INDIACSR News Network
MUMBAI: Zaid Al Bitar is the Founder and Managing Director at CSR Watch – Jordan. He also Heads Business Strategy at Applikable Technologies LLC. By 2012 and at the age of 23, Zaid Bitar has had completed a number of leadership roles including the CEO and President of the Jordan chapter of the world’s largest youth-run organization, a Corporate Responsibility/CSR Advisor at a regional operating sustainability advisory firm, and the Head of Business Strategy at Jordan-based mobile applications development company.
His passion towards sustainability and responsible corporate behavior has been the main driver that inspired him to move from the Applied Arts industry towards the corporate responsibility and business development industry, and above all, inspired him to found an online platform and a first of its kind that aims at activating the public role against corporate misbehavior at the name of “CSR Watch – Jordan”. CSR Watch – Jordan, is an online platform that aims at enhancing the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) in Jordan through creating an active public role against corporate misbehavior.
In an exclusive interview with Harsha Mukherjee, Editor of INDIACSR, Zaid Al Bitar shared his views on perspective of CSR in Jordan, recent trend in CSR, sustainability initiatives of corporate, hurdles in CSR and motivation behind founding CSR Watch Jordan.
Zaid Al Bitar says, “Jordan is now moving towards the right direction, more and more companies are becoming aware of the concept, especially with the increase in successful CSR experiences in Jordan and the region.”
Below is the edited transcript of the interview.
What was your motivation behind CSR Watch Jordan & how do you plan to grow it strategically?
My motivation to found CSR Watch – Jordan was inspiring recent public movements in Jordan that are demanding social justice and political reform. The power and persistence of the people when demanding their rights has made me realize that this is what we miss in the CSR practice in Jordan. People should be empowered hold misbehaving companies accountable for their actions and to demand better practices.
In CSR Watch – Jordan we are looking into growing through the growth of CSR-aware communities in Jordan. Therefore we are looking into launching a CSR practitioner’s portal in the near future, such portal would allow CSR practitioners and organizations in Jordan to exchange information, collaborate and share resources that would help companies improve their CSR practice.
We also would hope that at some point we would be able to establish a network across the Arab world under the same objectives in order to elevate the CSR practice in the Arab world.
What is the perspective of CSR in Jordan?
The Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) practice in Jordan has witnessed its first true movement in the early 2000s with the foundation of a number of local CSR specialized organizations and the conclusion of a number of CSR and sustainability forums across the country. Since then, some firms in Jordan were able to offer good examples of CSR and have become CSR champions on both local and regional levels.
However, the majority of companies in Jordan have not yet been able to fully grasp CSR and sustainability practice. The majority of companies are unable to go beyond the framework of legal compliance and and/or still consider CSR as part of their corporate philanthropy framework rather taking it as a strategic approach to sustainability.
Furthermore, the corporate law in Jordan has not yet been able to enforce CSR related requirements or incentivize companies to adopt better CSR practices as it is still limited to specific financial requirements only. However it is worth noting that there is a recent attempt to create a national CSR committee that has the potential to diminish such gap.
On the public front, people of Jordan – as corporate stakeholders – have not yet taken the step to require better CSR practices and ask firms to step-up as partners to address the social, environmental and economic needs of the Jordanian society.
Hence, we can say that the culture of CSR and sustainability in Jordan today is still not as mature as it is expected to be, and there is a great need to build more awareness on the definitions of CSR and sustainability (on all levels of the Jordanian society), as well as a need to build more capacity for companies in Jordan to be able to develop stronger business cases and practices for CSR.
How is CSR contributing to ease the situation in conflict prone areas in & around Jordan?
It is well known that Jordan is located in a very challenges part of the Arab world, with wars/conflicts taking place in neighboring countries such as: Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This has put a great pressure on Jordan to step-up as a cornerstone for providing political and humanitarian relief for those countries.
There are many notable stories of Jordanian firms that have taken action as part of their CSR to ease the humanitarian crisis through providing humanitarian relief in critical times during such conflicts.
To cite some examples; i.e. the role of Zain Telecom in providing medical and financial aid, food supplies and blood donations during the war on Iraq. A similar example with Aramex in providing food supplies and medical aid during the siege on Gaza through their “Deliver Hope to People in Gaza”. Also Nuqul Group’s employee campaign to collect donations for the people in Gaza.
What is even more inspiring here is how such companies have taken the initiative to engage their stakeholders in delivering such campaigns, which has shown true public-private partnership to do good even outside the Jordanian borders.
What social issues (priority-wise) are to be addressed by corporate?
Priority social issues in Jordan have not changed much in the past 5-10 years, yet some of which are becoming more and more interconnected and more complicated to solve and require urgent actions from the government and the private sector alike. Such issues can be summarized as:
Poverty Issues: According to the CIA factbook in early 2012, 14.2% of the Jordanian population is under the poverty line, this rate is also threatened to increase with the increase of the economic challenges facing Jordan due to the political unrest in the region and the increase in oil and gas prices.
Unemployment Issues (Employability of youth Vs. Availability of job opportunities): Unemployment has been an ongoing challenge for Jordan for the past 10 years with serious effect on Jordan’s poverty rate. According to an official report, the unemployment rate in Jordan is estimated to be 12.5% (while in some unofficial reports it is estimated to be 30%).
Bearing in mind that almost 70% of the Jordanian population is comprised of youth, Jordan faces great challenges to provide quality education that aligns with the demand of the private sector, while ensuring the availability of job opportunities for young people.
Healthcare Issues: This issue also has its ties with poverty issues as a considerably large percentage of the population face a challenge in having access to health care as they do acquire health insurance and/or faced with the expensive healthcare in medical institutions in Jordan.
As for other sustainability issues, Jordan’s primary environmental issue remains to be water shortage as Jordan is considered to be the world’s 3rd poorest country in natural water resources. This calls for much needed public awareness and monitoring on water consumption and pollution.
Is the present Government of Jordan supporting CSR?
As I mentioned before, the government of Jordan has not yet taken a serious action towards either regulating CSR requirements in the corporate law in Jordan nor developed incentives for companies to adopt better CSR practices.
On the other hand, there have been several attempts by the Ministry of Labor to develop projects and policies that would improve the workplace practices of companies with regards to the ratio of Jordanian workers, gender equality, child-labor mitigation, and the employment of people with disabilities. However, with the absence of the right corporate culture, and proper monitoring, companies in Jordan are unlikely to comply with these policies.
Also as I mentioned before, there is a recent attempt by the government of Jordan to form a national CSR committee that would help facilitate collaboration between companies and non-governmental organizations in order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in Jordan.
What are the major sustainability initiatives taken by top 5 companies’ indifferent sectors at Jordan?
If I am to choose 5 top sustainability initiatives by Jordanian companies they would be as the following:
From the Logistics sector, Aramex would be one of the first and best examples to talk about, particularly about its community development project “Ruwwad” which is the first privately founded non-profit organization in Jordan.
Ruwwad was established in 2005, and aims at empowering local communities and enhancing the capabilities of young people to positively impact the processes of sustainable development.
It is also worth mentioning that Aramex has been one of the first organizations to issue a sustainability report in the Arab world in 2006, and has been an active member in the UNGC local networks in Jordan and the UAE, and has a great positive influence across a wide range of sustainability issues in the region.
On the Banking sector front, the Arab Bank presents a great example of public-private partnerships through their “Together” program which aims at involving people and organizations to contribute to the community development journey in Jordan. The Arab Bank is also known as the first bank in Jordan to issue a sustainability report and to have a sustainability team as part of its organizational structure.
As for the Telecommunication sector, Zain Telecom has been an active company in CSR since 2004, and one of their key CSR projects that are worth mentioning would be the “Zain Education Fund” which was an ongoing engagement between 2004 and 2011. Through this fund, Zain has managed to provide 275 scholastic grants for talented youth from rural arias, low-income families, and families of the military injured.
On the Industrial sector front, Nuqul Group would be one of the key companies taking an active role on the development of a marginalized community through a holistic sustainability development project in “Al Koura” area in Jordan. The project has a strong advantage for being focused on one area, giving Nuqul an opportunity to address the needs and concerns of local community and implement key initiatives accordingly.
As for the hospitality sector, Landmark Hotel has developed a mature sustainability approach that integrates green-tourism with community engagement making it one of the first hotels in Jordan take such approach.
What are the hurdles faced by CSR concept in Jordan?
I would summarize the key hurdles facing CSR in Jordan as follows:
Economic Challenges: The tough current economic situation in Jordan has tremendous effect on the business priorities of Jordanian companies, pushing CSR to be a less important consideration. This is often reflects in budget-cuts on social projects and initiatives.
Another way to look at this; is that we need a mindset change among companies to broaden the way they see CSR. Realizing that CSR commitments do not always have to come in the form of financial burdens is key in order for companies to better-understand the value they can create in their local communities, and the different resources they can use to make a social impact.
Also it is very important that companies map their social priorities in a smart way and measure the return on their social investments so they can better-evaluate where to invest/ not to invest.
Skillset: Though many organizations may have the well to implement CSR, the majority of which do not possess the right skillset to do so, or are not aware of what kind of skills they need in order tocreate and manage successful CSR initiatives.
Governance: It is unfortunate that the majority of companies in Jordan does not monitor and track their CSR activity; hence, there is no ownership within those companies on CSR activities undertaken. Therefor many projects are unsuccessful and/or not sustainable.
What future do you see for CSR in Jordan?
I personally think that Jordan is now moving towards the right direction, more and more companies are becoming aware of the concept, especially with the increase in successful CSR experiences in Jordan and the region. I also see a great potential for CSR in the SME segment as many SMEs and micro businesses are adopting social and environmental considerations right from the start, this presents a very promising outlook for CSR in Jordan in the near future.
How much is the youth involvement in social & sustainable initiatives?
Young people, especially university students are becoming more involved, the interest of being involved has built up among young people since the past 5-10 years, and social entrepreneurship has also become a trend among young people as more young people start up social projects and businesses.
It is also worth mentioning that most of CSR and sustainability activities undertaken by companies are focused on youth engagement, this has become a national direction for the majority of institutions in Jordan across all sectors.
What is the CSR approach in SME & MNC in Jordan?
The approach is very diverse depending on the size and industry of the companies, but generally one would notice a great interest among the SME segment on environmental issues related to greening their workplace, and also in volunteering with NGOs and CSOs, mostly performed on relatively small scales. Whilst in MNC’s the approach to sustainability is more thorough and holistic with clear policies and commitments to all aspects of sustainability, and goes beyond the implementation to include ongoing assessments and reporting.
However, I am personally proud to say that Applikable Technologies LLC which is software startup company I am involved in is the youngest business start-up in Jordan and the Arab world to issue a “CR” policy integrating social and environmental considerations in the business model and the organizational values with clear CR commitments. We do hope that with our success we would inspire more micro and small businesses to integrate CSR as part of their business approach.
What steps are you planning to increase community engagement in CSR?
At CSR Watch – Jordan our ultimate objective is to get the Jordanian public (people) as employees, customers, and general stakeholders of companies, to take an active role against corporate misbehavior, and to demand better CSR practices.
In order to achieve this level of engagement, we need to first cover the awareness challenges, as each stakeholder group should first be aware of their rights as per Jordanian laws, and they also should be aware of the definitions of CSR and sustainability and how CSR can be of benefit for them as well as for companies.
After achieving awareness, we aim at educating these stakeholder groups on the channels they can use to voice their opinions and engage with companies to push for better practices and also create accountability among companies to address their stakeholders expectations and concerns.
Upon achieving the above we would be able to create a public demand for CSR which is able to influence policy makers and business associations to regulate CSR requirements among the corporate sector.
The community engagement also goes beyond this to reach the level where people are able to monitor corporate misbehaviors and address them publically to create accountability and trigger corrective actions from the companies’ end.
This presents a challenge as well as an opportunity for companies in Jordan to communicate and engage with their stakeholders to work as partners for sustainable development in Jordan.