Eminent personalities from the Islamic Finance sector in Qatar and across the globe descended under one roof at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) to discuss Corporate Social Responsibility in the Finance sector. This was the Fourth of the Roundtable series conducted byThe Center for Islamic Economics and Finance (CIEF) at the College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU).
The main aim of this round-table series is to create a forum for understanding Islamic economics and finance in the CSR domain by fostering an open dialogue among industry leaders and academia while providing an opportunity for students to get more involved in the industry.
Various representatives from the industry and academia were present at the round-table with an objective of understanding the ground realities and challenges facing the industry;discussing ideas on working together to reduce barriers in accessing Islamic finance; creating more sustainable, genuine and ethical shariah-compliant products; and encouraging a robust economy that meets the needs of all segments of society.
Inching closer towards regulations…
The excitement in the room went high as the debate gained momentum on regulating the CSR industry. The panelists had a divided opinion on regulating the CSR industry. Many in the room struck a similar chord-stating, ‘Policies will make the CSR domain more rigid as CSR should be a self-regulated area’.
However, emphasis was laid on the need of government policies to force corporates to be more responsible in conducting businesses and widen the horizons beyond profits. Further, the panelists also discussed on the possibility of calibrating a certain percentage for all banking and financial institutions to be spent on CSR.
Building Strategic &Visionary models in CSR
CSR in the State of Qatar so far has been undertaken as a voluntary activity. Hence, it lacked sustainability. Hence the stakeholders deliberated on the increased need for CSR to be more strategic and sustainable, citing ‘Islamic countries don’t get involved in decision making process after investing in CSR’. The participants voiced a common opinion that the idea is to empower people, not just donate money; but to build strategic and sustainable institutions.’
Taking the thought process further, the leaders affirmed upon the use of social media for raising CSR awareness. They also contemplated on the idea of making CSR a profit-driven sector which will act as a catalyst for the prosperity of the society. It was also emphasized on the fact that ‘CSR just doesn’t need investors; it needs people with a vision, initiators who are strategy and goal-driven to be a part of the system’.
Similar, yet different…
When it comes to policies Qatar has been at the forefront of accepting changes and bringing out regulations to foster economic development and empowering people with the freedom needed to be more business-oriented. There are enough examples of this especially after the blockade of 2016. However, due to the diverse nature of the country’s population (more of expatriates) Islamic finance is an area that cannot be imposed on the non-Muslim populace which forms quite a number of the total population of Qatar. Keeping this in mind, stress was laid on the need for social entrepreneurship and inclusion of CSR in academia as the present generation will be the future torch bearers of the industry.
Taking the discussion further, the need for financial integration in the CSR industry was highlighted, while remarking – ‘the biggest risk is not thinking big enough’. Thus, a goal-oriented CSR strategy along with a clear demarcation of what the industry wants to accomplish was stressed upon. Replicating already existing CSR models was also discussed.
Align with the National Vision of 2030
The adage – ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ has been very true to the economy of the State, especially after the blockade of 2016. Qatar has been able to bring at the forefront existing talent within Qatar making it self-dependent. However, there is a need to align the CSR practices in the State of Qatar with the National Vision of 2030. The need of the hour is a framework that can direct, determine, assess, plan and envision CSR practices, stressed the council.
The discussion further developed and debated on the following points:
Can CSR be aligned with Sustainable Development Goals?
Can Global Reporting Index (GRI), which is format followed globally be adapted?
In the box: Takeaways for a successful CSR strategy
- Think global, act local
- Clear rated, defined Return on Investment (ROI)
- Scalable &Measurable – consider both the interest of the investor and society
- The need for meaningful contribution to address global issues with honesty, transparency, etc.
Raising the benchmark…
The prevailing economic state in Qatar has witnessed a rise in the number of SMEs. These SMEs are driven by technology-led, innovative and sustainable business models attracting the interest of commercial banks which are now promoting these entities – ‘this is exactly how the stakeholders should also envision CSR industry’ – opined the veterans.
Taking the discussion forward, a common question was raised-‘What are the best CSR practices followed by banking and financial institutions around the world that Qatar can follow’? Participants referred to the Global Reporting Index (GRI) as a benchmark followed globally.
Further discussion also focused on the limit of investments in CSR, determinants, standards, that can also be defined as CSR.
The way forward…
According to various estimates the global CSR industry is valued at $ 23.8 billion. However, the state of Qatar lacks enough data on the market size. There are various initiatives being undertaken at various levels across industries, but it is left unevaluated. Hence, the need for the government to assess, contextualize, and regulate CSR practices is inadvertent. Taking the discussion forward the council remarked, “Involving Islamic banking in promoting CSR could widen the ethical investors across the world. Companies are becoming self-conscious striving to unlock he human potential for good in order to pave the way for conscientious comprehensive CSR.
The roundtable concluded by emphasizing on the immediate pre requisite for undertaking long term goals while becoming stakeholders and participating actively in developing a sustainable, strategic and vision-driven CSR industry.
By: Arshia Khan