Highlights from CSR Summit Dubai 2014

By Tena Pick

The Address Hotel in Dubai Marina hosted the 11th edition of CSR Summit from May 18th till May 21st. The two-day conference and two days of workshops brought together the most prominent CSR practitioners in the region for lively discussions on the future of CSR and the challenges they face.  In the opening keynote Christian Grage, the VP Operations for Arab peninsula of Hilton Worldwide noticed how unstable resources lead to unstable societies detrimental for businesses, which makes it an absolute priority for businesses to engage in sustainable practices across all business operations. One of the biggest challenges faced by companies operating in the Arab world is high level of youth unemployment and companies need have the responsibility to invest in them and the communities they operate in. The most important resources for successful CSR initiatives are the enthusiasm, commitment and energy of the employees. All speakers agreed that the most successful CSR strategies are the ones adopted by all levels and that the employees feel personal ownership of. Companies that have sustainability and ethical business principles ingrained in their DNA come a long way, not just in terms of brand recognition and perception, but it also has very positive effects on the bottom line.

The biggest obstacle many companies face is engaging their stakeholders and communicating what they are doing, how they do it and how they measure it. Managing, tracking and reporting CSR activities seems to be one of the top priorities for most of CSR professionals, because as Annelies Hodge of Dubai Chamber of Commerce noted, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.  The issue of reporting social impact is not limited to the Middle East, but since CSR is, as Dr. Dima Jamali of American University of Beirut pointed out, “embryonic”, the challenges we face as practitioners in the region are very different from the ones reported in the West.

What also differentiates the region from the rest of the world is a strong cultural foundation for CSR and sustainability practices. 93% of UAE managers indicate strong support of CSR and almost all companies in the UAE engage in some kind of CSR activities, although they do not necessarily call it CSR. The Islamic culture of giving and helping is deeply ingrained in the way business is done in the Middle East, making it a very fertile soil for the development of CSR.

The founder of C3 – Consult and Coach for a Cause, Medea Nocentini, moderated a panel on Day 2 with the CSR champions in the region, who all agreed that it takes less than you think to impact someone’s life. From Academia to telecommunications, all panelists agreed that the most important thing is a personal belief and a strong will to do good, even when faced with skepticism.

The two day conference brought a lot of interesting initiatives to our attention, from Nestle’s Healthy Kids program to Intel’s move from CSR to CSI- corporate social innovation, as well as presenting the next generation of CSR practitioners through Al Ahli’s program CSR in Motion. I believe that all of the attendees were positively surprised by the quality of the student’s pitches as well as their passion and energy. In the end, that is what it all boils down to, a desire to do good.

The 11th CSR Summit proved once again that there is a strong will within the corporate community in the UAE and the region to go beyond the core business operations and to see companies become main vehicles for social change. However, they cannot do it alone. It is up to all of social enterprises, SMEs, academia, the policy makers and NGOs to create an ecosystem that will support long-term, sustainable initiatives that will have real social impact.

This article first appeared on http://consciouscapitalismblog.me/11th-csr-summit-may-2014/