In Jordan's case, it's no different regarding the importance of SMEs in the market with the country depending almost entirely on SMEs to drive the economy; 98% of companies in Jordan are classified as SMEs (with 30,000 JDs capital investment or less), with two thirds of these SMEs having less than 19 employees. Similarly, the importance of start-ups in Jordan cannot be overlooked with around 60 start-ups established since 2011, 50% of them being in the ICT (Information & Communication Technologies) field; leading the region in the number of ICT start-ups established in 2012
With the extent of the importance of SMEs and start-ups globally and in Jordan, it comes as no surprise that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should be expected or even demanded of them.
However, CSR as it relates to start-ups could be considered as an oxymoron or contradiction of sorts since the term itself gives the impression that only big corporations with big budgets can implement sustainable and relevant CSR activities.
With that definition in mind the contradiction then becomes clear since start-ups usually operate with priorities in mind that differ from bigger organizations; starting with minimizing operating cost, building the team and their products, focusing on establishing a suitable working environment, or attracting investors, which would leave CSR on the back burner to be addressed later on, if at all.
The main challenge however as I see it isn’t necessarily the lack of resources available to any start-up but the lack of knowledge in CSR and why it should be a priority; how it would relate to their business, how to manage it with minimal budgets, and what benefits it would ultimately bring back to their business. Even definitions – with around 37 known definitions on the topic – could be very confusing for anyone not familiar with the issue.
One reason why the knowledge gap isn’t suitably addressed is possibly because start-ups are not considered a lucrative market for CSR/Sustainability consultants to tap in to which negatively contributes to the lack of knowledge of CSR among start-ups.
Regardless of the reasons behind the knowledge gap, if it was addressed effectively it could lead to creatively looking at the constraints every business deals with and coming up with creative solutions that fit the business and further the company’s social responsibility. Additionally, focusing on them rather than on larger corporations would possibly have a greater impact on the CSR/sustainability field in Jordan due to the large number of start-ups in Jordan.
Another challenge they face is not knowing how to create relevant CSR objectives and strategies that would be beneficial to them and their stakeholder groups. However, not having any clear CSR objectives and strategies isn’t uniquely faced by start-ups alone; companies big and small are challenged with defining their CSR strategy in a manner that makes sense to them. However start-ups also have a unique advantage over established businesses in the fact that they have the opportunity to ingrain CSR practices into their way of doing things early on rather than introduce it at a later stage of operation and possibly face resistance. They also would be gaining early on from the benefits of practicing CSR, most importantly gaining buy in from their stakeholders and a social license to operate.
There are some good case practices of just how start-ups in Jordan can practice CSR starting from the earliest stages. Two good examples are Mobs ‘N Tech and Ideation Box who have two very different approaches when addressing their social responsibility and gave us an overview of their approaches and opinions during these interviews:
Mobs ‘N Tech is a software development company founded in April 2012 and focused on smartphone applications' development. Mobs ‘N Tech is the 2012 winner of the Queen Rania National Entrepreneurship Competition and they are the youngest enterprise in Arabia to issues a Corporate Responsibility policy.
Ideation Box is a small interactive communication agency based in Jordan. Over the last couple of years, we've made a reputation for providing holistic creative communication solutions for youth-oriented organizations and corporations, to maximize their reach and impact. We provide full online presence and multimedia services, from branding, information architecture, web design and development to social media management, in addition to forming various offline initiatives & campaigns.
What was the main incentive to launch your Corporate Responsibility (CR) Policy?
All the founders of the company were very keen on making our business a responsible one right from the start, therefore it was important for us to outline our commitment to ensure that whatever we undertake in our CSR would be effective and aligned to what we do.
What was the main incentive to launch Nakhweh?
Actually Nakhweh was the incentive for me to launch Ideation Box; I left my last job back in 2009 to establish a website that matches volunteers with volunteering opportunities, I think that was the result of the mixture of passion and know-how, as I was working for the career matching portal Akhtaboot.
How much after Mobs 'N Tech was established did you launch your CR policy?
The CR policy was published in less than two month of our company's establishment. When we first established the company we were keen on ensuring that we maintain positive practice, partially to guide ourselves to not deviate from our values as our business grow with time. Furthermore, a scholarship program was an essential component of our first product "UniApp" therefore we had to think thoroughly on how it should managed and linked to our value-chain.
How much after Ideation Box was established did you launch Nakhweh?
The company was officially launched during June 2009, and Nakhweh was launched on 19/8/2009; again the idea behind launching the company was having a platform to launch Nakhweh. Furthermore, it was the easiest way to convince my parents that I have to leave my job. You know the idea of leaving a job and starting a business in Jordan wouldn't be that acceptable especially with very limited financial resources.
What are the main benefits, if any, that your CR policy has brought to your company?
The most outstanding benefit for our business has been the increase of positive reputation, this has also contributed to increasing the sales of some of our solutions. It has also triggered the interest of the social enterprise and sustainability-focused organizations whom have become a key target group for our business.
What are the main benefits, if any, that Nakhweh has brought to your company?
Nakhweh is the main reason behind changing Ideation Box' business model; the company was supposed to be providing typical web development services, however through Nakhweh Ideation Box tapped into a totally different niche; which is helping NGOs to take advantage of the online scene.
If you would encourage other start-ups to launch CSR activities, what would you like to say?
Firstly, I would advise that they shouldn't be discouraged if they were told that it is early for their company to undertake CSR, they should focus on outlining CSR commitments that would allow them to feature their capabilities as a business; this is also key if they are looking to attract investment.
Secondly I would suggest that they do their homework and look thoroughly into the CSR activities they would like to undertake; for instance such activities should not burden their business financially or drain their manpower, and to always remember that whatever they undertake in their CSR should be for the purpose of sustaining their business.
If you would encourage other start-ups to launch CSR activities, what would you like to say?
Frankly speaking, I think start-ups and CSR don't match. CSR stands for "Corporate" Social Responsibility, however, being socially responsible on all levels (internally & externally) is no longer an option for SMEs or corporations, there's a lot of activities that can be adopted by start-ups to becoming socially responsible, yet, they should consider the most relevant, creative and beneficial ones.
Starting an initiative from a start-up doesn't fall under the umbrella of CSR, and I don't consider Nakhweh a CSR initiative, I can say that Ideation Box is Nakhweh's little kid.
If a start-up believes in an "unique" idea that serves the community and bridges a gap that exists in the system, then this idea should become a totally different venture, whether it's for profit or nonprofit. A start-up can't host another start-up and share resources, this is a myth.
Any last thoughts?
Corporate Social Responsibility should be a moral commitment before it is translated into the value-chain of any company; be it large or small. In that sense start-ups can start implementing their CSR practice through small activities that would reflect positively on their business from the inside then out. For instance ensuring that their employees are secure and aware of their rights, duties and ethics in the workplace, then moving forward to the ethical practice of the business in the marketplace (How they identify their competition, and how they conduct their competition accordingly), and finally towards engaging the local community whether to attract talent, build reputation or even better, to be able to identify services that are more relevant to their stakeholder groups.
Any last thoughts?
One last thing; for me, CSR is an overrated commercial term that should be destroyed and replaced with sustainability; unfortunately, a lot of companies distorted the term with their irresponsible corporate social responsibility.
As for our experience, and CSR Watch – Jordan itself being a start-up, there are a few things we ourselves are learning either through our first-hand experience or from others along the way that might be useful to other start ups in Jordan or abroad:
- It is never too early to start the CSR discussion. Ideally it should be when you’re setting your mission, vision and objectives to be able to integrate CSR into the way you will be doing things. But even if you’re past that stage, it shouldn’t stop you from thinking about how CSR can benefit your business, what initiatives would make the most sense and how to start.
- Think of creative alternatives to financial investment into your CSR initiatives. Look at the core of your business and connect the dots between it and how you could benefit the surrounding community, environment and your employees.
- Understand what real value practicing CSR will bring to your company. It might not always translate to income but it could build up your brand, create customer loyalty or improve employee retention and attraction.
- Involve your team in the strategizing, planning, and execution of your initiatives. They are your most important asset and engaging them in these aspects of the business has plenty of benefits. Volunteering programs, donations, or supporting causes of their choice are all good ways to keep them engaged.
- Ask key stakeholders for feedback on your initiatives. Employees, customers and your board will all have interesting insights and may reveal new areas for you to focus on in the future.
- Most importantly, I think you should start with the end in mind, but make sure to small. In other words, have the long term strategies and objectives for your CSR initiatives in mind, but don’t let the big plans and ideas stop you from doing the small things today that fit with that long term plan.
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CSR Watch Jordan
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