Networking for Sustainability in the Arab Region

Habiba Al Marashi
President/CEO, Arabia CSR Network
GRI Stakeholder Council Member

The name Arabia CSR Network instantly conjures up images of cross sector collaboration to advance sustainable development in the Arab Region. The name has come to symbolize reach and influence, along with a well-earned reputation for effectively mingling global with local.

Early growth and pioneering initiatives

The name was coined in 2008 when the EEG CSR Network became an independent and self-sustaining organisation. It had become a melting pot where interested individuals from all sectors of society converged to share views, interests and concerns surrounding the concepts of CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility. It had taken the EEG CSR Network only four years to make CSR a known concept among public and private organisations in the GCC Region. It was among the initial batch of pioneers that promulgated CSR to companies and government entities at a time when it was relatively unheard of and little understood. The organisation has successfully trained more than 350 people from all backgrounds in CSR and sustainability, thereby helping to build capacity and skills. Based on the early success, and witnessing many organisations championing CSR with passion and commitment, Arabia CSR Network came up with an award simply called the Arabia CSR Award. This award broke new ground by creating the most rigourous and discerning criteria for all that were courageous enough to apply to the award. The network rolled out award clinics and detailed guidance resources to help interested organisations appropriate the terms and conditions under which they could stand a chance to win this most prestigious award. The award soon became recognized by organisations in every corner of the extended Arab Region and the most sought after accolade for CSR and sustainability in this part of the world. Indeed, global experts called the award unparalleled and the most rigourous in the world. Close to 800 applications to the award have been received in nine years and 100 awards have been given out to organisations around the MENA Region.

The Network also designed a powerful forum that coincided with the awarding ceremony. This too exceeded expectations and attracted interest from all around the globe. It managed to draw in experts, specialists, game changers, activists and practitioners in CSR and sustainability from not only the Arab Region, but from other parts of the globe as well. Every year the forum boasted leading names in CSR and sustainability, aligning with the most contemporary thinking and cutting edge practices from around the world.

Partnering with international institutions

Arabia CSR Network became the Arab Region’s first certified training partner of Global Reporting Initiative or GRI as they are commonly referred to as. GRI has developed the eponymous framework for Sustainability Reporting which has been adopted by thousands of organisations globally. Launched in the late 1990s the GRI framework has undergone several iterations, reflective of the trends and developments in the reporting landscape. Arabia CSR Network brought a new kind of training in the Region, one that offered an international module enriched with local knowledge and expertise. It also went on subsequently to offer the first GRI certified training exclusively in the Arabic language, working closely with GRI to help develop the content of the training according to the high standards set by GRI. The Network also started to offer advisory services and third party assurance services for sustainability reporting.

While this is what Arabia CSR Network technically offered, what it achieved went far beyond. It kicked off a journey in the Region for sustainable thinking and responsible behaviour. It underscored the need for shifting the business as usual to business for sustainability. It advocated good practice, not simply based on global principles, but those that were rooted in the traditions and cultures of the Region. It spoke relentlessly about the unique challenges of the Region and thus helped to create awareness about the need for solutions and breakthroughs bred locally with local expertise. It refused to take a foreign view of the environment; extolling instead all that is good and praiseworthy in the culture and practices of the Region. This essential pride in the Arab culture distinguished it from all other organisations that were more inclined to unquestioningly follow western precepts. This deep understanding of the Region, its characteristics, inclinations and mandates lent the Network a strategic positioning in the Arab world, and one of strong influence and wide respect.

Leading from the front

The Network has been managed ably, with the dynamic Habiba Al Marashi at the helm of affairs. She is a well-known name in sustainability circles, having worked in the domain for over two decades. Mrs. Al Marashi’s profound knowledge of global and local issues has paid off richly, and won her a wide audience. She was the first Arab woman to officiate on the board of the United Nations Global Compact, and on the GRI’s governing body called the Stakeholder Council. Through these roles Mrs. Al Marashi has presented perspectives and insights from the Arab Region in various global platforms, enlightening many to the needs and concerns of the Region. Today, both her and the Arabia CSR Network command high respect and trust across the Region and beyond. They have served to become a two-way conduit of information and knowledge, facilitating an open interface between sustainability leaders and practitioners from one part of the globe with another. Says Mrs. Al Marashi, “ We have been hugely successful as a centre of sharing and exchange, helping to combine perspectives from the East and

the West, and the North and the South. We have represented both Asia and North Africa, in that we have been able to capture the most dramatic trends in sustainability that these regions have witnessed through the past decade and half. Changing economic conditions, political developments and social shifts have marked the past decade and more, and these factors have had a deep impact on sustainability. We understand that no Region is perfect and the world is still grappling to realize the notion of sustainable development. We have tried to emphasize on the need for change in thinking, practice and behaviour of all sectors and communities in order to fashion a better future for our successors. Our aim has been to advocate for sustainable change as a new culture and ethical, equitable and responsible development as a new paradigm for the growth and progression of the Arab Region. Our vision is to see the Arab Region firmly entrenched in the global sustainable development map. We would like to bring all individuals and communities together in the movement for sustainable development, and aid businesses in fulfilling a leadership role in this endeavour. The Arab Region has much to offer to the world, and sustainable development will help it reach its potential for greatness.”

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