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Elevating Qatar's CSR environment fundamental to achieving National Vision 2030, say experts

Securing senior management buy-in on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and creating greater awareness on how community engagement can tie into core business goals are among the main challenges to driving wider business uptake of CSR in Qatar, some of the country's top corporate and community leaders have opined.

The experts' comments came against the backdrop of the upcoming CSR Qatar 2014 - officially supported by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry and scheduled to take place at Marriott Marquis City Center Doha Hotel from December 1 to 3 - which has helped spur renewed focus and discussion on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility among the various stakeholders.

"Companies are increasingly being judged by the public on their reputation for business integrity and ethical conduct, to the extent that public perception of a company can today have a direct impact on bottomlines," said Alanoud Taleb Al Henzab, Corporate Social Investment Manager, Qatari Diar. "While the linkage between Corporate Social Responsibility and competitive advantage is well-documented, the right thing to do for any progressive business would be to look beyond the Return on Investment on CSR and instead focus on 'return on impact'. This requires measuring an organization's value on parameters that extend beyond financial performance, taking into account the lasting benefits of social investment including in terms of enhanced corporate image and competitive differentiation."

She added that integrating CSR into the core business strategy of companies, along with policy initiatives that support greater corporate transparency and sustainability reporting, are crucial to the long-term sustainable development of the country.

The CSR movement in the Middle East is still at a nascent stage, making increased awareness and action an area of focus with regard to successfully driving sustainable community and economic development in the region. A recent study conducted among organizations in the Middle East region by the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) found that less than 10% of all companies studied have established future goals or launched strategies on sustainability and CSR issues. The energy sector led the way when it came to publication of sustainability reports, accounting for 28% of total published reports, followed by the financial services sector and the manufacturing, chemicals and petrochemicals sector. Interestingly, the UAE and Qatar together accounted for more than half of all sustainability reports published in the region.

"The concept of CSR is a relatively new one in Qatar and the region. From instinctively thinking of 'beach-cleaning' once community involvement is in discussion, companies are beginning to make the transition to high-impact programs that bring tangible difference to communities," said Yousuf bin Ahmed Al-Kuwari, Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Charity, who cited the Ras Laffan Community Outreach Program as a great example of how businesses can have a direct impact on the local community. "A change in C-level mindset is crucial to elevating the CSR environment as the quality of CSR initiatives are greatly influenced by the way top management approaches them - some CEOs still think of CSR as a PR tool to be utilized, while others look at it as taxes to be paid."

It's a sentiment echoed by Mohammed Hammoudi, General Manager of Cisco. "There is a need for businesses to evolve a more constructive approach to sustainability in order to bridge existing gaps and improve the overall CSR strategy impact. Essentially, this involves a shift away from looking upon CSR as some form of mandatory tax to embedding CSR concepts into their business strategy," Hammoudi said.

Launched last year with the aim of aligning CSR initiatives with Qatar's National Vision 2030, CSR Qatar provides an opportunity for CSR professionals to network with high-level experts from across the region. During this year's conference, which is organized by Informa Tharawat in collaboration with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, leading organizations will share their strategy development practices, how they overcame challenges, as well as statistical measurable outcomes (SROI). The program will also focus on how CSR can support business performance, delving into the often under-recognized link between CSR, positive community relationships, and competitive advantage.

CSR Qatar 2014 has seen several reputed organizations in Qatar and the region stepping in to support the conference. Key conference partners and sponsors include the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Qatari Diar, Qatar Fuel Additives Company Limited (QAFAC), Al Fardan Group, and Microsoft.

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