its employees to want to do more for their communities. In order to support this community-level CSR, every Emrill employee is entitled to up to six days' paid leave per year to volunteer for community-led projects and charitable activities. "We have seen employees volunteer their time to create sustainable organic gardens in the communities within which they work, as well as planting fruits, herbs and vegetables in the Emrill accommodation," Harrison said. In the company's latest annual employee happiness survey survey called "PULSE," the results clearly demonstrate employees' positive response to Emrill's programs and initiatives, Harrison notes, adding that out of 94% of Emrill employees who responded, 91% indicated that they were proud to work for the company. "I think the most important thing for leaders to recognize is that employee engagement, wellbeing and happiness are critical factors of any organization's productivity, growth and ability to innovate, which is vital in today's economy. While some companies may label employees as low performers because it is easy to do so, Emrill chooses to adopt a more difficult yet so much more effective way of approaching productivity. We proactively explore what factors are impacting an employee's productivity. Everything we do across the business is with a view to helping our employees feel empowered to do the very best work they can, from open communication channels to community activities."

Stuart Harrison, CEO at Emrill.

In addition, Harrison points out that nothing happens in a vacuum and that different factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding on how to motivate the staff. "It isn't enough to pay an unhappy employee more money, but not address any other issues they may have,"he said. "We try to look at our employees more holistically, ensuring they are paid fairly and on time, have a safe work environment, are heard and are given the right training and development to not only carry out their roles well, but also face the next challenges in their careers and achieve progression. Finally, making long last changes is a process, not a one-off activity. While your business may not benefit from changes overnight, the long-term advantages of proactively engaging your workforce and ensuring they are healthy and happy will bring dividends in the long term."

Andrew Shaw, Group CEO of DUCAB, a UAE-based global manufacturing business, echoed this sentiment, while noting how his company's employee engagement strategy aims to transform it into an organization with an engaging and high-performance workplace culture where high potential employees are nurtured and grown. "Employee happiness has both tangible and intangible results," he explains. "A key impact on the bottom line is a reduction in staff turnover. Happier employees stay in the job longer. Productivity is another benefit. There's plenty of evidence demonstrating the link between how we feel at work and our productivity. But smart business isn't just about squeezing the most out of people. Pioneering leaders and the millennials they recruit are interested in the social and environmental impact underlying their work. How many times have you gone in to work when you're not up to it? It's called presenteeism, and it's on the rise and is not easy to measure."

Andrew Shaw, Group CEO of DUCAB.

Shaw points out there have been several surveys that showcase the growing number of people who are putting aside both mental and physical health problems to attend work, and such concerns highlight why employers need to make the effort to design a wellness program that meets the needs and aspirations of the workforce. "Presenteeism poses a huge problem when it comes to the employees' productivity levels," Shaw notes. "Though it might seem like a sign of dedication to the job, if your staff is coming into work when they're unwell, they'll likely have difficulty concentrating and performing their tasks to their full potential. Employees working longer hours than they're required to can result in them suffering from burnout, which again leads to a drop in productivity. Being stressed and overworked can lead to more mistakes, which is not only bad for business but can also affect staff motivation and engagement." Shaw says that it is by keeping such issues in mind that Ducab decided to redefine its core values, and then incorporate them in its performance management process in order to be regularly measured. This adds to the company's "Pulse Check and Wellness" surveys aimed at hearing the voices of the employees regularly, and the results speak for themselves. Ducab's employee engagement results have increased from 62.8% in 2015 to 72.4% in 2018, while employee tenure in Ducab has remained very high when compared to other organizations in the manufacturing industry: 45 employees have worked for the company for more than 30 years, 81 for more than 20 years, 769 for more than 10 years, and 673 for more than five years.

Among many others, an important feature of a long employee tenure in a company is the intangible value that it brings to the company's brand and reputation. Dr. Rettab addressed this topic when speaking about how adopting sustainability as a strategy boosts organizations' triple bottom line of people, planet and profits. "Tangible results and benefits, as well as brand reputation and recognition are among the key factors that encourage companies to integrate sustainability and CSR into their business strategies," he said. "At the same time, such elements are crucial in building brand identity, while they also give businesses a major competitive advantage." To that effect, the Dubai Chamber CSR Label, a diagnostic framework and management tool for participating companies to gauge their approach to CSR and sustainability launched in 2010, is a prime example of an initiative that has helped many companies implement best practices and assess their impact on the environment and local community. But the benefits of the Dubai Chamber CSR Label are far-reaching and go well beyond the recognition, as the framework is designed to help companies evaluate their social and environmental impact and CSR practices, and identify key strengths, as well as areas where they can improve and enhance competitiveness. "All of the various CSR and sustainability programs organized under Dubai Chamber's Centre for Responsible Business make a very clear and strong business case for adopting responsible business practices," Dr. Rettab adds. "Companies that have gone through these programs have demonstrated their ability to boost profitability and performance, reduce environmental impact, and create positive social change through sustainability and CSR. To add to that, they have raised awareness and encouraged others within the business community to follow their example by sharing their experiences and insights."

According to Dr. Rettab, the Dubai model in sustainability and CSR is not only leading in the region and the world, but also fostering innovation in different sectors. "This model of CSR and sustainability brings about transformational change through value creation for all business key stakeholders by following it across the pillars of workplace, marketplace, community, and environment," Dr. Rettab explains. "It incentivizes the implementation of new and creative ideas as sustainability and CSR projects through stakeholders' engagement, networking, capacity building and cross sectoral learnings, and adoption of best practices from peer companies on order to foster innovation. In addition, employees volunteering -an integral part of the model- has led to some great innovations in products and services especially while working with people of determination." Highlighting the importance of employee volunteering again, Dr. Rettab added that the benefits of this model were demonstrated during Dubai Chamber Sustainability Week, with examples being companies developing creative products made out of recycled material showcased the previous year, or adopting creative employee wellbeing and engagement initiatives.

In conclusion, Dr. Rettab reiterates that adopting sustainability and CSR practices can help businesses avoid and mitigate potential risks, lower costs and build customer loyalty, all of which can have a positive impact on market share and sales turnover. "Studies have shown that when companies lead by example and make socially-responsible decisions, as opposed to focusing only on their bottom line, they are able to build trust with consumers and the communities, and by doing so they increase brand power and loyalty," Dr. Rettab says.

Related: A Guide To The Relief And Stimulus Measures Offered For Businesses In Dubai Amid The COVID-19 Crisis

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