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UAE businesses embrace CSR as a profitable strategy

Corporate Social Responsibility – when businesses adopt practices that have a positive economic, social and environmental impact – is taking off in the UAE.

Over the last few years, there have been several successful initiatives to encourage it to flourish.

Since 2015, every company in the UAE has been required to submit a CSR report on a regular basis. And since 2019, businesses have been ranked and rewarded for their Corporate Social Responsibility as part of the CSR UAE Fund.

At first, Dr Yaprak Anadol, Assistant Professor in Marketing at the University of Dubai, says, “these initiatives were often seen by companies as just another thing they had to do, rather than something of real value”.

Too often UAE businesses have understood Corporate Social Responsibility as the same as giving money to charity, when the reality is that it has a deeper and more long-lasting effect than a donation.

Now though, Dr Anadol argues, things are starting to change. Companies in the UAE, with the support of various initiatives of the UAE government, are beginning to see that CSR is far more important than just a requirement and far wider than just giving to charity – CSR is actually a profitable way of doing business.

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“It can be very difficult to change the mindset of an entire corporate system, but the change is coming from the top – many business leaders are deciding it’s time for a more socially responsible attitude towards business,” Dr Anadol says. “We are realising that we may be the seller of one product, but we are also the buyer of many products and if we only think of ourselves and the product we are selling, the whole market collapses.”

DP World, for example, a leading provider of worldwide smart end-to-end supply chain and logistics services, has based its corporate social responsibility on the four quadrants of community, environment, people and safety and marketplace. The company has been recognised as the number one listed company on the S&P/Hawkamah ESG Pan Arab Index for its performance against 200 environmental, social and governance metrics.

The organisation believes that by integrating responsible business practices into its daily activities, it can grow the business in a sustainable manner and develop opportunities for its stakeholders. It has said that it strongly believes that it has a responsibility to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the communities in which it operates.

As a business involved in global trade, the company often finds that its operations are intrinsically tied to a country’s economic well-being. Trade is the backbone of our world’s economy, after all. And this is why it has adopted an approach that focuses on “bringing economic prosperity to the communities it serves”. In other words, it believes that by integrating responsible business practices into its daily activities, it can grow the business in a sustainable manner and develop opportunities for its stakeholders, and those stakeholders range from the average person living in and around it’s premises globally to more traditional stakeholders, such as investors.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World, has said that it is “a priority to integrate responsible business practices into our daily activities, allowing us to grow our business in a sustainable manner which is always consistent with our obligations to the communities and countries where we operate”.

UAE businesses are also starting to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility because of a global awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 goals set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly that were designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.

Companies in the UAE are channelling their CSR activities on these goals and finding that, in doing so, they are saving energy and therefore are saving money, are protecting the wellbeing of their employees and are fulfilling government regulations – all at the same time. Companies who want to develop their Corporate Social Responsibility strategy could look at the SDGs and match their business goals with one or more of the goals.

Academics like Dr Anadol are also playing their part in CSR becoming mainstream. “As being part of the two important United Nations initiatives, UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), and UN Global Compact, we are trying to change the attitudes of our students and our business leaders so that they are more aware of the need to act responsibly and create a positive impact on society,” she says.

EVERFI creates transformative educational programmes that address key social issues, shape society and empower young people. Through its products and programmes, we enable businesses to have deeper and more meaningful engagement with the community and to link their work to their corproate goals and SDGs. In the UAE, we have partnered with Expo 2020 and developed educational resources for schools and teachers based on the themes of the Expo. We are currently working with Ain Dubai on developing educational workshops for school tours, and will also be undertaking research on behalf of RTA on young people’s attitudes towards road safety.