x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Taking steps towards a more social outlook

Network, get involved and watch how everyone along the chain benefits in some way.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concept not strange to those living in the West. Many organisations there, whether big or small, contribute to their communities either through volunteering, jobs creation, or monetary support.

As important as that is to society, the returns to the businesses are even greater. An article by Forbes magazine highlights a study done by Reputation Institution, a global consulting firm, which states that 60 per cent of consumers’ willingness to buy or recommend a product or service depends on their perception of the company.

One of the companies perceived to have the best CSR programmes was Microsoft. This may not be surprising given that Bill Gates, its founder, is a leading philanthropist and an advocate for charity and positive social change. Microsoft has a CSR division at its headquarters near Seattle, and its offices around the world work to create a positive difference in their local communities.

The concept of CSR is still fairly nascent in the UAE, but it nonetheless provides positive impact to the community, especially when the whole community is encouraged to be involved. Gradually, people are starting to pay attention to those organisations that do contribute to the community, and prefer them to other options.

I began supporting autistic children at Abu Dhabi Autism Centre 19 months ago and became heavily involved in raising awareness in the community about the condition. I could have done it on my own, but I know that things work best – and work faster – when they involve community members. Networking is key to achieving positive, long-lasting results, and so I have made use of my connections to help raise awareness about this condition that many have little information about. When they learnt more, they wanted to be heavily involved in the cause.

I spoke with a good friend of mine – a Hollywood film producer – about creating a public service advertisement to raise awareness about autism in the UAE, using different media channels to maximise the effect. We put together a group of professional volunteers who donated their time and energy to support this cause.

We used our other connections to have our 30-second awareness video played at the local theatre.

To do so, we met the Vox cinemas CSR department manager who agreed to play the awareness video before every movie and across all movie theatres for a whole month free of charge.

After that, I knew that to advocate positive social change, one has to communicate its importance to businesses and the benefit it has on them and the community.

For another example, a couple of weeks back I collaborated with the American designer Tory Burch to celebrate the company’s opening for the first time in Abu Dhabi and to tie this event to social cause. Because of my heavy involvement with autism, they appointed me as the host of the event and decided to donate 5 per cent of the sales of their new line of limited bags to support the kids at Abu Dhabi Austism Centre.

The Tory Burch team and I also made use of the event to raise more awareness and span a series of positive changes. We decided to hold a private dinner for key women in Abu Dhabi, with the director of Abu Dhabi Autism Centre as the guest of honour.

From that one event and the networking activities made at the dinner table, we agreed to create a series of additional events through different women who represent Abu Dhabi’s leading organisations.

Before the night was over, we had at least planned three initiatives to support the centre and autistic children.

CSR can be achieved through so many channels without the investment of one penny and yet achieve great returns – a formula that works best for even the most financially struggling companies.

It is about time that corporations – public or private – embrace CSR, adopt it, and realise the great returns it will have on their communities and on themselves.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai