CSR Middle East, CSR dedicated platform with 3.475 corporate members in the Middle East.
The old days
“No more writing checks,” says Rana Ghandour Salhab with earnest. Since joining Deloitte & Touche in 2003, where she is now partner and responsible for talent and communications in the Middle East, it has been her mission to start “making corporate responsibility more of a science than a haphazard way of contributing.” Deloitte is hardly new to CSR in the region with 16 Middle East offices. But they are now taking proactive steps toward developing a longterm, sustainable program that steers away from the old school method of simply supporting a myriad of charities and NGOs.
Back to basics
Their corporate responsibility initiatives stem from one question: What is Deloitte best at? Salhab answers simply, “Intellectual capital.” Deloitte has recognized that they can make the greatest societal impact by taking on programs and partners that make use of the skills and know-how of the Deloitte team. It’s now mandatory for every employee to volunteer, and every program they support must allow the involvement of Deloitte employees.
Throwing out the old adage of “don’t put all your eggs into one basket,” the Deloitte CSR strategy in the Middle East is choosing to concentrate on a few “vital” areas that are relevant to the region: increasing employability, entrepreneurship and advancement of women. “Our people in the region are as talented as any in the world, but they are not given the tools or education,” Salhab adds. The Middle East disconcertingly couples high unemployment rates with a population of which the majority is under 30.
“Skills building” is the umbrella that all Deloitte CSR programs in the region operate under. And one of the best examples is their involvement with INJAZ al-Arab – a program fostering entrepreneurship skills – where Deloitte has implemented their “Be Entrepreneurial” curriculum. Salhab expands on the importance of this partnership: “This NGO is intriguing to us because it exists across the region. We try to find regional partners, and they are difficult to find. That’s one of the challenges we have because we’re one firm across the Middle East, and we want to think regionally and not country by country.”
So far Deloitte has donated $250,000 to the program in order to Arabize, implement and customize it to the region, and has committed the time of Deloitte employees to mentor over 800 students across five countries in the last few months. “The target of the Be Entrepreneurial program is to equip youth at the high school and university level with entrepreneurship skills, and to teach the entrepreneurship cycle,” Salhab says enthusiastically, adding that they are currently working on integrating a regional business plan competition.
Another example of how Deloitte leverages its expertise to benefit the societies in which they operate can be seen in the UAE. They have established programs with clients and companies where employees would spend up to three years with Deloitte, armoring them with skills and training like any other Deloitte employee. And in Saudi Arabia they have worked with the government and other stakeholders in creating employment centers across the country. “I’ve just visited one of the Jeddah centers which is dedicated to women,” Salhab recounts. “They have succeeded in placing a high number of women within companies in Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, the program is client engagement for us, yet the work falls under our corporate responsibility agenda.”
Salhab emphasizes that corporate responsibility is now a business imperative as much as it is societal. In 2011 Deloitte conducted a study in which 1000 Millennials (the generation born after 1981) were asked two key questions: “How do you measure business success?” and “how much potential do businesses have to meet challenges facing society?” Overwhelmingly, 92 percent of Millennials believe that success should be measured by more than profit. And 86 percent believe that businesses have as much capacity as governments to meet societal challenges.
“Millennials want meaning and missions; they want to understand why they are doing something, and they want foremost to give back and support their communities,” Salhab states. With all companies competing for the talented few, a successful corporate responsibility program helps to swing the pendulum in Deloitte’s direction.
Deloitte is an advocate of sharing the success of their CSR programs in order that other companies and organizations learn. “We want people to say, ‘aha – this program from Deloitte is an example of best practice; let me do something similar’,” Salhab says. “The more that is shared between different stakeholders, the more likely there will be a snowball effect, and the faster we can see positive changes happen in the region.”
As for the challenges of corporate responsibility in the region? For Deloitte in particular, it’s staying on strategy with “skills building” programs, and “having to say ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’.” This hardline approach is in place to keep the company from slipping back to the old days of fragmented and unfocused CR. Salhab also adds that she hopes CR across the region becomes more aligned and cohesive to maximize societal change.
Another challenge is the diversity of the region, and the upheavals that it’s passing through these days. Yet Salhab ends optimistically: “Look at the challenges in the region. To us they are challenges – not disasters. Disasters you might not be able to change. But a challenge is a problem to be solved, a problem that you join hands with others to tackle.”
This article was originally published in the February/March 2013 print edition of Entrepreneur Levant with the headline: Investing in talent