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Today we launch Triple Pundit’s CSR in Emerging Markets Series, starting with the booming Gulf region and the United Arab Emirates.

No matter how one feels about the impact petroleum and natural gas have had on the Gulf Cooperation Council (or GCC, often used to describe the Gulf Region), the dramatic economic change is undeniable. Within the GCC, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have best managed this newfound wealth. What were once among the poorest areas in the Middle East now rank highly among the world’s highest per capital income and standard of living in the world.

At a macroeconomic level, the transformation is impressive. Emeratis and Qataris enjoy bountiful opportunities in employment, education and housing. In turn, cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha have attracted talent from around the world. The changes these societies have endured have been jarring: in only a few decades, Qatar and the UAE have modernized to a point that took many developed countries in the west centuries.

But meteoric economic growth has come at a cost. Rapid development has made commuting around these cities, for the most part, possible only by car. Add to it the endless construction, and air quality is often horrid. The reliance on foreign talent has turned Arabs in the region into tiny minorities within their own countries. And finally, the blessings of fossil fuels have their own curses, including the fact that these economies are almost entirely dependent on their continued extraction. Someday the wells will run dry, as will the future opportunities for the region’s youth, who already confront challenges in health, education and other social issues.

Because these countries’ futures are dependent on their children’s prospects, more local and multinational companies have realized they can make a difference in children’s lives and therefore become more engaged stakeholders. With the launch of our CSR in Emerging Markets series, we start today with the UAE.

The challenge of launching CSR or sustainability programs in the UAE is not easy: many expats who love to go to the UAE for work do so for several years, at the most. But as the global financial institution HSBC’s Sabrid Rahman explained to me via an ongoing email conversation, “Fluidity within the Gulf can be challenging but also brings with it some wonderful opportunities.”

According to Rahman, the expatriate workforce’s constant turnover within the UAE poses some hurdles. Stakeholder networks are constantly in flux and new engagement strategies for new staff are necessary. But with many HSBC professionals reaching out to Rahman’s staff before their arrival in the UAE, fresh ideas and insights from around the world ensure a pipeline of new ideas for local sustainability and community projects is available.

“The greatest challenge, in my opinion, being faced by youth in the GCC,” said Rahman, “is the erosion of culture and language.” With expatriate workers far outnumbering local Arabs throughout the region, many local youth experience issues with their identity and heritage. HSBC and other multinationals have tackled this approach on two fronts. First, included within their training programs is the education of expatriate workers on the history and complexities of the region. Second, more companies now raise awareness and promote aspects of the local Arab culture via events held at venues such as the leading cultural center in Dubai.

The UAE’s rapid growth has had an impact on the local environment as well, marked by the fact these countries rank among the top nations with the highest carbon footprint per capita on earth. To that end, HSBC’s UAE staff expanded the company's global Eco-Schools Climate Initiative, in partnership with WWF, to increase awareness about climate change’s long-term impact in local schools. Students developed action plans at the pilot program’s 20 schools to strategize how to reduce waste, energy and water use. While saving money, the initiative also offered students new lessons about sustainability issues. Furthermore, the Eco Schools program reached a wider community as children’s parents become involved as they join various committees tasked with making facilities more resource efficient. Rahman noted that the program was so successful that similar curricula will continue to roll out to other countries and will expand throughout the UAE.

Watch for more CSR programs to emerge here as more companies relocate and increase their presence in the UAE because of the Arab Spring fallout and the country’s strategic location to the world’s largest markets.

Next in the series: Qatar

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. At Better4Business in Anaheim on May 2, he will join a panel discussing how companies can present their CSR initiatives to the media. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit of downtown Abu Dhabi: Leon Kaye]

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