Your Company And Your Community Social commitment and responsibility has become part of many corporations' DNA.

By Lina Hourani

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We all recognize the fast-paced, information driven society we live in. In a society where information travels at high speed, it is now mandatory we all know, at all times, what is going on around us, including the problems that our communities are facing. By sheer dint of being aware of pressing societal issues, we are all responsible for addressing them, and this is as true for entrepreneurs as it is for corporations. It's also a fact demanded by consumers, and to which, fortunately, companies now refuse to turn a blind eye, ending up doing business while doing good.

Social commitment and responsibility has become part of many corporations' DNA. From my own experience as a youth developer, as well as my professional experience at Al Ahli Holding Group (AAHG) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) division, I believe that it's no longer business as usual. The new generation, in particular, is eager to learn and make a positive change by giving back to the community. That is why AAHG CSR chose youth as its social cause- to train and help future leaders and entrepreneurs put into practice their beliefs using CSR and social entrepreneurship skills. I have witnessed that teaching these skills (in a fun, engaging way) to students that aim to make a difference in their communities as businesspeople really does work. By speaking their language, combining education with games, music and other methods, we guarantee that they will enjoy and engage with the process of learning how to do business with social ethics.

That kind of ethical concern in corporations is, in fact, a win-win situation since it ensures engagement with the target audience and empowers the consumer to give credibility to the company. That's why CSR is so important for businesses. By allocating some of the profits to support a cause or participate as a solution to a community problem, companies that adopt CSR are giving back, and they are sharing the responsibility that governments shoulder with their population. CSR presently plays a big role in today's corporate world, but so does social entrepreneurship. Although they are different concepts, social entrepreneurship and CSR are bonded. Every social enterprise defends a social cause and the same happens with CSR plans, so the two directives aren't at odds. There's room for the two to coexist, and even work on common projects because both support and invest in the same purpose. The only difference between CSR and social entrepreneurship is embedding social goals in the organization's core objectives. In a CSR approach, these goals are added to the overall corporate objectives at different levels, while for social enterprises, they are the primary objective. Social enterprises are for-profit, meaning the money is the means to the end of serving the society. One example of how both concepts are connected is the CSR in Action program, created in AAHG CSR division to promote new ideas for CSR initiatives. What happened along the way was that, instead, we created social entrepreneurs. We're living in a knowledge economy fuelled by creativity, innovation, and like companies that have CSR projects, social entrepreneurship holds tremendous potential to help solve some of the world's most pressing challenges.

One success story is the Women to Women project in Lebanon. The founder wanted to help unemployed women and widows, so she picked ten ladies from villages that had no education, no money and needed sustainable income. They only knew how to cook, so she invited chefs to teach the ladies how to plate their food, use the necessary tools and brand them. After NGOs, embassies and universities had a taste of the healthy, clean and tasty homemade meals cooked by the ladies, those organizations became their clients. Within two years, the project generated a sustainable income of US$1,500 dollars for each woman, which positively impacted their homes, the education of their children, their outlook and prospects, and their position in the community. The woman that promoted the initiative resigned from her full time job and is now devoted to the project. This means sustainability for everyone involved, and this is exactly what social entrepreneurship is.

Social entrepreneurship is the future of business, and CSR has become a part of many responsible companies that care about their communities and want to be sustainable. In the GCC, acquiring more knowledge and training about these avenues is essential and becoming more mainstream. Nowadays, worldwide, social entrepreneurship is being the solution to minimize many problems such as, unemployment, environmental issues and waste of resources. It's important to keep investing in this kind of solution and in the ones that can be and want to be agents for a positive change.

Lina Hourani

Director, Al Ahli Holding Group CSR Division

Lina Hourani is the Director of Al Ahli Holding Group CSR Division, responsible for several youth development programs and initiatives. The Global Business Opportunities program (GBO) was a major milestone in Hourani’s professional path, helping Al Ahli Group to identify business opportunities, develop youth entrepreneurial skills by shifting them from being job-seekers to becoming job-providers. Her success with the GBO and CSR in Action programs -an initiative that brings together students with professionals and CSR leaders- was spread across four continents benefiting youth from the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, the U.K., and Greece. She is frequently invited as an expert speaker on regional and international CSR, entrepreneurship and youth development seminars and programs.

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