Improving the art of CSR in the UAE's Year of Giving

UAE President HE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared 2017 as the “Year of Giving” to promote the culture of volunteering and loyalty to one’s country.

At the end of last year, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared that 2017 would be the Year of Giving.

During this year, there will be a special focus on three main themes: promoting the spirit of volunteering, strengthening the sense of civic duty amongst young Emiratis and expatriates and, last but not least, strengthening the concept of social responsibility in the private sector.

As a strong advocate for corporate social responsibility (CSR), I was delighted to hear that the UAE’s leadership was making this concept a prominent part of the policy agenda in 2017.

However, I fear that the private sector will take this as just another opportunity to engage with their communities in the same old ways, instead of using it as a unique chance to experiment with all of the nuances of what it means to give.

Whether you are a well-established corporate or a bootstrapping start-up, you should use the Year of Giving to think of innovative ways to give back. You should also take this opportunity to see how your efforts are engaging and supporting youth, your future employees and consumers, who are increasingly using their jobs and wallets to promote ethical decision-making in all aspects of their lives. Here are some suggestions to help you get the “CSR ball rolling” in 2017.

The gift of time

In 2016, Bayt.com conducted a survey about stress in the workplace, which revealed that 27.9 percent of respondents felt that their family relations were the aspect of their life that was most impacted by stress. Followed by friendship (21 percent), work performance (19.9 percent), health (16.4 percent) and other (14.8 percent).

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As if this wasn’t bad enough, it is estimated that your average Dubai resident spends up to 21 hours a week in traffic. So, not only do thousands of employees in the UAE have to deal with stress in both their personal and professional lives, they also waste a lot of time in traffic.

But what if in 2017, more businesses decided to give their employees the gift of time?

By introducing and encouraging flexible work schedules and remote working options, perhaps more businesses can help their employees achieve a better work-life balance. Thus, reducing their stress levels, improving productivity, increasing their overall satisfaction in their daily lives and removing a couple cars from Dubai’s roads at rush hour in the process.

The gift of health

According to the Bayt.com study that I referenced earlier, one of the top five aspects of an employee’s life that is impacted by work-related stress is health. Something that doesn’t really come as a great surprise. If you’re constantly stressed and you have to spend long days at work and hours in traffic, you don’t really have a lot of time to think about yourself. Especially, when you already feel guilty about how little time you spend with your family and friends.

However, this way of living is no longer sustainable because it is hurting the long-term health of our communities and businesses. If you still think employees’ health and a company’s bottom line are unrelated consider this – Johnson & Johnson, which has one of the longest standing wellness programmes in the United States, estimates that the wellness programmes cumulatively saved the corporate giant US$250 million on health care costs between the years of 2002 and 2008.

What if, in the Year of Giving, companies in the UAE committed to encouraging their employees to exercise, eat balanced meals and save money by covering their costs of doing so? Better yet, what if these businesses also supported the local business ecosystem by collaborating with lifestyle and health start-ups? Muesli and Mix, Lunch On, or Fit Pass are just some of the many UAE-based start-ups that companies might consider working with to help their employees make 2017 their healthiest year yet.

The gift of giving

If your average employee is already struggling with work-life balance, the odds are that they probably don’t have the time, or the energy, to think about how to help other people in their communities to live better lives. But this unintentional “selfishness” could be hurting our societies’ cohesion and businesses’ profit margins.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, respondents indicated “little desire to be famous, have a high profile on social media, or accumulate great wealth.”

Instead, they shared an “ambition to make positive contributions to their organisations’ success and/or to the world in general.” Recognising the importance of giving, 55 companies on Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For currently offer their employees a minimum of five full days to volunteer a year.

With that in mind, perhaps more businesses should consider giving their employees paid time off in 2017 to volunteer in their communities. Not only do these kind of volunteering programmes help employees fulfill their need for purpose, they also help establish empowering community projects, increase workplace morale and reduce employee turnover.

The gift of skills, equipment and space

For your average young person or entrepreneur, becoming successful in the current economic environment can feel impossible. Especially, when you consider the cost of success. Literally. Whether you’re trying to go back to school to get training for a new passion, paying for new equipment or simply trying to find a quiet and professional place to host meetings, the costs can add up quickly.

Unfortunately, many businesses underestimate the value of the tangible and intangible assets that they have to offer these bootstrapping demographics. Fortunately, CSR doesn’t always have to involve spending money. Sometimes it can be about helping people save money on their biggest purchases or expenses.

If you’re a company that provides services, such as marketing, consider offering budding entrepreneurs free workshops to hone their skills. If you’re a company that sells smart devices or software, you could host a competition and offer winners complimentary products and training from your staff. If you have office space that is being underutilised, you could offer it (with parking privileges) to early stage entrepreneurs for a nominal fee.

Whatever you choose to do, just know that your business has a lot more to offer than just money. By choosing to re-imagine the way you give to your employees and community, you can give them something that is much more precious. The chance to be happy, healthy, self-fulfilled and compassionate citizens, who live in a safe community that promotes sustainable development.

About Soukina Rachidi: Soukaina Rachidi is the founder and author of the Soukie Speaks blog. Born in Morocco, Rachidi spent most of her formative years in the UAE, in addition to living in Qatar, USA, and Argentina. Before becoming a full-time writer, Rachidi was a media relations coordinator at Dubai-based start-up Melltoo Marketplace. With a BA in International Relations from the University of Delaware, Soukaina is passionate about writing, community empowerment, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

Soukaina Rachidi is the founder and author of the Soukie Speaks blog.

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