Tamkeen CEO: Companies need to boost CSR expertise

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Updated 26 March 2013
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Tamkeen CEO: Companies need to boost CSR expertise

Achieving sustainability is the core of corporate social responsibility (CSR) worldwide, according to Tamkeen Company CEO Asya Al-Ashaikh. “CSR must offer solutions for the various challenges the country is facing, and offer support and motivation in order to further activate its role in the development process,” she said in an exclusive interview with Diana Al-Jassem of Arab News.
“The sustainability of companies is one of the CSR concepts that should be realized,” she said. “Integrating CSR into the corporate business is the only solution to rescue CSR from collapsing.” She added that the proposal of the Council of Saudi Chambers for a national CSR project in the interest of the present and future generations will contribute to the development of sustainability of companies and their social responsibility.
“Hopes are still focused on interactions between the government and private sectors to boost CSR locally and create a Saudi CSR model,” Al-Ashaikh said.

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How would you define CSR?
CSR is a very flexible development concept; CSR designates the role of the corporate sector in development. In other words, it is the contribution of companies in tackling and suggesting/developing solutions for pressing national development challenges, which are in line with their business strategy. Companies, governments and academics spend a lot of time trying to define CSR while in reality they should spend more time in finding best ways to implement/adopt CSR in what increases returns and impact on both companies and its stakeholders. This is where CSR requires the commitment of the corporate sector and the guidance, facilitation of the public sector.

Could you explain the link between CSR and sustainable development, and what is the concept that is still predominant in Saudi Arabia?
Sustainable development is about the ability to develop without compromising on the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (be it environmental resources, basic needs, economic, etc.). Thus we cannot achieve sustainable development without each playing his role, be it the private sector, the public sector, or the community. In this context comes CSR, it is the companies’ role in sustainable development whereby they address key development issues which in its turn will allow future generations to meet their needs. The corporate sector is a very important player in this equation as it uses most of the resources and thus is responsible to manage them sustainably. Moving to the next part of your question, here in Saudi Arabia, the government is taking a leading role to compliment the role of the private sector to be an active partner in development through CSR. Today, we have a private sector willing to give yet its contributions are not felt or seen, because it has been limited to ad hoc community service most of the times. This is why what we need today is to open a national dialogue around CSR to put together a home-grown framework for CSR for each sector. This will allow joining efforts and moves with existing partnerships to optimize more efficient and impactful partnerships.

What changes have you noticed during your work experience in Saudi Arabia?
Since 2004, right after I got my master’s degree from the United States and before I started up Tamkeen SA, I saw a huge opportunity to be part of the reform that was taking place in the Kingdom. And having been exposed to best practices through my studies that focused on development and globalization theories, I chose CSR as the platform to begin from. Now, since I started work, and particularly in CSR, there have been lots of changes in the positive sense of the word. Companies started adopting CSR widely, CSR coverage in the news tripled in folds; many CSR conferences are taking place every year. Yet what didn’t really change is the agreement on a locally relevant understanding of CSR, a clustering among both the public and private sectors in CSR. Also, still specialized local practitioners are lacking. Yet, I believe that today we are at a turning point as there is a leading role from the appropriate partner from the public sector to unify efforts in CSR under one umbrella.

Do you think we have a specific model that we should follow in CSR?
I don’t think we should follow a specific model, as Saudi Arabia is unique in its culture, issues, priorities, needs, and wealth. We are also unique from the standpoint of the commitment of the private sector to give back to society, which is not the same in many countries. I think we need to build our own model, but use the process followed by other countries and learn from them so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. We also need to build capacity and access to best global practices.

Company agenda

What role can your company play in addressing the challenges of sustainability?
Training people and making them productive in society is the only way for achieving sustainability and creating a positive impact on the core of CSR. Saudi-Japanese collaborations in running training institutes are an example. Providing good living conditions and a sustainable life is the aim of CSR. Our local programs still focus on giving fish for needy people rather than teaching them how to fish. Capital Market Authority (CMA) introduced the concept of governance, which is one of the priorities of CSR.

How do you evaluate this step?
Governance has been further intensified in Saudi Arabia, especially in the past seven years, but it has not been enforced well. We hope to see coordination and awareness on the importance of this concept and adopt it in the private sector and especially in terms of income.

What is your long-term vision for Tamkeen and for the society’s sustainable development? Do you think Saudi companies would be capable of branding Saudi Arabia and putting the country on the international map of CSR?
I believe we have cases that can put Saudi Arabia on the map of sustainability as some Saudi companies are already global players. For example, we have SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corp.), Saudi Aramco and Savola. Maaden (Saudi Arabian Mining Co.) called us and asked for our support. We discovered that the CEO of Maaden is committed to sustainability and CSR. Moreover, if we organize ourselves and get into this continuous process of change, which is a national CSR strategy, we will be able to create a Saudi model of sustainability with a measurable impact on key investments and also make our investments abroad welcome.

Do you think that Saudi companies have enough awareness of the CSR concept? And how Saudi companies would work to make their strategies work and successful?
We can say that the whole movement in Saudi Arabia started catching on quickly but we are still expanding in width and not in depth. Although the new thing is that the government realized its needs to have a supporting role in CSR to help address pressing socioeconomic and environmental issues. CSR in Europe and England focuses on ethics; here in our developing world it should focus more on providing solutions for development issues. So CSR in MENA is a development concept rather than a business concept. How it’s related to business is a new paradigm management.

CSR portfolio in KSA

How far are corporations willing to go in terms of being genuine agents of national CSR strategies? Do you think the corporate and public sectors are ready for that?
In terms of timing, it all depends on the level of commitment from both public and corporate sectors. However, with the level of awareness that I noticed, I believe that we can organize ourselves and have a framework for first strategies for CSR within 450 days, especially if we focus on how CSR helps in solving issues, including unemployment. We do have enough progressive companies to lead the corporate sector and they are capable of creating the right environment for others to follow. When companies see the commitment for getting the needed guidance, direction, acknowledgment and incentives from the public sector, I can almost assure 90 percent of these companies will get into the CSR engagement process. Companies worldwide are moving toward changing the CSR strategies with a view to boosting their role and importance, especially in light of the current financial crisis.

How has CSR got affected by the financial crisis?
CSR is a very hot topic and in management it is imperative; it has come to stay. When we look at total quality management we look at it as CSR, as an integrated business not merely as social work. During the financial crisis, most companies stopped their CSR activities. CSR has always been the victim. Integrating CSR within the company’s strategy is needed, where it includes its policy and business. CSR shouldn’t be a separate department in a company. For example, banks should develop CSR projects to reach needy people through lending, and contribute by solving the housing problem. This is the real role of CSR. Another example is Abdul Latif Jameel CSR programs, where he started the voluntary movement in the Kingdom. This is called community service not CSR.

Do you think that companies need to update their standards in terms of CSR? Do they have qualified experts?
The CEOs and board members have to realize the wider meaning of CSR so they will pick up professional expertise in CSR and hire them to run it in companies. CSR in the Kingdom needs to be led ideally by government entities – those who are responsible for corporate affairs. In the case of Saudi Arabia, I see the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Council of Saudi Chambers should be leading this effort with the corporate sector and other entities. CSR is not about donations and philanthropy but about corporates addressing socioeconomic and environmental issues based on their core competency.

Can you elaborate on the changing role of government in terms of creating a more consistent platform for corporations in CSR?
CSR is now divided into social dimensions like stakeholders involved, company strategies, and influence of the CSR operations on the company. A lot of practitioners even in government companies spend a lot of time trying to come up with a definition rather than focusing on implementing the operations. CSR is a hot topic today and not just a phenomenon; it has come to stay.

Al-Ashaikh ID
Name: Asya Al-Ashaikh
Position: Consultant at Shoura Council
Founder of Tamkeen Development
Experience: 24 years of social work experience
12 years of experience in CSR
Age: 53 years old
Degree: Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from the University
of Massachusetts / Amherst


Record budget spurs Saudi economy

The budget sets out to lift spending and cut the deficit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Record budget spurs Saudi economy

  • “It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”
  • Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced its biggest-ever budget — with spending set to increase by around 7 percent — in a move aimed at boosting the economy, while also reducing the deficit. 

However, analysts cautioned that the 2019 budget is based on oil prices far higher than today — which could prove an obstacle in hitting targets. 

Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion ($295 billion) next year, up from an actual SR 1.030 trillion this year, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at a briefing in Riyadh. 

The budget estimates a 9 percent annual increase in revenues to SR 975 billion. The budget deficit is forecast at SR 131 billion for next year, a 4.2 percent decline on 2018.

“We believe that the 2019 fiscal budget will focus on supporting economic activity — investment and wider,” Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), told Arab News.

“It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”

A royal decree by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, also announced on Tuesday, ordered the continuation of allowances covering the cost of living for civil sector employees for the new fiscal year.

“The continuation of the handout package will be positive for household consumption by nationals,” said Malik. “We expect to see some overall fiscal loosening in 2019, which should support a further gradual pickup in real non-oil GDP growth.”

World oil prices on Tuesday tumbled to their lowest levels in more than a year amid concerns over demand. Brent crude contracts fell to as low as $57.20 during morning trading.

Malik cautioned that the oil-price assumptions in the Saudi budget looked “optimistic.”

“We see the fiscal deficit widening in 2019, with the higher spending and forecast fall in oil revenue,” she told Arab News.

Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, agreed that the oil forecast was optimistic, but said this should not pose problems for government finances.

“The government seems to be expecting oil prices to average $80 (per barrel) next year,” he said. 

“In contrast, we think that oil prices will stay low and possibly fall a little further to $55 … On that basis, the budget deficit is likely to be closer to 10 percent of GDP. That won’t cause too many problems given the government’s strong balance sheet. 

“Overall, then, we think that there will be some fiscal loosening in the first half of next year, but if oil prices stay low as we expect, the authorities will probably shift tack and return to austerity from the mid-2019, which will weigh on growth in the non-oil sector,” Tuvey said.

John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Gulf Research Center, based in Saudi Arabia, said that the targets of the budget were “achievable” and the forecast oil price reasonable. 

“It is an expansionary budget that should spurt private sector activity and growth,” he said. 

“With Brent crude averaging around $68 per barrel for 2018 and $66 per barrel for 2019, the authorities have applied a conservative revenue scenario.”