Effective CSR needs charismatic leaders to engage employees

CSR in 2022 is a business norm. Today, consumers and stakeholders expect that companies will act with honesty and integrity and aim to give something back to their communities and wider society.

Also, corporate social responsibility has become a critical factor in how employees choose where to work and where consumers choose to spend their money. Large corporates have an (often unwritten) mandate to better understand the impact they have on the world around them.

Danish toy company Lego always scores highly on global CSR tables; its focus on conducting its business fairly, ethically, and transparently has clearly won the hearts and minds of its public.

The company operates with a top-down approach to CSR activities, and I believe this is a key factor to ensure company-wide buy-in of CSR values.

More locally, the UAE CSR Fund is a federally-mandated organisation tasked with establishing the United Arab Emirates as a global leader in Corporate Social Responsibility.

DAMAC Foundation (HSDF) engages in charitable initiatives that provide a wide range of assistance that benefits the underserved and marginalised sectors of society. Recent initiatives include an AED5 million pledge to the ‘1 Billion Meals’ campaign, which was launched at the start of Ramadan 2022, and the ‘Fresh Slate’ initiative, which was developed in collaboration with Dubai Police to help detainees charged with petty offences get a second chance.

The pandemic certainly brought out the best in a lot of organisations, especially from a social responsibility perspective. Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society is perhaps just one good example of a company which has a strong track record of ‘giving back’. As well as making multiple local and international charity donations during the height of the pandemic, it helps fund local university places for underprivileged youth.

Global Investment portfolio company, Dubai Holding Assets Management (DHAM) L.L.C. holds an annual charity walk to raise funds for local charities and raise the profile of our city’s humanitarian ethos. In 2022, “WeWalk” supported the UAE Rare Disease Society, raising hundreds of thousands of dirhams and attracting more than 1,000 walkers.

The company sponsors schools; has installed water fountains across several of its destinations to reduce single-use plastics, and operates a partnership with the World Food Programme to assist in local food security – to name a few of its programmes.

Most importantly, it seems that CSR runs through the veins of Dubai Holding, and it’s no surprise that the company is overseen by none other than Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum himself.

Of course, leadership has to lead by example, but even more so when it comes to CSR. Employees look to management for the lead on ethical matters, on how to represent the company’s values in wider society, and how to ensure the company’s reputation is enhanced by CSR.

When management shares an enthusiasm for positive activities and behaviours, it filters down through the organisation.

And, of course, CSR doesn’t always have to be external – or publicised. Some of the most effective CSR programmes involve catering to staff well-being and mental health through such things as flexible working, creches, different types of leave, and rewards for behaviour that aligns with CSR activity.

Younger employees especially have a higher expectation of great working conditions and practices, and they look for tangible ways a company works to help protect the environment and look after their talent.

We have moved into an era where CSR is no longer something corporates pay lip service to; we must also walk the talk and lead by example.

Ensuring your CSR initiatives are known and acted upon across the organisation is a vital task, underlining how company success is often the sum of many disparate parts. But the benefits are clear:

Increased employee satisfaction

Savvy employees want to work for a company with demonstrable CSR activities. Embracing CSR means attracting employees who share your approach, and studies show they are more likely to stay working with you.

And working toward an ethical, inclusive workplace certainly creates a better working environment.

Improved public image

As well as creating a good feeling amongst your staff, consumers expect companies to act with integrity, honesty, and heightened responsibility towards the environment and the communities in which they operate. Simply put, consumers are drawn toward organisations driven by a noble sense of purpose and form stronger emotional attachments to brands with demonstrable CSR goals.

Increased customer loyalty

Studies have shown that people are willing to pay more for products and services from companies displaying a strong sense of purpose, such as the example of Tom’s Shoes, which invests a third of its profits in “grassroots good”, such as cash grants and partnerships with community organisations, to help drive sustainable change.

Increased creativity

We’ve all had those “wow” moments when we read about organisation’s who adopt clever ways to become more sustainable or help their local communities. Leaders who view their business through the lens of CSR are frequently inspiring, creative and charismatic. Re-imaging a better business in a better world leads to true innovation.

Through engaging in CSR practices and being conscious of the social, cultural, and environmental consequences of business practices, organizations gain great benefits, as well as the wider community.

Reputation is everything, and CSR should be a priority, pushed by C-level executives down through the organisation. By prioritising it, brands can build a stronger, more loyal customer base, but also contribute towards making a more positive impact in the world – and isn’t that something we all strive for?

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