x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Community spirit enhances feelgood factor for everyone

Giving back to the community is probably not a priority for many businesses, especially when the economy is still searching for firmer footing. Ironically though, it is during times such as this they should be dedicating more effort to giving back.

The Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says that philanthropy and giving back actually make businesses more successful. Lionel Bonaventure / AFP
The Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says that philanthropy and giving back actually make businesses more successful. Lionel Bonaventure / AFP

Giving back to the community is probably not a priority for many businesses, especially when the economy is still searching for firmer footing. But ironically it is during times such as this that they should be dedicating more effort to giving back.

Why is it important for businesses, big and small, to do so?

Just a few days ago, I attended a lecture by Bill Gates at Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed'smajlis, where he identified that philanthropy and giving back actually makes businesses more successful. Mr Gates, the American business magnate and philanthropist, said it is a duty for businesses of all sizes to do something for their communities.

I cannot say I was surprised. Philanthropy is an approach now adopted by global businesses, with some of them dedicating corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and staff members to the purpose of ensuring that the company does its share of supporting the community. But I did not realise the positive impact it had on me and my colleagues until I was managing a community initiative.

Five months ago, the chief executive of my company asked me to take charge of a project that involves giving back to the Abu Dhabi community, and to pick a cause to support.

We chose autism as a matter to raise awareness about, and to support the Abu Dhabi Autism Centre. We knew the key to its success was to involve all staff members - turning this into a team project.

I started by raising awareness internally about autism by meeting business heads, sending emails and through word of mouth. I then had donation boxes placed across the company. After raising a generous amount from our staff, the next step involved them dedicating time to go down to the centre almost every month, meeting the children and helping their teachers out.

Sharing our business expertise and media connections is also a form of giving back, and so our business executives and media partners teamed up to raise awareness of autism through writing press releases and collaborating on media projects.

Our main aim was to create a positive change for autistic children and their centre. But what was interesting, and unexpected was the impact the simple act of donating time had on our staff's morale.

Doing something worthwhile as part of their job made them feel good - and more positive at work. Staff members got to know each other more through team activities at the centre and were coming up with ideas on how we could broaden our initiative.

Getting a bonus or a pat on the back feels good, but being part of a business that helps others can feel just as good.

Giving businesses and employees time to help a worthy cause has benefits that make it worthwhile. Working on an extracurricular activity provides staff with the opportunity to combine professional and team-building skills. It is a great way for employees to bond and allows managers to discover hidden talents in their staff.

Giving back can take a number of forms whether it is by donating blood, money, time or expertise.

For instance, through an initiative launched by Invest AD, a financial organisation in Abu Dhabi, businesswomen in the UAE are provided with the opportunity to attend workshops where business experts from the company and elsewhere in the Emirates share their expertise free of charge - the result is to empower women in the community.

Integrating CSR with a company's main values can become another way of distinguishing a business to staff and clients, as numerous studies show that employees prefer to work in an organisation that supports the community.

Moreover, with major competitors in many markets, adding the CSR dimension to the business makes it stand out from the crowd, and enhances its reputation. It is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

AManar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer. She can be followed on Twitter:@manar_alhinai