Robust approach to social responsibility needed

Today’s businesses know that increasing profits is impossible without adopting a robust approach to social responsibility.

Luisa Gentile, Head of Social Corporate Responsibility at Vodafone Qatar, however, would disagree with that statement. Misconceptions of CSR are rampant and informing people about the realities of corporate social responsibility and changing their mindsets can be challenging, according to  Gentile, a speaker at the marcus evans Corporate Social Responsibility Conference taking place on 10-11 April in Dubai.

With Qatar set to double its population in the coming decades, it is seeking to grow and develop its ethical, social and environmental responsibilities to the broadest extent possible, according to Gentile. However, spreading awareness about what corporate social responsibility really entails is a task, she explains.

“Some people take CSR for granted. They think CSR is a corporate-linked charity. They believe that CSR is used as a public relations ploy to improve brand image and increase sales. Some also think that CSR is an external affair, while the truth is, it is also driven internally,” she says.

“There are so many misconceptions about corporate social responsibility, and the battle to change these perceptions has been an up-hill fight. The truth of the matter is, real CSR initiatives are based on how a company can make a positive difference in the community, whether locally or internationally, regardless of sales targets or revenue goals.”

Gentile predicts that environmental issues will grow in importance as Qatar’s high energy consumption becomes unsustainable. “It is one of the highest in the Middle East because of the heat, use of air conditioning, and the low cost of fuel and petrol. People are not used to thinking about conserving and saving energy because it is plentiful and affordable. In the future, they will start looking at this. At the moment there is no recycling culture and infrastructure for this. The country is arid and there is little water and desalination comes at a very high cost. Around 90 per cent of our food is imported; almost no local food is produced. If the country wants to develop it needs to look at conservation and sustainability."

Availability of money is not necessarily a central component to CSR success, she argues. “You can make a difference with very little funds.  It’s about creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. It would also be ideal for CSR initiatives to be integrated in the business planning process with the involvement and approval of the CEO. It has to be endorsed from the very top; otherwise, it would be a futile struggle to get things working internally.”

An important impetus for CSR in Qatar has been the Qatar National Vision 2030. This defines the long-term outcomes for the country and provides a framework within which national strategies and implementation plans can be developed. Key elements of the 2030 Vision centres on improving education and access to affordable healthcare amongst other goals.

“Corporations have a real opportunity to make an impact within Vision 2030 with their know-how and expertise. The vision has simplified matters by actually presenting the public with well-defined goals,” added Gentile.

The marcus evans Corporate Social Responsibility Conference will take place on 10-11 April in Dubai.