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Pearl Initiative brings together fifty regional leaders to debate best practices in 'Integrated Reporting'

The Pearl Initiative, the private sector-led, not-for-profit organization set up to foster a culture of transparency, accountability, good corporate governance and best business practices in the Arab world, has held a Roundtable on Integrated Reporting, the term increasingly used to describe the alignment of business reporting with sustainability performance and business value.

An 'Integrated' corporate annual report seamlessly incorporates the analysis of financial, environmental, social and governance data. The premise is that corporate responsibility activities should not be conducted in isolation from the rest of the business. The specific issues with the most potential to influence business value, positively or negatively, depend on the industry sector, the geographic scope and the nature of the individual business. Investors, shareholders and other stakeholders have most interest in understanding how these issues link to strategy and the future value of the business.

These were the introductory messages presented at the Pearl Initiative Roundtable held in Abu Dhabi on 14th February. Along with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group (a network of companies committed to sustainability and reporting), more than fifty senior finance, accounting, compliance, sustainability and governance professionals participated in the interactive roundtable session - with the aim of facilitating the sharing of insights and learning between organisations with experience and interest in greater levels of sustainability and financial reporting.

The Roundtable put together a stellar cast of experts, including Helen Brand, who is the Global Chief Executive of ACCA. She is also a member of the Supervisory Board of the Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) project of HRH the Prince of Wales in the UK, and the Pearl Initiative is partnering with A4S to improve the understanding and application of integrated reporting in the Gulf region.

Helen Brand shared the latest developments on the journey towards an international framework and gave insights on communicating information needed by investors and other stakeholders to assess an organization's long-term prospects in a clear, concise, connected and comparable format, arguing that "This will enable those organizations, their investors and others to make better short-and long-term decisions."

National Bank of Abu Dhabi shared insights from their sustainability journey and Raji Hattar from Aramex spoke convincingly that a successful integrated reporting must come "from the heart and from the top of the organization," adding that "only when the CEO views sustainability as his own responsibility, does it become ingrained right throughout the company."

During the second part of the Roundtable, there was a lively and heated debate between sub-groups to develop ideas for next steps on three questions. The discussion was moderated by Imelda Dunlop, the Executive Director of Pearl Initiative, and concerned:

1. What are the next steps for companies in the region to move towards producing integrated reports?

2. What is needed in the region for third party verification of integrated reports?

3. How can regional considerations be taken into account in the standards development process for integrated reporting?

One outcome was agreement to form a regional support group to further exchange ideas, learning and experiences on the path towards integrated reporting, with Pearl committing to researching and writing good practice case study examples from within the region, as part of this process. 

The support group will connect developments in the regional process to the global movement towards a standardized framework for integrated reporting, ensuring regional needs are met, and disseminating further the understanding that business and social reporting are not different denominations, but rather two sides of the same coin.

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