Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a necessity, not just a luxury. CSR entails a broad framework of concepts, initiatives and focus points which can provide direction for a better, inclusive and sustainable future. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on companies to apply their creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges and issues, which can be achieved through CSR. Establishing a strategy to achieve SDGs through CSR is a catalyst for shared growth and innovation in CSR initiatives can drive the SDGs and its business forward.

Countries worldwide are seeking to embed and strengthen CSR to ensure greater prosperity for their people, protect the planet, and preserve nature. The CSR landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is changing positively, as companies become more open to the idea that businesses are responsible.

Survey of CSR in the MENA Region

Cicero & Bernay Public Relations (C&B), in partnership with YouGov conducted in 2021, the first annual MENA CSR Survey Report 2020. The report featured the UAE as a regional leader in adopting CSR practices, followed by Saudi Arabia, then Egypt. As 82% of CEOs in the MENA region ranked the UAE as the most active countries in CSR.

The report, which included 219 executives and corporate leaders in the MENA region, showed that 86% of them have a strong understanding of CSR, and 60% of them stated that they would not cooperate with socially irresponsible companies.

According to the survey, 31% of companies do not have a CSR program, and the executives mentioned that the reason is that no one in the company took the lead in preparing the program or because their companies have the responsibility to deal with social concerns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way business is conducted. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE played an important role during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving participants with a positive perception of 85% and 80%, respectively, confirming CSR importance.

Participants expect that the COVID-19 will bring back CSR as an essential component of sustainable corporate growth.46% of CEOs stated that they would expand their CSR activities in 2021.

The UAE as a pioneer in the CSR

The United Arab Emirates is a significant contributor and regional leader in CSR. As part of its business strategies, the UAE established the CSR UAE Fund, which aims to consolidate the UAE’s position in the field of CSR through:

  • Increase community awareness of social responsibility.
  • Activating sustainable development partnerships between the public and private sectors.
  • Developing social responsibility frameworks to organize and promote social responsibility.
  • Create a reward system for companies and business entities.
  • Directing companies’ contributions towards sustainable development projects in line with the UAE and the SDGs’ priorities.

The Fund has developed the UAE CSR Index, which is in line with internationally agreed standards while ensuring local relevance and reflecting the innovative and independent identity of the UAE.

The Index measures and ranks the CSR and sustainability practices of the UAE in a global context. The index also identifies gaps and limitations that can be addressed and improved through decisions and proper governance.

Beside the index, the CSR UAE Label has been developed to encourage organizations and companies to authenticate and verify their methods of conducting CSR practices. The Label evaluates business based on its contribution to environmental, social and economic factors. The CSR Label is the official federal recognition of the UAE for business entities’ practices towards building a more sustainable future.

The Label will help organizations develop and grow their sustainable business model in the UAE, supporting the UAE’s competitiveness in CSR terms. Public and private sector entities are classified based on three categories – Platinum, Gold and Silver.

The evaluation process for awarding the CSR rating factors is in seven main criteria: contribution to national priorities, local added value, strategic planning and implementation, societal and environmental impact, stakeholder engagement, risk and opportunity management, and creativity and innovation.

The future of CSR in the MENA region

The concepts of CSR, Sustainability, Sustainable Development are not new. And although these concepts appear to be confusing at times, they all share a common objective: prosperity for all, at all levels. These concepts have been part of the region’s development, and have created competitive advantage at country, city and company level, and progress is evident in the public, private domain and in the third sector. However, as the global challenges intensify, MENA region needs to focus more and work hard on building and applying solid strategies and actions plan that contribute to societal prosperity and environmental development. These plans need to feature prominently sustainability and CSR related concepts.

Companies need to look beyond short-lived CSR initiatives, and focus on developing a solid agenda, apply business ethics across their supply chain and develop a roadmap for CSR implementation. CSR is part of business longevity and of conducting responsible and sustainable business. By setting up a CSR strategy and adopting impactful CSR activities, companies have a big opportunity to improve their business models, increase their competitiveness, and positively impact the success of SDGs, our blueprint for the future.

For effective implementation, it is essential to revitalize the partnership between key stakeholders. Public, private sector and civil society need to collaborate to make a positive and productive impact on CSR activities and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.


Sustainability Knowledge Group is a global Sustainability, ESG and CSR advisory firm dedicated in creating value through strategic advisory and training solutions, coaching and meetups. We work with organisations to develop, manage, and measure effective Sustainability strategies and programs, address social and environmental challenges, and bring tangible results, positive impact and create better businesses.

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Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash

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