CSR Middle East, CSR dedicated platform with 3.475 corporate members in the Middle East.
CSR Middle East: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experiences in the CSR Sector?
Sabrin Rahman: My educational background has been in sustainability, marketing and international relations with a focus on the role of businesses in peace building. The business community is perhaps the most powerful change agent today and I wanted to work and understand how their role could be used for the greater good. Working in CSR over the last few years, especially in the Middle East, has been an eye opener. There are a variety of issues that are unique to the Middle East, but none as unique as the pace of adoption and change. I have had the privilege of having a bird’s eye view of the CSR sector through my work at the Dubai Chamber and now at HSBC Bank Middle East. From large MNCs global programs to SMEs beginning to understand their impact in our local community, the last few years have been a time of reflection and innovation. Now that there is support for sustainability from local to regional levels, it is the time for rapid implementation.
CSR Middle East: What does HSBC do? Can you tell us more about your activities?
Sabrin Rahman: HSBC have developed specific global programs that address environmental and social issues that contribute to our sustainability. These programs target areas such as climate change (HSBC Climate Partnership), financial literacy (Junior Achievement More than Money) and eradicating poverty through education (Future First).
Globally we have over 300,000 employees and through our network we are in a strong position to make a tangible difference in the markets we operate in. In addition to our global programs, we also develop local programs tailored to a country or a region. A good example is our UAE Ramadan campaign, where throughout the month we worked closely with various NGOs to hold Iftar events for over 600 special needs and underprivileged children in all of the Emirates. These Iftars had a special emphasis on the spirit of Ramadan with activities geared towards educating children and our volunteers on the behaviours, expectations and values of the month.
HSBC has been present in the Middle East for decades and as such have contributed to sustainable development in partnership with respective ministries and NGO partners. These range from supporting the Emirates Wildlife Foundation – World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF) to protect the Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah (which has now been declared as the first Mountain Protected Area in the UAE by HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah) to exclusively supporting the conservation work being done on Sir Bu Nair Island by the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG). To further add to our emphasis on education, we have recently launched a regional program called Kids Read in partnership with the British Council. Through Kids Read we aim to reach 10,000 children over the next few years and to promote the joy and importance of reading by providing schools with books and educational material which can be easily integrated into their curriculums.
CSR Middle East: What are some effective ways for a business to become more sustainable, especially in our region?
Sabrin Rahman: One of the best ways for an organisation to embed sustainability within their culture is to invest in and engage their employees. Due to the transient nature of the region, employee engagement can often be overlooked. As walking, talking brand ambassadors, engaged employees can often be the missing link between an organisation and their community. A great example is the success that we have had through our support of Volunteer in Dubai’s Funday Sunday program. Every Sunday a group of our employee volunteers join children from various special needs schools for a morning of fun, interaction and most importantly a change of scenery for the children.
Our volunteers are away from the office for about 3 hours but when they return, the engagement levels are much higher. There is an air of camaraderie, a genuine feeling of giving back to the community, and importantly, the sense of belief that their employer values their contribution to the community.
Globally, employee engagement and volunteering are priorities in our sustainability agenda. In addition to the financial support we give to community programmes around the world, in 2010, we contributed 321,000 hours of employee time to community projects. This helps our staff to build closer relationships with their local communities, which benefit from their time and skills, and also means HSBC retains people who are motivated and more engaged in our business.
CSR Middle East: Would you please share with us best CSR practices from the region
Sabrin Rahman: There are many best practices in the area of CSR, be it environmental or social, however two areas that I would like to focus on is collaboration and communication. Platforms that allow companies within the region to collaborate and work together to tackle the region’s sustainability issues should be more widely adopted. CSR Middle East is an example of this. Another example that I have been involved in is the Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network. This network provides a space and support for various companies to come to together to work on sectoral and cross-sectoral projects. There are a variety of projects each member can join and contribute and the Dubai Chamber supports them by representing such projects to the wider community. Often the solution to larger social issues cannot be tackled by one organisation alone and through this platform sustainability is truly becoming a collaborative field in the UAE.
Secondly, I would like to highlight the importance of reporting all CSR-related activities as a best practice. Many companies around the globe regularly undertake sustainability reporting to highlight their achievements in this area, but unfortunately the practise isn’t widely adopted in the region. What is crucial is that sustainability reporting allows us to track the development of sustainability in the region. When a local organisation publishes their report, they comment on some of the programs that they have run, the practices they follow and the people they affect and this provides not only an example to other companies in the region, but also highlights the maturity of CSR in the Middle East to the wider global community.
CSR Middle East: What do you think about CSR Middle East and your recommendations for future…
Sabrin Rahman: CSR Middle East has been responsible for starting a dialogue across borders. Dialogue is the most important outcome of any platform and through it comes collaboration, understanding and communication. CSR Middle East is a virtual work place for many sustainability professionals where we can meet and create new ideas with our colleagues.
One recommendation is to create more opportunities such as networking events and conferences that will allow all CSR Middle East members to meet, share ideas and create a more tight-knit CSR community in this region.