How to best achieve purpose through corporate responsibility
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How to best achieve purpose through corporate responsibility

How to best achieve purpose through corporate responsibility

Every organisation must deeply reflect about whether they are leaving behind a legacy or a liability, says Abdulaziz AlSowailim, EY MENA chairman and CEO

Many businesses and individuals have been reflecting on their purpose – who they are meant to be and what impact they are making with their families – in the workplace and the wider world. This has shifted conversations away from the ‘what’ to the ‘why’ of how things are done and the motivation behind them.

Personally, I have also been reflecting on my purpose as a leader at EY, as a Saudi national, and as a contributor to the community I live and work in. It has become even more important to me to truly make a difference – not only at the company I steer, but also as a citizen of my country.

I strongly believe that the prosperity of our world and economy will be driven by efforts around sustainability. In my view, sustainability is not limited to the tangible climate change occurring globally, but about how willing corporations are to invest in people ahead of profits, how responsible they will be for pursuing that change and seeing it through.

Corporate responsibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’ component of running a company, but a requirement to remain competitive. Societies are holding organisations accountable for the contributions they make – locally and regionally. We have seen that both current and potential employees are more empowered as they choose to work with firms that reflect their personal beliefs.

During the pandemic, many operations reduced their corporate responsibility activities to save on time and costs. At EY, we ramped up our efforts. The EY Ripples programme allows us to look at how we run our business and ensure that we are operating responsibly and consciously within our local environments.

It is aimed at promoting positive change in the lives of millions by mobilising and inspiring EY people and networks. To further our purpose of building a better working world, EY Ripples aims to positively impact the lives of one billion people globally by 2030, focusing on three distinct areas: supporting the next generation workforce, working with impact entrepreneurs, and accelerating environmental sustainability.

The versatility of the programme, combined with our technology solutions, allowed us to continue our knowledge sharing seminars online, actually expanding the number of youth and entrepreneurs we were able to engage. Over the past two years, our initiatives have included a collaboration with Monshaat and another with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to coach and mentor impact entrepreneurs. In addition, EY supported the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation (MiSK Foundation) with their flagship programme, the MiSK Fellowship, by advising on the participant selection and holding interactive discussions with those who were appointed.

The MiSK participants are part of a network of leaders who will work together to address Saudi Arabia’s greatest challenges and accelerate the country’s growth. EY Ripples has also overseen the mentorship of UAE youth who were chosen to be members of the boards of government institutions, and an INJAZ MENA programme where students were given the opportunity to sharpen their skills for the working world. Other activities also include a joint effort with the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation to challenge the next generation to use blockchain to solve issues around trust, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as Zooniverse, a weather modeling research project aimed at mitigating climate change.

Furthermore, EY reached its carbon negative target during this time, a major milestone in our four-step carbon ambition. We will continue to focus on reducing absolute emissions in line with our science-based target and are on track to reach net zero in 2025. This insistence from citizens to address climate change has also been reflected in the endeavours of local governments, with Saudi Arabia announcing their Green Initiative target of net zero by the year 2060. Moreover, the MENA region will be hosting two successive UN Climate Change Conferences, the first being COP27 in Egypt in 2022, and COP28 in the UAE the following year.

Addressing climate change is tightly linked to future economic growth, and entities that recognise the value of investing in green solutions will find that they and their people will be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. It is a shift in corporate culture that has to be guided by a leadership team that truly wants to safeguard the opportunities of the generations to come.

I am also proud to see EY assist in building the pipeline of prospective leaders from the GCC youth and ready them for circumstances that may not even exist at present. In Saudi Arabia, we are approaching 60 per cent nationalisation across all of our offices, and it is exciting to see our people grow and become the faces of organisations that we later work with on groundbreaking projects. I can vividly recall every single time I met with a former EY colleague in their new role and have been delighted to hear about how their experience with us shaped their personal and professional success.

Yet we felt that we could do more for the career progression of talented individuals, particularly in light of the shortage in niche skillsets that establishments were facing due to the pandemic. EY launched the MENA Falcon programme in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, as a way to accelerate the career journey of the most determined GCC nationals across the region. We recognised the need for youth to see more of themselves in leadership role models, especially in the private sector.

As part of our EY purpose and values, we want to strengthen the representation of GCC nationals in the EY MENA partnership track, and assemble high performing teams that are reflective of the communities we live in. The Falcon programme will change the nationalisation landscape in the GCC among professional services firms by fast tracking the careers of EY people and providing them with the experience and capabilities to become the next legacy builders for their respective countries.

By working with us, GCC nationals will take part in key MENA accounts that will help drive business relations and mould solutions for their own governments and local organisations. In addition, EY provides the training courses and hands-on developmental opportunities to facilitate the accelerated learning process of programme participants to help them emerge fully prepared for the next stage of their careers.

It has become incredibly clear over the past two years that no company can function in a silo anymore – we all must understand and take charge of the ripple effect of the work that we do to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly future. But truly, the biggest impact for the MENA region will come from growing the local talent of the countries that we operate in and empowering them to become the business leaders of tomorrow.

My purpose at EY is to lead the effort of corporate responsibility through sustainability. To encourage my peers, colleagues, and network to invest in their people today to generate long-term value for their businesses and their countrymen.

That is the legacy I am working towards.

What legacy will you leave behind?

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