Towards responsible corporate responsibility

It has evolved as a sacred buzzword, guarded by public relations, protected by advertising and shrouded in jargon. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is, more often than not, mistaken, and often propagated, for all the things it is not; a form of philanthropy and charity or even sponsorship of events. What, then, is meant by the term CSR?
According to the World Business Council, CSR is “a continuous commitment by a business to contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.”
At its core, CSR comprises social, economic and environmental aspects, giving the term a deeper and more precise definition than what we observe locally, where charity, voluntary work, and other acts of goodwill may be confused with CSR. Unlike other thoughtful, non-compulsory initiatives, CSR is a commitment that requires transparency and disclosure.
In Oman, many tend to make up their own definitions and because of that, CSR is often lost in translation. With no shortage of initiatives, one may ask how such schemes may be channelled to benefit society at large. Indeed, increasing concerns amongst people about such schemes reflect a growing understanding of CSR, but also unmasks a flaw in defining this vital aspect of corporate work.
CSR is not measured by the amount of money ‘donated’ by a private business to society, but through the value such a donation adds to people’s lives. Which leads us to this conclusion: A good and sustainable CSR aims at covering a society’s needs based on field researches that identify the priorities, main requirements, and potentials.
And who knows Oman’s needs better than its own citizens? In the past few years, local managers have excelled in CSR, to the extent we may now find top-level local consultancy in this field. This leads us to discuss the Omanising of CSR posts in private establishments, where localisation of manpower has been rather directed at HR posts.
To better understand and evaluate the CSR role in Oman, we need to analyse data. However, the Sultanate, like most Middle Eastern states, lacks CSR studies and figures.
But let’s take Oman LNG as an example. The company has long started a department that manages the 1.5 per cent of its annual net income after tax (NIAT) devoted to CSR initiatives.
To achieve sustainability, its ‘generations fund’ is set to outlast the company. In Oman, many family-owned businesses have charitable funds. However, it may be argued that some such funds are more philanthropic than sustainability-driven and, thus, may extend the CSR definition beyond its parameters.
For instance, what is the CSR contribution of Oman’s banking sector, real estate investment companies, and industrial zones which count for an estimated RO6 billion worth of investments a year?
Even though companies listed under Muscat Securities Market release reports on their CSR contributions, there has been no interest in assessing the situation due to the absence of an organisational reference.
In an attempt to make sense of available figures, Oman News Agency in 2016 reported that, quoting different sources, that 57 companies allocated a sum of RO4.4 million of their budgets for CSR projects. In contrast, 50 other companies were unclear about their contributions, including prime companies.
The Ministry of Social Development has registered over 81,942 cases as requiring social security in 2016, costing the ministry around RO119 million per year. This is a matter of concern which was previously addressed in 2013 when the Supreme Council for Planning suggested to reconsider the eligibility criteria for financial assistance, in addition to establishing a Social Development Fund.
When it comes to CSR, we need to make up our minds. Are we spending time and money to enhance health, education, gender-equality, or training? A public development fund managed by the private sector can be one answer to this never-ending dilemma. This establishment can be tasked to launch a smart platform for CSR and build a database of contributors and receivers and to follow-up with the projects.
We need a better overview of the Omani society’s needs, as they may vary from a governorate to another. Moreover, private sector companies should be rewarded for committing to CSR by relaxing taxes and giving incentives. Such practices can only be implemented if the CSR issue was assigned to the commerce and finance ministries, a not necessarily the social development.
If the Sultanate had a dedicated CSR fund, public opinion may perhaps not question the private and banking sectors about their roles, or lack of it, in assisting parties affected by Cyclone Mekunu. Sustainable development is of vital importance to stability of any society and, hence, is at the core of achieving political stability.

ANN AL KINDI
Twitter: @AnnAlkindi