When Westerners get Arab CSR wrong

How many times have you heard the hard and fast rules about Corporate Social Responsibility? Do this, don’t do that, measurement is a must and if anything falls out of your nicely structured pen then it cannot be allowed. Out goes the standard apology letter explaining how there is limited budget and all funded exploits on behalf of CSR need to be aligned to company strategy.

Boring! Especially if the rules are coming from a loud-mouthed Westerner with very little exposure to, or understanding of, any other culture outside of the USA (let alone the Muslim Gulf). And does America even have a culture? I am open to hear responses to that debate.

She said (and I quote) “Under no circumstances should CSR projects and spend be linked in any way to religion, politics or race.” Cough, cough, choke… and then you start seeing red because of their total ignorance of Islam and how deeply  instrinsic it is in people’s lives, and how companies in the Middle East have a step change to bring about with Customer Engagement …. and how do you do that? You pin-point  your CSR and sponsorship to the very hearts and minds of your market. And what does 99% of the general public living in the Middle East care about?

You got it! Religion, politics (remember that little thing called Arab Spring?!) and the distinction between race – nowhere else in the world is the gap between rich and poor more noticeable and entrenched in everyday life than in the Middle East. Oil rich Arabs and the expat labour force and all that…?

So how does a significant sized company activate anything viable and meaningful while abiding to the rules of a Westerner who consults here and there , flying in and out of countries and seeing only the insides of offices and hotels? The Arab world has many faces and it is incompetent for Westerners to base opinions and henceforth influence and guide big corporate strategies such as CSR from such pitiful levels of exposure.

The answer is simple – you don’t, and cannot, abide by those ill-informed rules if you really give a flying hoot about your brand. One must take all the rules of engagement from the Western corporates and then apply a Muslim filter over it to make sure programmes maintain a special closeness to customers that ignites emotion and motivation.

Case in point – Palestine. There is nothing new about the fighting between Israel and Palestine. Both sides have been at it for donkeys and you need a degree to understand the full history and political, religious and economic entanglement of the whole situation. But what is new is that the Arab countries have been awakened by movements such as Arab Spring and their discovery and use of a new global voice in Social Media.

The fact is wars are now Tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked. All sides of stories  – if not treated fairly and openly by the press – are certainly aired and expressed on Social Media.

The blurring of lines between truth and lies, and allegiance and rebellion has never been so hotly debated, along with such powerful outpooring of harted, love, patriotism and pain all entwined and visible to all. (except perhaps to our Western CSR experts).

So with all this going on, Muslim countries, companies and therefore brands have a duty of care to uphold and express their Corporate Social Responsbility to support the causes that people care about most.

Supporting Muslim cousins in time of need should be welcomed on any CSR roadmap right now. Here companies and their customers and employees can make a difference in getting support on the ground to the women and children who have lost their fathers, sons, brothers and uncles in a war that is raging and will continue to rage for far longer than it should.

It’s great for Westerners to be hired guns to help corporates in the Middle East evolve to compete more strongly on a world stage, but sometimes their good-intentioned advice should be ignored. And this is one such case.

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