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‘Year of Giving’: Private Sector Strategic Alignment

It is that time of year when the attention of organizations turns to planning for the year ahead. Budgets are requested, projects are approved, sales forecasts are put in place and marketing & communication plans are created. Inevitably during this time, mention is made of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) planning, and more often than not, a calendar is built and dates are allocated for blood donation clinics, days of volunteering, and activities and events around Ramadan.

While this approach to CSR planning is better than no focus on CSR at all – and supporting such activities is always worthwhile – as someone who spends his days at work developing strategic plans I must be honest and say that this approach to CSR frustrates me. Organizational CSR should never be about ad-hoc events and random initiatives, and instead should focus on creating alignment between an organization’s social endeavors with its overall purpose and values. I partially blame this ad-hoc approach on those who see CSR as nice-to-have, and sometimes even an opportunity for creating publicity and headlines from doing good deeds – which is never what CSR is about.

CSR is not about delivering business results and column inches – but instead, CSR is that while during the course of business the company is also contributing to the well-being of communities and society; true CSR is making a difference while doing business. Which is why I am particularly excited about the declaration on 24th December last year by the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan making 2017 as the ‘Year of Giving’. This declaration makes it clear that the private sector must strengthen its social responsibility efforts.

I believe that this declaration is an open call for the private sector to get their CSR houses in order, and to develop strategic CSR approaches in order to maximize the impact of their efforts. The head of businesses – CEO, Chairman or MD – must be the champion this declaration internally and ensure that the CSR strategies are aligned with the business purpose and values. Organizational responsibility has always been a pillar of corporate reputation, and I hope that in the UAE we will see a marked change in how the private sector approaches ‘doing good’, while the federal and local public entities build their own approaches for the ‘Year of Giving’. I also hope that there will be much cooperation and alignment between the public and private sector organizations, and will do my best in the course of working with clients to encourage this.

I am also secretly excited, that with my strategic hat on there will be the opportunity to help these organizations build their strategic approach to CSR in order to make the biggest difference possible in society. Of course the details and intricacies of strategic planning for social responsibility are too detailed for this post. What I can tell you is that making the shift from ad-hoc CSR initiatives to a fully aligned ‘responsibility strategy’ will take patience and hard work to make it happen. But with a strong call to action by His Highness, there is certainly the motivation to get private sector CSR right once and for all.

If anything, I have faith in the enthusiasm of everyone in UAE society where I know we all want to make a difference in the lives of everyone. Let’s make sure the private sector’s strategic CSR planning approach is done properly to make sure that the ‘Year of Giving’ is a resounding success for everyone.