CAIRO: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) executives and civil society members gathered to discuss how to harness the drive of the private sector and, coupled with the expertise of civil society, work towards making modern Egypt stable, prosperous and equitable.
At CARE International’s conference “Engage Beyond Charity” in Cairo, Kevin Fitcharles, Egypt’s country director, said, “We felt that it would be timely, especially after the revolution in Egypt, to provide a platform to discuss practical issues in development and rights in Egypt, with special reference on the role the private sector can and should play in achieving balanced and sustainable development for all Egyptians.”
The conference opened with a panel discussion on how CSR can be used as an effective tool towards sustainable development.
Proctor and Gamble’s Corporate Communication and Reputation Manager Ramez Farag outlined several obstacles or “CSR practice roadblocks” including bribery, corruption, absence of watchdogs and a lack of common language with NGOs.
“NGOs could benefit from the private sector, their management and marketing skills, and their partnerships have to be meaningful, not just funding,” he explained.
Participants expressed their opinion as civil society members expressed concern regarding how major corporations still employ people with salaries of LE 350 when the official minimum wage is now LE 700.
Other CSR executives said that sustainable development projects must be based on a feasible economic model and have to be profitable in order to continue since funding lasts for five to ten years. Others said there needs to be an immediate solution to unemployment, especially this year given the recent developments and the effect on the economy.
Sara Rifaat from British Petroleum spoke of a lack of synergy between civil society and the private sector, a lack of understanding of CSR as well as a lack of understanding of respective roles.
“There must be a national committee by the government for checks and balances as well as a legal umbrella to coordinate this activity,” she suggested.
Participants were then divided into sessions, each discussing a specific issue or current problem in Egypt.
In the session “The Right to Education: Challenges and Opportunities in Egypt,” Magdy Aziz, managing director of Tanweer Organization for Education and Development, said two main things must be done: Enhancing the curriculum to promote critical thinking, not memorization, and equipping schools with information and communication technology that can help create graduates capable of meting the needs of the job market.
“What has to be done simultaneously is training teachers on modern education methods and including extra-curricular activities in schools,” he said.
Regional Coordinator of UN Women in Egypt, Maya Morsy, in a session on women’s issue and the Egyptian economy, said that the latest youth survey found that a majority of women do not want to work.
“The main reason for this is that they don’t find any support and the private sector looks at them as zero investment,” she said, due to the fact that some leave work to start a family.
She suggested campaigns to change the public perception of women’s empowerment as well as changing the work environment and implementing gender-sensitive polices.
A session on the agricultural sector in Egypt outlined food security, fragile agricultural cooperation, land degradation, water scarcity, irrational practices and the lack of post harvest treatment and processing as key challenges.
However, participants gave their recommendations to revive this sector, including empowering small famers to engage in the decision-making process. The private sector should play a role in developing rural areas and farmers’ socio-economic conditions; moreover, more investments and subsidies should be encouraged as well as integrating CSR into agricultural projects.
On another note, the lack of strong governance in Egypt is directly linked to the persistence of poverty, according to panelists.
Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the Coca-Cola Company, Michael Goltzman, told Daily News Egypt that his company looks at CSR as community investment, because “as we would invest in our own businesses, part of that investment is also investing in the larger community.”
“We have to be part of the solution, we have to help the community deal with the obstacles that they have to improving their development,” he said.
In post-revolution Egypt, Goltzman said there is a new reality on the ground for CSR. “More people would like to work together, more people interested in community development,” he said.
Participants in this session said the role of the private sector in promoting good governance relies on having such a system in their own corporations through accountability. Engaging employees in decision-making as well as pressuring the government to implement such policies is also key.
As Egypt’s healthcare system leaves much to be desired, Health and Communication Consultant Ibrahim El Kerdany recommended pre-service training for employees as well as screening for school children.
Coordination between the health ministry and corporations is vital, as is information technology development in health institutions to track and record data.