AUC’s Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement Launches Corporate Sustainability Capacity Building Program

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With over 150 leaders from the private sector, the public sector and civil society from Egypt in attendance, the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement launched the Corporate Sustainability Capacity Building Program at the Semiramis Intercontinental Cairo Hotel, Garden City, Cairo.

The program has been developed to respond to the clear need for the private sector in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia to not only understand what corporate sustainability means to their business, but also to acquire the skills necessary to implement sustainable business practices.  By doing so, they will be able to both implement and integrate corporate sustainability in a manner that will serve the bottom-line of their companies and positively impact the sustainable development of their surrounding communities.

Moderated by AUC Provost Lisa Anderson, the event was highlighted with a panel discussion entitled: “Sustainability: A Paradigm Shift in Management”.  An introduction was given by David Arnold, President of the American University in Cairo. The panelists included: H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Egyptian Minister of Investment; Mr. Fadi Ghandour, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aramex International; Mr. Frederic Sicre, Executive Director of Abraaj Capital; Mr. Helmy Abouleish, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of SEKEM; and, Mr. Mounir Thabet, UNDP Country Director. During a dynamic and thought-provoking discussion, the panelists focused on the evolution of corporate sustainability in a global context with emphasis on the transformative effects corporate sustainability can have on the Arab region as a whole.

Announcing that AUC will become the first university in the region to join the UN global compact, President Arnold underscored how corporate sustainability was essential for “sound business today and in the future.” This was followed by welcoming remarks by Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, Director of the Gerhart Center, who highlighted how corporate sustainability can bring about a paradigm shift in management.

AUC Provost Lisa Anderson reflected on the program as a means by which universities can go beyond “preaching to practice” and can yield world-wide development. She praised the program and stated the Gerhart Center’s unique role as a convener and catalyst in establishing such ground-breaking programs. Mr. Youssef Mansour could not make it to the event but sent a statement that was delivered by Provost Anderson. By promoting civic engagement and corporate sustainability, Mr. Mansour asserted that The Gerhart Center has made it easier for companies to better serve their communities.

In the panel discussion, H.E. Minister Mohieldin announced that “We’ve just had our third annual conference for CSR” and related how the Egyptian government is supportive of the corporate sustainability model emphasizing the collaborative role the government has been taking to enhance industry’s ability to develop and implement sustainable factors.  H.E. the minister cited the 10% reduction in taxes and the effects it has already had as an example of this governmental engagement.  During the closing remarks, H.E. the minister also cited that the ultimate accountability for sustainable practices in society lies with the government.  Another concrete example that H.E. the minister discussed with the audience, was the development of the environmental, social and governance index that has been developed for companies listed on the Egyptian Stock Exchange, which is only the second such index in the world so far.

Mr. Fadi Ghandour discussed how entrepreneurship takes root in hardships and the desire to solve problems. He elaborated on this by discussing how sustainability needs to be built into the DNA of an organization and not just used as an “add on” practice. In response to Provost Anderson’s question about how companies need to internalize a sense of responsibility and not simply use their interface with the community as a marketing strategy, Mr. Frederic Sicre stated that the environment is changing for the better and that corporations are now more directly involved in the societies with which they interact. This, he said, is “the beginning of a path that has a lot of good promise for the Arab World.”  Mr. Abouleish asserted that all envision the future to be different and discussed how corporate sustainability can be a tool to affect that difference. Mr. Mounir Thabet discussed UNDP’s role in promoting corporate sustainability and how it can be sought as a true business model.

“This program was designed out of a belief that businesses can contribute to sustainable social change in a more meaningful manner if they develop an integrated sustainability focus in the overall management of their businesses” said Dina Sherif, Associate Director of the Gerhart Center.

The program will be implemented in partnership with Abraaj Capital, Mansour Group, Aramex International, the International Executive Education Institute, AUC; Al Khazindar Business Research and Case Center, AUC; the United Nations Development Program and the Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center (ECRC).

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