Is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) understood in Lebanon? Is it possible to identify a Lebanese institution or corporation which has fully adopted and integrated CSR from the employee level to the supply chain? Were changes applied in the workplace, environment, community, and the marketplace which make the four areas of CSR? If so, was it part of a long-term comprehensive strategy? Were efforts to promote CSR occasional and restricted to individual initiatives or part of corporations’ public relation campaigns? Lebanese institutions have not succeeded in properly implementing CSR beyond the preliminary stages due to a lack of understanding of its standards and guidance as well as from failed execution strategies. An in-depth knowledge of the principles of CSR is necessary to achieve the positive impact that socially responsible strategies can generate by promoting a sustainable, yet profitable, business. The top-down integration of CSR strategies involving the cooperation of employers and employees, needed to develop a strategic vision and agenda, would lead to a healthier environment, a stable community, satisfied employees and a rewarding business.
Research conducted by ‘CSR LEBANON’ between September 2009 and December 2011 showed a misconception of CSR among Lebanese businesses and concluded the following: The majority of companies, banks, factories, and institutions continue to approach CSR as a way to enhance their public relations in the form of donations and charitable efforts which increase during the Christmas season and the holy month of Ramadan with the casual support for social and environmental activities. Such a flawed approach is mainly due to the disparity between how businesses understand CSR and their concrete attempts at implementing socially responsible principles. Specifically, business leaders need to differentiate between their personal philanthropy and corporate responsibility. Despite increased interest in addressing local and global environmental challenges, Lebanese corporations have failed to look beyond reforestation and recycling initiatives and move into innovative projects with newly-assessed strategic plans and mechanisms of action. This is unfortunate because companies, especially banks, are believed to be well informed on issues that fall under the umbrella of CSR. This includes risk assessment, operation management, human resources, marketing, communication, and brand reputation.
Businesses underestimate the importance of promoting voluntary work as an integral part of social and environmental responsibility. Moreover, Lebanese institutions continue to mistake charity work and “check donations” for CSR. While these contributions are valuable, CSR is a measurable investment in terms of profits and losses in accordance with the GRI principles (review article on pages 24-26), Dow Jones Sustainability Index and ISO 26000 standards (review David Simpson presentation on pages 82-84). Universities, Media, NGOs, & Business Associations Educational institutions are also responsible for the weakness in CSR promotion in Lebanon. With the exception of a few graduates courses and a $500,000 endowment from the “Mikati Fund” that was established two years ago at the American University of Beirut to finance CSR seminars, research and education, courses educating students on CSR are still marginal in Lebanon. Efforts are also required by the media to promote awareness and highlight the importance of CSR and its positive economic impact. In this regard, business associations and the Chambers of Commerce should take initiative and warn businesses against the risks associated with failing to adopt sustainable business strategies. Non-profit civil society groups seem to understand the importance of CSR for the business community. To avoid an overlap of effort, a partnership should be developed between promoters of CSR and civil society actors to better understand what contributions each party can make towards leveraging CSR adoption among Lebanese businesses. This partnership should be based on a mutual desire to help communities regardless of their religious or political affiliations. A critical factor for the growth and development of CSR is the involvement and support of business leaders. They should be aware that the implementation of CSR strategies will improve the reputation of their business and promote sustainability in the long term as companies earn the trust of stakeholders. Increased trust will in turn improve profitability and increase share prices, a feat not achievable through advertising or public relations alone. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” emphasized Warren Buffet, the third richest man in the world. With this advice, perhaps Lebanese businesses will consider their reputations beyond the bottom line.
Author: Khaled Kassar, Founder & CEO at CSR LEBANON