CSR Middle East, CSR dedicated platform with 3.555 corporate members in the Middle East.

Featured Member: Meet with Bushra Azhar, Independent CSR & Sustainability Consultant / Jeddah / KSA

Meet with Bushra Azhar, Independent CSR & Sustainability Consultant / Jeddah / KSA

CSR Middle East: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experiences in the CSR Field?


Bushra Azhar: I am an independent CSR, Sustainability and Development Consultant based in Saudi Arabia and divide my time between Jeddah, Dubai and Lahore. A former corporate VP and academic, I have 14 years of experience under my belt with almost 5 years in CSR related areas. Before starting my independent practice, I was the head of Sustainability operations at a CSR consulting business based in Jeddah where I worked with some of the top Saudi companies in helping them set their strategies, designing bespoke initiatives and training programs and developing Sustainability reports in line with GRI. I am the author of a research study examining growth of CSR in Saudi Arabia and am also responsible for developing 3 out of a total of 6 CSR reports released in the Kingdom. During my work in Saudi Arabia, I have gained first-hand knowledge of the market nuances and the socio-religious intricacies of the kingdom. This knowledge has proved vital in delivering workable and locally relevant solutions for Saudi market. I also write extensively on CSR and sustainability related areas in various regional and international publications.


CSR Middle East: What are some effective ways for a business to become more sustainable, especially in our region?


Bushra Azhar: This is an excellent question and in my view the answer is rather simple; it is what I call my 3 point agenda:

1.    Start where you are

2.    Use what you have

3.    Do what you can


 If companies will keep waiting for the perfect time, the perfect initiative or the perfect person to start their CSR program, it will never happen. The key is to just start; any CSR is better than no CSR. I disagree with schools of thought who believe that there are meticulous prerequisites and formal procedures to be followed, who come and give you a list of 50 things to do BEFORE starting a CSR program. I believe that for CSR to become an integral part of the company operations, it has to come naturally and easily. If we make it overly complicated, the management will get intimidated and give up too soon. If you don’t have a stakeholder engagement model, start by talking to your employees over coffee; if you don’t have a strategy yet; start by identifying quick-wins that will bring societal as well as business benefits; if you don’t have a code of ethics, start by committing to do the right thing in all situations. It really is that simple. The important thing is to start, the strategies and the models can come later.


CSR Middle East: Would you please share with us best CSR practices from the region


Bushra Azhar: 

  1. Local economic empowerment:  Lately there has been a huge emphasis on empowering local community. Although some of this is driven by government, I have seen more and more companies hire local talent and buy from local companies, even beyond the legal requirement. Companies have started getting into education and trainings, trying to bridge the gap between education and employability skills. This is great because instead of complaining about not finding enough high calibre locals, companies are now taking steps to remedy that by creating high calibre locals.
  2. Community Initiatives: Although some people would disagree with me on this but I think the recent surge in community based initiatives is a positive sign. If companies are setting up community relation departments and spending money on empowering local communities, it will eventually lead to more strategic, fully functional CSR programs over time.
  3. Sustainability Reporting: This is a trend that is slowly picking up speed. With private companies as well as government owned entities and one not-for profit going for a GRI based Sustainability report, this trend is sure to pick up momentum in the years to come.


CSR Middle East: What do you think about CSR Middle East and your recommendations for future…


Bushra Azhar: I personally think if CSR Middle East did not exist, the Google results for CSR in Middle East would be very depressing (half of the results on first page of Google search are for csrmiddleeast.org). There is hardly any quality research/ information on CSR in the region and if not for your excellent website, most people would not know how fast the CSR and Sustainability is spreading in the region and how many companies are actually involved.


As for recommendations; I think it will be great if you could consider starting a series of CSR and Sustainability case studies from the region, segmented thematically or by sectors. There is a dire need of published material on the successful cases and findings/ learnings from CSR practice in the region. Since CSR Middle East is the number one resource for all things CSR, why not take it one step further and pioneer such a publication! I am sure a lot of people will be happy to help; I sure will be!


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