On October 25th and 26th, I had the opportunity to speak and facilitate a workshop on PRiSM at the CSR Lebanon Forum. Now in its 5th year, the forum attracts businesses from many industries in the region, bringing awareness and sharing best practices on authentic Corporate Social Responsibility, what we refer to as sCSR (Sustainable CSR). Compared to the philanthropy and marketing focused hocus-pocus act that some like to play.
This was my 5th trip to Beirut in the past two years. Our PRiSM Practitioner course is a module at American University of Beirut’s Post-Graduate Diploma in Project Management, and I have had the pleasure of teaching the module three times.
Each time I visit, I take away a little bit more of Beirut with me, and this trip was no different. Lebanon is rich in history and has much to offer the world. It would be a top tourist destination if it were not for the constant turmoil on it borders.
Home to the phonetic alphabet, the world’s first law school, the biblical location of Jesus turning water into wine, architectural influences from the Roman and Greek Empire (among others) and a Mediterranean seaside landscape that takes your breath away. The food… mere words cannot do it justice, and no matter how many Lebanese restaurants you visit, there is something about the local flavor that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Lebanon has survived occupation seven times and a not too long ago civil war. What many who have never visited don’t know is that Muslims and Christians live in harmony there. They have more refugees per capita than any country in the world, haven’t had a president for almost two years and are now buried in the garbage due to partisan issues. The dumps have been closed since July, and it stinks (literally).
Something struck a nerve in me this week. There are only so many times that a battering ram can storm a castle before the walls give way. My fear is that the resilience of the people there who have lived with adversity for a long time may be on the on the brink, and this jewel of a country may not have much left unless there is change.
A Shining Bright Spot
CSR Lebanon is an organization that works day and night to advance sustainability in an unstable environment. During this forum, the team led by Khaled Kassar executed flawlessly. Even when the power went out (as it often does in Beirut due to the power grid being unable to accommodate demand), they did not skip a beat.
During my workshop, I was presenting on business ethics, principles and values in the context of project management. As I looked around the room, I could tell that this was not the crowd that needed to hear what I was saying.
No, these participants were among the converted. They were sustainability professionals whom day in and day out are working hard to get their businesses to improve transparency and accountability and are, like most who are in CSR, looked at as marketing. One participant who works for a finance institution said, “We understand what you are saying, what we want to know is how do we get our executives and business units to comprehend the value of CSR?” It is all too common that CSR professionals have to dive into departmental operations to gather information to include in their non-financial reporting.
Sustainability reporting should be a consistent output of each line of business and department’s remit if sustainability has taken root in the organization. When CSR has to do all the work, it is a sign that the organization is missing out key opportunities for product development, risk mitigation, brand protection and market differentiation.
Our GPM Portfolio, Project and Program Sustainability Materiality model (PSM3) show the levels of maturity that these type of organizations are commonly assessed at level 1 or 2 (Below).
Beirut is not alone in this. CSR that is not used to its full potential is a source of frustration of so many practitioners in the field. What is unique to the Lebanese situation is that the three pillars of sustainability; social, economic, and environmental are completely unstable from multiple contexts.
Before my workshop, I gave a very brief talk to start the second day and shared one of my favorite quotes. It is from a Japanese education reformer and Buddhist Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944). “Although there is a saying that even dust when it accumulates, can form a mountain, there are in fact no mountains that have been made from accumulated dust…Real mountains are formed by sudden, dramatic shifts in the earth’s crust.”
To me, this quote was all the more appropriate given the circumstances and is representative of what needs to happen to advance sustainable development in Lebanon and CSR Lebanon, as a driving force for positive change. Their model is one that raises the bar and should be replicated in each country.
We look forward to continued collaboration with them to advance sustainable development together.
BEING EVER-VICTORIOUS EACH AND EVERY DAY. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sgi-usa.org/memberresources/download/couragegroup/Being-Ever-Victorio
PSM3 Model Retrieved from http://www.greenprojectmanagement.org/psm3-model
American University of Beirut PMD Program https://www.aub.edu.lb/rep/cec/Pages/pmd.aspx