As major economies across the world struggle to keep their heads above the water and businesses grapple with the economic nightmare unfolding across the globe, one cannot help wonder if all this has changed attitudes about corporate social responsibility.
Emirates Business spoke to a few companies to find out how committed the companies in the UAE are to their CSR and found out that despite all the doom and gloom social responsibility is still a commitment that is not taken lightly by most.
Shayne Nelson, Regional CEO, Mena, Standard Chartered Bank, said: "Despite the global financial crisis, we will continue to build on our corporate responsibility in the communities we serve. The responsibility for a better future must be shared by all and companies must take a long-term strategic view."
Varina Nissen, Managing Director, Manpower Middle East, said: "We have seen a number of downturns and recessions over the years but our commitment to our CSR initiative has never wavered."
Shakir Kantawala, Regional Manager, Sales and Marketing, Jet Airways, Gulf and Mena, said: "Despite the economic meltdown, Jet Airways, as a good corporate citizen remains committed towards improving lives of those in the communities in which it serves."
For most corporates, building a business, sustainability and CSR go hand in hand as apart from earning them the goodwill and visibility it also makes good business sense.
Nelson said: "Building a sustainable business is a fundamental part of our overall philosophy, which is why at SCB we speak about sustainability rather than Corporate Social Responsibility, which forms a small but significant component of sustainability.
"We believe our long-term financial performance is dependant on having the right social and environmental conditions for economic growth in our markets. If we do not make positive and lasting contributions on these fronts, we will not have a high performing business long-term.
"As an international bank with significant presence in the emerging markets, we are in a strong position to be a 'force for good' in the communities in which we operate.
"To respond to the social and environmental challenges, we ensure that our business is sustainable across the three spheres of sustainability – economic, social and environmental. This is done by integrating the three behavioural themes of leadership, change and governance into our business ethos."
Nissen said: "Manpower's business is, in itself, socially responsible because everything we do is geared toward connecting people with jobs, which enables individuals to support themselves and their families. In particular, we focus on creating a bridge to employment for disadvantaged individuals who may not have the skills-sets required for the work place. Over the last year we have committed both time and money in visiting universities and schools in the region, delivering presentations and sharing our knowledge and expertise with both students and staff and providing support so that they may eventually represent themselves in the world of work."
Even though budgets for CSR have not been decided, the companies do not think that the economic crisis will affect funding in any way for this year and don't see the crisis affecting their CSR in the future too.
Nissen said: "We have not earmarked a definitive amount as of yet. We offer more than just financial contributions, by designing and implementing training programs we are able to bring to the table the chance for individuals to represent themselves. We have a number of events and tours earmarked for 2009 including the 2009 UAE Careers exhibition in March, where we will be launching our emiritization.org site and programme. By talking to individuals at such events we can share the knowledge and expertise we have directly with the individual."
Nelson said: "It is clearly evident to us that the focus needs to be more on sustainability issues in building long-term franchises and constructing foundations if we are to see economic relevance in, for example 2020 or beyond. More importantly, by performing well and professionally as a leading bank in the UAE, we can be a major contributor to the economic development and domestic agenda, thus promoting their sustainable well-being and opening up its own opportunities." The firms feel that CSR initiatives are a great instrument of positive social change and remain committed to them.
Nissen said: "As an organisation, Manpower is dedicated to the CSR programme. We support local governments with their employment and social programs. We are thought leaders who speak out about contentious issues such as talent shortage and talent retention, and through global employment surveys provide factual information and recommendations about to how best to tackle these issues, for other such agencies and employers to benefit from and utilise."
Kantawala said: "Through our in-flight collection programme we have been instrumental in raising much needed funds for underprivileged children. By November 2008 end we had collected more than Dh10 million. These funds have been utilised in development activities in remote areas in India, improvement of education and health care facilities in quake affected areas in Maharashtra and in the fight against trafficking of women and child prostitution in India.
"Other significant projects run by Save the Children, an NGO we support, include pre-schools for the urban slum children in Mumbai and a special care centre for children with special needs. Another unique project of Save the Children is to respond and build confidence among pregnant women who are HIV positive with a view to decreasing the infant mortality rate and contributing to positive social change."
Apart from its philanthropic initiatives SCB has identified seven inter-connected sustainable business priorities. These seven areas for making a difference are sustainable finance, access to financial services, protecting the environment, responsible selling and marketing, tackling financial crime, community investment and a great place to work. Nelson said: "These seven pillars are key areas where we can make the greatest contribution as an agent of positive social change.
For instance, in the sustainable finance front, we have financed the world's largest photovoltaic plant in South Korea in May 2007, a project that will, when complete, reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as create new jobs across industries.
"Another example is our commitment last September 2007, at the Clinton Global Initiative, to finance $8 billion to $10bn in renewable energy and clean technology projects in Asia, Africa and the Middle East over the next five years."
According to Nelson small-to-medium enterprise (SME) lending is another important area, where the provision of credit is vital, but where there is also a need for the bank to support other financial services – trade, cash management, etc – if the enterprises are to grow. Delivering the bank's network to these customers is vital and also a key differentiator from local banks.
Trade finance is facilitated across the globe allowing these enterprises to access goods and markets globally. Domestic and international cash services allow efficient use of capital and maximise opportunities. In particular, cash management is a technology intensive business that requires expensive, robust systems and is best provided by a bank able to invest across many markets.
Overseas investment is facilitated with deep local knowledge and the increased financial security of an international bank.
These services allow SMEs (and larger companies) to grow into bigger businesses, providing additional employment and investment and they are also a major source of entrepreneurial skills and innovation. This in turn leads on to further SME development.
"Within the bank's geographic footprint, SMEs are a primary engine of economic growth and this is a key area of profitable opportunity in many of the bank's markets," Nelson said.
SCB has also partnered with 41 micro-finance institutions to improve access to financial services, enabling it to disburse $170 million in 2007 to more than 13 countries, aiming to improve the livelihoods of 1.2 million people and stimulate grassroots enterprise.
Nelson said: "We aim to lead sustainable development by creating the right culture and mindset within the company. This means giving an opportunity to each employee as well as balancing change and continuity. Keeping by doing so, we are better equipped to secure a vital lifeline to society."
Flying to help needy
Every year, Jet Airways, on the occasion of Children's Day, organises one or two "Flights of Fantasy" for underprivileged children and those who need special care. Under this initiative, children belonging to underprivileged sections of society are initiated into the world of aviation through special dream flights.
Jet Airways employees participate in the Standard Chartered Marathon each year to raise funds for children of various NGOs, committed to change the lives of underprivileged children.
During natural disasters and/or calamities, Jet Airways has transported people, relief material, medication etc through its cargo division to and from the affected areas.
Banking on vision
The Standard Chartered Bank's 'Seeing is Believing' initiative provides SCB employees a platform to raise funds to help tackle avoidable blindness, 90 per cent of which is found in the developing world where the bank's business is rooted.
SCB will invest $20 million to fund A New Vision, to develop sustainable eye care services in less advantaged areas of 20 cities.
'Living with HIV' focuses on combating the pandemic faced by many organisations. Their peer education programme includes a global policy aimed at protecting basic human rights, promoting the health of employees and keeping the business costs associated with HIV/AIDS to a minimum.
SCB has been sponsoring the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon for the last five years. The entrance fees for the three kilometre Fun Run is donated by the bank's 'Seeing is Believing' initiative.
SCB has long-term partnerships with The Rashid Pediatric Therapy Centre, Al Noor Centre for children with special needs and the Special Care Centre at Abu Dhabi for providing regular volunteers and sponsoring events held by them.