Thomas Edelmann is a man on a mission: to make UAE roads safer by educating and involving drivers through his website. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

DUBAI: Many companies run corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. Few build their business models entirely around them.

That’s what RoadSafetyUAE does, and its efforts have been recognised by winning the small-scale enterprise category of the CSR Arabia awards for the past two years.

Founder and managing director Thomas Edelmann started the firm four years ago to provide advisory and consultancy services to companies interested boosting their CSR activities.

He describes his firm as a “CSR platform”, and his clients include prominent UAE firms, government agencies as well as multinational companies operating in the UAE, including PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, Serco, Dubai’s Road and Transport Agency (RTA), Dubai Chamber, major car makers, and insurance firms such as Galadari Insurance and the Qatar Insurance Company.

The firm also conducts and publishes original research in road safety.

Edelmann points out road-related deaths are the second biggest killer in the UAE behind heart attacks, and the largest killer of children under the age of 14.

His campaigning finds support in Dubai Vision 2021, which aims to halve the number of road deaths from 6.31 per 100,000 people to 3 per 100,000 people by 2021.

With a background in corporate marketing and communications — he’s worked for multinationals such as Coca-Cola and Mastercard — he decided to turn his passion into a business.

Corporate CSR, he said, is “about doing good, but doing it so smartly that you produce a return on investment.”

CSR is a growing field, he said. “In the CSR space there is a lot of interest. It is growing strongly.”

Edelmann targets four key groups of stakeholders: the corporate clients who use RoadSafetyUAE’s services and provide its revenue, the media, government entities and road users.

Corporate clients can be divided into those looking for internal CSR, that focuses on their staff, and external CSR — those focusing on customers or the general public.

“We have to put our thinking caps on and come back to them with holistic activation programmes,” Edelmann said.

With Careem, RoadSafetyUAE helped design a programme encouraging passengers to use seat belts by offering discount coupons. With Johnson & Johnson, they helped run a road safety programme for staff and families.

“Our main thing is to raise awareness of proper conduct on the roads,” Edelmann added.

Edelmann runs a tight ship, with himself as the sole full-time staff member, relying on subcontractors and freelancers to boost capacity as needed.

“We’re a modern company, a virtual company,” he said. “We sometimes have up to 15 people for content writing and press releases.”

One advantage of this approach is that it keeps costs down, “I’ve seen companies go belly-up because of costs,” he said. “Eventually the customer has to pay for that.”

The firm recently helped launch the Aqdar Drive Carefully programme at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, in partnership with Aqdar and Nissan. The scheme requires students to develop a road safety campaign, mobile phone app and a sculpture aimed at reducing mobile phone use by drivers — something Edelmann says is recognised as a leading cause of accidents, particularly among young drivers.

Nissan Middle East MD Samir Charfan said at the launch in January, “As a global automotive leader, Nissan is determined to find solutions to two main issues facing humanity; gas emissions and road safety. Nissan’s twin goals are zero emissions and zero fatalities.”