Living in the UAE, most of us have heard the famous phrase ‘If you build it, they will come’. That was one of the key reasons that I established the Arabia CSR Network (ACSRN) – a think tank, training centre and advisory institution encouraging businesses to adopt Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability practices in the Arab Region.

I wish it were that simple.

In the early 2000’s the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability in the Arab Region was nothing more than ‘small talk’. Everyone knew what it meant, or at least imagined they knew what it meant, but no one really considered it valuable to incorporate in business strategies.

Regardless of the skepticism that I faced during those initial years, (which I continue to do so to some extent), I had a very strong vision that our region would set high global standards in CSR and sustainability.

And so in 2004, I created the Arabia CSR Network with a disruptive idea to recognise and award organisations that were silently but effectively operating their businesses responsibly and innovatively. This idea was the birth of the Arabia CSR Awards.

The objectives for the Arabia CSR Awards are quite simple – i.e. to recognise large enterprises, as well as small and medium size ones and government institutions that have good CSR and sustainability practices, and in turn motivate and educate other organisations to follow their example.

While the objectives were simple, the challenges that lay ahead of us were anything but.  In 2008, amidst the economic crisis the world was witnessing, we faced immense difficulty convincing businesses to adopt sustainable practices when they were unable to stay financially afloat.

But we persisted.

What helped us persist was to have an awarding platform that would meticulously and rigorously evaluate organisations and their corporate governance, business strategy and sustainability performance. The Arabia CSR Awards puts all the applicants through a yearlong extensive process that is eventually able to recognise the genuine sustainable champions that have been able to practice innovation, ethical business and sustainability in their operations.

Today, the Arabia CSR Awards sets the standard in the region for being an extremely valuable sustainability platform in the MENA region. The rigor of the Awards is complemented by various global standards that contribute to its evaluation mechanism, such as the UN Global Compact Principles, GRI Standards and the European EFQM Excellence Models. To further ensure the integrity of the Awards, we brought on board an extremely well- reputed provider of business assurance – DNV-GL – to verify the entire awarding process.

From the applicant’s perspective, the Arabia CSR Awards offers great value as it is one of the awarding platforms that provides a detailed feedback report from an international panel of experts that assess each applicant and provides effective recommendations to improve their performance.

Today, in its 12th year, the Awards have processed more than 1,200 applications from more than 1,000 organisations representing 42 sectors from 14 Arab countries. The Award is a home-grown product of the MENA region and offers an occasion to celebrate the achievements of both the private and government sector in the Arab world.

Throughout our journey, it has been a source of honour and pride for us that the Arabia CSR Awards has received support from the UN Global Compact, UN Environment, the League of Arab States and patronage from HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman and Chief Executive Emirates Airline and Group and Chairman Dubai Airports and last but not the least HH Engineer Sheikh Salim Bin Sultan Bin Saqr Al Qassimi Chairman of RAK Civil Aviation Department .

It gives me immense satisfaction to witness today the strength of the foundation of this unique platform that is much-needed to encourage businesses to play a bigger role for the region’s prosperity.  Nonetheless, we have a long way to go and I ask all organisations to believe in doing the right thing for their business, their people, the society and the planet.

Next month, on the 2nd of October we will honour the winners of the 12th cycle of the Arabia CSR Awards. Join us to celebrate and learn from the torchbearers of sustainability in the Arab Region. I assure you, it will help you redefine your understanding of the private and government sector – especially as agents of change for real sustainable development.

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