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When brands start looking at the greater good

Brands deploy CSR to telling effect

Gulf News

As banks, media and, more recently, the global food industry have been exposed as profit-hungry and moral free, there is a trend towards capitalism with a conscience.

A recent study by Edelman spanning 16 countries and 8,000 consumers revealed that the prominence of social purpose as a purchase trigger has risen 26 per cent since 2008, with more than 70 per cent stating they would recommend or promote a brand based on its social purpose. As high as 73 per cent suggested they would switch brands as a result of social purpose, or lack of commitment.

It is evident that by signing up to a good cause, any brand will be better equipped to build trust, loyalty, and a strong social following, all of which leads to more business, repeat custom and even a higher level of employee satisfaction.

It’s a remit that has taken off in the US and increasingly with global corporations. but how strong is the drive to include social purpose in the operations of Gulf-based entities? And have they grasped the 21st century realities of business, where social media is increasingly opening up corporate life to the consumer?

Common good

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said that capitalism needed to be reframed to work for the common good, emphasising that too many companies had prospered at the expense of society and nature. “Winning alone is not enough, it’s about winning with purpose.”

While international brands operating in the Middle East have developed CSR strategies accommodating the unique culture and business practices of the region, it is now time for indigenous brands to take ownership in including purpose in to their operations.

There are admirable benchmarks and examples of good practice from which others can take notes.

Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI), for example, is the CSR arm of the Abdul Lateef Jameel (ALJ) Group, a Saudi brand, which is a Toyota distributor in 13 countries. ALJ operates numerous global programmes, including poverty alleviation initiatives, artistic and educational projects and technology innovation grants.

The company has also launched Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ), an initiative providing job creation services to women and youth through provision of vocational training, recruitment and micro-credit for women, with a presence in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Turkey.

In the UAE, Standard Chartered’s ‘Seeing is Believing’ initiative provides SCB employees with a platform to raise funds to help tackle avoidable blindness, 90 per cent of which is found in the developing world where the bank’s business is rooted. Through sponsorship of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, entrance fees for the Fun Run have been donated to this initiative.

The bank itself is investing $20 million to fund ‘A New Vision’, which intends to develop sustainable eye care services in less advantaged areas of 20 cities. It has long-term partnerships with the Rashid Pediatric Therapy Centre, Al Noor Centre for children with special needs and the Special Care Centre at Abu Dhabi.

Deep engagement

An example of social purpose for a decade has been Emirates airline, which has operated the Emirates Airline Foundation providing humanitarian, philanthropic aid and services for children in need through projects in the Subcontinent, Africa and Dubai.

Conscious capitalism or social purpose takes corporate social responsibility — the fashionable addition to a company’s annual report — thinking farther. Brands are moving from one-off initiatives to seek deep engagement on an issue that is innately connected to a brand’s values and essence.

It’s about a strategic, long-term approach that is fully integrated in to business practices and leverages core competencies to address relevant social issues and clearly demonstrates a commitment to not only doing well but also doing good for the societies in which these brands operate in.

— The writer is a US based brand advisor.