Big budgets not needed to make an impact with CSR projects

The need to incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects into a business strategy is growing.

A week ago, an Abu Dhabi based retailer who happens to be one of my clients stressed that they too would want to incorporate CSR into their business, and more specifically sponsor initiatives that would give back to Abu Dhabi. They would like to dedicate a section in their retail space, free of charge, to support budding talents. I noticed that there is a shift from sponsoring a general cause, to more specific projects that would benefit the communities that these businesses operate in.

Last week I shared my experience of creating an effective CSR strategy at the Social Investment Workshop organised by Shell and Emirates Foundation. Attendees included communications and CSR managers representing various corporates from the Gulf.

What I found interesting was that all of these managers had unique CSR experiences to share. For example, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) is helping entrepreneurs in the region launch their businesses; Shell with their Intilaaqah programme provides training and learning material for free. Ultimately, the main reason why all of them were there was to exchange different ideas on how to best execute CSR projects and benefit the society.

Some businesses still shy away from incorporating CSR into their strategy, because they believe that it would be an added expense to their books, and given the current financial times and the low oil prices, they may think that this is not the right time to invest. However, just as I stressed in my talk at the workshop last week, effective CSR projects could be implemented by using little to no budget at all. When we first started executing CSR projects where I work three years ago, we were half-way through the year and we did not have a set budget to support our projects, however, we realised that we could still make a difference.

Allow me to share with you some personal examples:

You could start by giving back to the environment through recycling. Our first CSR project was to recycle all our paper and plastic waste. We dedicated different waste bins for plastic and paper waste throughout the departments in the company, and we liaised with a recycling plant in Abu Dhabi that collected the waste every week. The great thing with those plants is that they would pay you per kilogram to recycle the waste. The money earned could be used as a tip to the cleaners to encourage them to recycle the waste, or you could dedicate it as a donation to a charity or a cause at the end of the year on behalf of your company.

You could utilise your website, your company’s screens, social media channels, and email signatures to raise awareness about a cause. One of the ways in which we raise awareness about Autism in Abu Dhabi is by highlighting the cause through our website, social media channels, and email signatures. We state that we support Abu Dhabi Autism Center in our email signature, and we added the centre’s website, so that our email receivers could learn more about the centre. We dedicate our social media platforms to raise awareness about the disorder, how it could be detected, and where could they find help in Abu Dhabi. And we did the same thing with our website.

If you work in an investment company, a bank, or a place that could help budding entrepreneurs, then you could start a mentorship programme, where you give back to the community by sharing knowledge and providing support if needed. Through the Anjez entrepreneurial initiative, we organise talks by leading Emirati entrepreneurs where they would provide mentorship and advice to the attendees of the talk, all free of charge.

If you work in a place which has a nice space, such as a lobby or a waiting area, then you could dedicate the walls to raise awareness about budding artists. We have dedicated such space to Emirati artists in our company.

Having a dedicated budget to execute different social projects is great. Having little to no budget, does not mean that you could not give back. I have come to know that when done effectively, sometimes you would not need any budget at all and the impact could be just as great.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai

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