In developing countries, citizens are more and more giving up on governments. But does this also apply to highly developed countries? In the US, intellectuals exchange lots of thoughts and “lessons learned” on corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices and many events are taking place to push the private sector to take some responsibility. Moreover, big corporations are playing a role in subsidizing events that encourage small businesses locally and abroad in the name of CSR.
CSR projects involve many divisions of big multi-national corporations with operations in developing countries like in the Middle East & North Africa. And they also act as a background for these corporations to co-sponsor milieus for entrepreneurship. For instance, both J.P. Morgan and Chase Bank sponsored the “Democracy That Delivers for Entrepreneurs” organized by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The main theme at the conference was “CSR and its role in supporting local communities and local entrepreneurs” and the role smaller businesses have in promoting their communities were highlighted.
The US-based CIPE sponsors small and medium enterprise to improve business exchanges between the U.S. and foreign countries. Some of its goals are:
- Enhance governance through transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors.
- Fortify freedom of association and private, voluntary business organizations.
- Encourage an entrepreneurial culture and understanding of how markets work.
- Expand access to information for rigorous entrepreneurial and policy decisions.
These objectives merge the role of the entrepreneur and citizen as well as the role of the consumer and the citizen. CSR programs may capitalize on this trend and may push for public-private partnerships. For example, at one CIPE’s forum in Chicago, entrepreneurs from Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan debated how their models encourage employment and job development. According Rami Shamma, Project Manager for a national youth empowerment program titled “Fostering Free Enterprise in Youth” at the Development for People and Nature Association(DPNA), a national NGO in Lebanon which aims at increasing the knowledge of youth on “Lebanese entrepreneurs don’t get support needed from its government. Ideally the Ministries (Telecommunications, Environment, and Tourism) would have the good financial status to meet this partnership… but they do not.” Therefore, entrepreneurs in countries like Lebanon will have to look towards the outside, to groups, like CIPE, that have partnerships with the private sector.
Moreover, CSR attracts public partners. For instance, CIPE embraces entrepreneurship and civic education programs that can lead small and medium enterprises in their push to register limited liability companies.
CSR programs tackle their consumers as citizens who will in the future make choices as consumers. CSR is a great public relations campaign for the companies as well as it can challenge problems, like health, education, or telecommunications’ infrastructure development. But what is better to be a citizen or a consumer? There is a common feeling that citizens are giving up government and finding their ways where businesses can offer the needed possibilities.
Maybe the best CSR program identifies the person as both citizen and consumer. If that is the case, then does that provide MENA entrepreneurs with opportunities in the ongoing Arab transition countries?