Over 60 per cent of UAE brands have experienced a tangible growth in consumer engagement as a direct result of increased in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, a new report has showed.

Cicero & Bernay’s annual CSR Report of 2022 showed that overall efforts to increase CSR grew significantly in the UAE and the GCC compared to last year’s report, with over 90 per cent of those surveyed being in tune with CSR’s definition and purpose.

In recent years, countries in the Middle East have started to take significant steps towards fostering a culture of social responsibility, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the way in promoting sustainable and socially responsible practices. The 2022 report also highlights a positive change in sentiment among some previously low-scoring countries.

The survey engaged 314 C-level executives from nine countries across 12 industries in the Mena region, providing a representative sample of the business community, with respondents from companies of various sizes and sectors. The survey was designed to be comprehensive, covering a wide range of topics that are relevant to the CSR landscape in the region.

The increased perception of the importance of CSR in the region, especially in the UAE, the Saudi Arabia and Qatar, signals a significant shift towards a more sustainable and socially responsible business environment. This highlights the increasing recognition of the role that businesses can play in promoting sustainable development and the potential for these countries to lead the way in this area.

Eight in ten UAE companies are planning to increase their CSR practices, with Egypt and the GCC now at a similar level, the report showed. Over 65 per cent of the companies, on average, are actively tracking and enforcing CSR performance, it added. Managers in the UAE were more likely to strongly agree that investing in CSR activities has a long-term, net-positive impact on their bottomlines compared to managers in the Saudi Arabia.

52 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s respondents believe that CSR activities improve consumer trust with brands and strengthen brand loyalty.

Ahmad Itani, founder and CEO of C&B, said: “Through our report, we aim to drive further progress in sustainable business practices and to promote the role of businesses in fostering sustainable development. The growing recognition of CSR’s importance in the region is a cause for optimism, and we are confident that our continued efforts will help build a more sustainable and socially responsible future for us all in the region. In the post-2020 era, as CSR continues to grow, it is heartening to see the UAE and Saudi Arabia continue their paramount lead in regional CSR efforts and countries such as Egypt and Qatar meeting regional standards of CSR engagement and surpassing them in some ways. This is a testament to the efforts of governments and businesses in these countries in prioritising social responsibility and sustainability.”

Darren Ryan, global creative director – 3Gem Research & Insights, said: “We were delighted to partner again with Cicero & Bernay Communication Consultancy on the third Mena (Middle East and North Africa) CSR Survey Report. It was encouraging that, consistent with last year’s report, the majority (three-quarters) of Mena companies plan to increase their CSR activities over the next 12 months, with a further fifth planning to replicate their CSR activities from last year. Also promising to discover, was that hardly any companies will be scaling back CSR activities. This latest edition offers valuable insights into how businesses continue to approach corporate social responsibility now and for the future.”

Khaleej Times spoke to Itani on the critical importance of CSR in today’s business world. Excerpts:

From a global perspective, where do businesses in GCC stand when it comes to CSR?

Throughout 2022, corporate social responsibility (CSR) continued to be a significant topic among senior managers and executives in the Mena region. An overwhelming nine out of ten of those surveyed claimed awareness of the concept without prior prompting. While approximately half of the surveyed managers had a strong understanding of CSR, and two-fifths had good knowledge, there is still room for improvement, as one in six indicated having little or no knowledge.

Lack of understanding is no longer a significant barrier to valuing and adopting CSR practices compared to the previous year. However, around one-third of surveyed managers still identified a lack of project ownership, time, or knowledge as a potential obstacle.

Managers in the Mena region believe their organisations highly value CSR, with eight in ten considering it ‘part of their DNA’ or ‘one of their top priorities.’ Furthermore, most Mena companies plan to increase their CSR activities in the next 12 months. UAE, Egypt, and GCC companies are the most active in this area.

How has the focus on CSR among businesses shifted in the region?

The concept of CSR has come a long way from being a voluntary choice to a mandatory requirement at regional, national, and international levels. However, many companies have gone beyond legal obligations and integrated the idea of ‘doing good’ into their business models. Despite these advancements, global challenges continue to intensify, and the region must focus more on building and implementing solid strategies and action plans that contribute to societal prosperity. These plans should prominently feature sustainability and CSR concepts. Although these concepts may seem confusing at times, they all share a common objective: prosperity for all levels.

Which countries are leading with their CSR activities in the region (and why)?

A third of the managers surveyed believe that the UAE is the most active country in CSR. The Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close behind at a quarter and one in eight, respectively. This can be attributed to the growing recognition among many countries of the numerous advantages that arise from incorporating CSR programmes into their operations. These benefits include improved operational efficiency, as well as the enhanced ability to measure and evaluate the overall impact of their CSR engagement.

What is different about the result this year (compared to last year’s results)?

This latest survey shows that most Mena region companies aim to step up their CSR efforts in 2023. Three-quarters of them are planning to increase their CSR activities, while a fifth are looking to replicate last year’s efforts.The survey also reveals that the UAE is leading the pack when it comes to CSR enthusiasm, with eight out of ten companies planning to ramp up their CSR practices, with Egypt and the GCC trailing closely behind.

Overall, it’s good to see that the Mena region is moving towards a more sustainable and socially responsible business environment. With more companies recognising the importance of corporate social responsibility and taking steps to increase their CSR engagement, the future is looking brighter.

How important is it for a company to adopt CSR into its business practices?

Adopting CSR practices has become increasingly crucial for companies to remain competitive and successful. Companies can set themselves apart from their competitors by focusing on CSR, creating a unique selling point that appeals to socially and environmentally conscious consumers. Adopting CSR practices can also help increase sales and customer loyalty. Finally, CSR can contribute to reducing operational costs by promoting resource efficiency and waste reduction.

What is the impact of CSR on employee loyalty?

The findings also show that employees are more likely to continue working with a socially responsible company, even if they receive another job offer. Managers also noted that employees working in a socially responsible company feel a stronger sense of purpose than those in other companies.

Companies that prioritise social responsibility are more likely to attract and retain top talent, leading to increased productivity and long-term success. Therefore, companies should consider the importance of social responsibility to employees and incorporate it into their business strategy.

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