DUBAI: Using a business as a force for good is what Khalil Daoud has managed to achieve in Lebanon in the past 16 years.
The chairman and managing director of LibanPost, the Lebanese postal operator, took it on himself to rectify the company’s finances following the war that ravaged Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s.
“After the war, the absence of mail culture, the lack of addresses and lobby boxes, added to the various political and economic upheavals,” he said. “This appointment was not meant to be an easy ride.”
Thanks to a strategy of service diversification, network expansion, investment in automation, and a series of innovations, more than 100 of LibanPost’s outlets are now better able to serve their customers’ needs.
As part of his massive internal reorganization, Daoud also launched the “Gender Parity through the Post” project, which advances Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on Gender Equality. His push for parity placed women in jobs they had never held before, running distribution centers, and driving cars and motorcycles to deliver mail.
Daoud’s changes saw LibanPost win several world mail awards, including three recognitions this year, including the UN Global Compact (UNGC) — SDG Pioneer for Gender Equality and Economic Inclusion award. “This recognition came as a real surprise, given that LibanPost was selected among several international applicants,” Daoud said. “Back in 2015, when we had contributed to launch the UNGC Network in Lebanon, we did not anticipate that it would lead us one day to the UN. We did it because we thought it was right to do so, and it is a must for the private sector to contribute to a healthier planet. This is the legacy we offer our children.”
He spoke of a humbling feeling when sitting at the UN in New York, representing his “small country,” among other finalists from France, Germany, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Brazil. “Our region was very well represented with Egypt, the UAE and Lebanon,” he said. “It is very important for the countries of our region to be seen not only as oil producers or lands of business opportunities, but also as forces of good. Doing our share is part of our citizenship.”
He added, however, that the world still has a long way to go for sustainability to be achieved. “The challenges in the Middle East are no different to elsewhere. The 10 principles and 17 goals set by the UNGC represent clear priorities. The challenges now are mainly related to the implementation speed. Change will require time and perseverance, but the battle is worth the effort.”
Daoud is not alone. Alice Laugher, CEO of Committed to Good Global, which provides support to the humanitarian and development community in fragile and conflict-riven countries, also focuses on the empowerment of women. “I hope that my position (in the UAE) not only highlights the urgent need for advancement in gender equality no matter the region, but will inspire other business leaders into greater action,” she said. “I see this nomination as a responsibility: We need to motivate other business leaders to get involved with sustainability, and to realize that a sustainable business is the only kind of business for the future. All CEOs can be pioneering in their approach to sustainability, and it cannot be reached without the private sector playing their part.
“I’ve committed to making gender equality a key objective of our business. It is easier to achieve in our head office in Dubai, but when it comes to the fragile countries that we operate in — like Somalia and Afghanistan — we face many challenges. Gender bias is alive and well no matter where you live and work.
“At the UNGC Leader’s Summit in New York in September, it was mentioned repeatedly that gender equality was one of the key areas where hardly any noticeable impact has been made. The UNGC’s 2018 report highlighted that it will take 217 years to achieve gender equality in the workplace across the world. And that seven out of 10 women experience physical or sexual violence. These are astounding numbers.”
In last year’s Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, six of the worst countries were in the Middle East, including Iran, Lebanon and Jordan. “We have a long way to go,” Laugher said. “Countries affected by conflict are often places where gender equality is low and women and children are the most affected by violence. We need to tackle unconscious gender bias and get rid of the gaping chasm between the hopes of young women for the future and the views of men on equality. We also need to encourage more women into the workplace because equality means business.”
For Hanaa Helmy, founding CEO of the EFG Hermes Foundation in Cairo, a non-profit organization that aims to help people rise above financial, educational and health challenges, sustainable development projects that advance SDGs are vital.
The foundation is part of EFG Hermes, a financial services institution based in Egypt that provides investment banking, asset management, securities brokerage and other financial services. “As Egypt’s leading investment bank, our aim is to establish a business model that can strike a balance between responsible economic growth and sustainability-oriented governance,” said Helmy. “We are more committed than ever to developing an integrated corporate culture of sustainability, and to achieve sustainable growth and development within the context of our corporate values.”
EFG Hermes’ Foundation for Social Development further demonstrates its determination to build partnerships and models of sustainable development projects in underprivileged areas.
On the one hand, it meets the needs of the community by focusing on poverty alleviation, disease prevention and youth development, leading efforts to eradicate liver disease in Egypt and restrain the spread of the Hepatitis C virus. “Recently, the foundation joined forces with government agencies and the private sector to seal a $3.7 million sustainable development initiative that reflects the 10 Principles of the UNGC and meets many SDGs,” she said. “It will improve the lives of about 60,000 under-privileged citizens with infrastructure improvements, educational and economic opportunities, and basic human rights.”
Helmy has developed a sustainability strategy that emphasizes responsible business conduct. “We went further and focused on developing an environmental, social and governance strategy for the company’s various business lines. EFG Hermes became the first Egyptian financial services corporation to sign the Principles for Responsible Investment, an investor initiative in partnership with the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the UNGC.”
The challenge will be getting people to commit to ble business practices, and to understand that sustainability and SDGs are not just buzzwords or a burden. “It is how businesses should operate. Achieving the SDGs is not possible without a personal commitment of all involved parties. Sustainability must become second nature in everything that we do.”
According to the UN, recognizing exceptional business leaders who are using business as a force for good is vital in today’s world. “These outstanding individuals are demonstrating how business can unlock economic, social and environmental gains for the world by advancing the SDGs,” said Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the UNGC. “Showcasing the pioneering actions and progress of these leaders will help mobilize others in this exciting movement to create the world we all want.”