ESG 2022: Hail CSR – by Cicero & Bernay’s Ahmad Itani

In our corporate hearts we’re now responsible, says Cicero & Bernay’s Ahmad Itani

By Ahmad Itani, founder and CEO, Cicero & Bernay Communication Consultancy

The notion that businesses, individually and collectively, have a duty to make the world better has been more than merely understood; it’s now a priority. Being cognisant of nearby needs, no matter how small, has proven to be as important as headline-generating initiatives, especially at a time when the variety of activities in this realm is helping broaden awareness around how and where companies can offer support

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Wider active involvement is, of course, a factor in executives having the experience to speak confidently on how their social responsibility work is seen. Cicero & Bernay has been charting the progress of executive sentiment toward CSR for some time now, and the 2022 findings are once again intriguing.

We’ve seen that in 2021, UAE managers almost unanimously state that the CSR for their company is either part of their DNA or one of their top priorities, with emphatic sentiments in that regard being recorded in Saudi Arabia.

Undoubtedly, occurrences around the pandemic, and especially the resulting sentiments, have had an impact on how we all reflect on the world. Yet, somewhat independent from that has been a growing trend for consumers seeking information regarding the ethical stances of the businesses they interact with. CSR has been made central to organisational structures across the business world, with those having a CSR programme in place overwhelmingly believing it to be beneficial to their business, generating positive or very positive effects.

From the perspective of the MENA region, the understanding of CSR as a concept among C-suite executives is high. More than half claim to have a strong understanding of it, with the UAE and the KSA leading the pack. Most C-suite managers regionally feel that CSR is essential, with a similar proportion believing it has a very positive business effect. Most interestingly, similar to previous years, a minority still have very little knowledge of CSR, which is something that needs to improve, particularly in Egypt where a significant number of C-suite managers express no understanding of CSR at all.

Results consistently show that a lack of understanding is a barrier to valuing and adopting basic corporate social responsibility practices. Without educating those managers who need it, it will be difficult for them to overcome the financial commitment needed to implement and run an effective CSR programme.

Almost all managers in our region understand core CSR practices relating to employing good moral values, being more involved in social issues or charities, or meeting certification standards. For the industry this indicates a manifestation of the premise that ‘brand value’-driven content and marketing, rather than tactics, will be major factors going forward.

In the UAE, managers value and trust companies that are more socially responsible, with the majority claiming to change their shopping habits to buy more from these types of companies, even if it costs them more, and advising friends and family to follow suit.

There’s a clear recognition that the socially conscious consumer is not a minority now. She herself and her behaviours are demonstrated everywhere. Only once we understand that and adapt our own methods to match hers will we empathise successfully.

We are seeing a definite advancement in both perceptions of CSR and implementations. Prioritisation of these principles is what has helped drive this change. Naturally, these are led by smaller businesses with that altruistic ethos at heart and much larger entities who have sensed that this will benefit them going forward. If everybody can be brought aboard, then soon enough these principles will be intrinsic to how business works everywhere. The more we give of ourselves, the grander and more benevolent the results we will reap.