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Are you relocating to Qatar and wish to do good? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in emerging markets such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is still a relatively new concept. In Qatar, overall awareness of sustainability and corporate responsibility is in a nascent stage. As is the case an hour’s flight away in the United Arab Emirates, the challenges include a transient expatriate population, a local population still enjoying the economic boom and an economy centered on what, for now, appears to be limitless resources of oil and gas.

And upon entering Qatar, the casual visitor will be smitten by the dynamic energy evident throughout the capital, Doha. Buzz over upcoming events such as the 2022 World Cup add an air of excitement; the scenic Corniche has new skyscrapers towering overhead; and areas such as the Souq Waqif and the upcoming LEED-certified Msheireb complex lend an air of convivial sophistication to the once-dusty, backwater Doha.

Doha is hardly a backwater now, but with runaway growth Qatar now has its challenges: this tiny country has a startling obesity rate; pollution and environmental degradation is a stark contrast to the stunning desert landscape; and the country has to prepare for a future that includes the possibility of depleted oil and gas reserves. Now, both companies and local foundations are addressing Qatar’s long-term challenges.

Start with health

To the Qatari government’s credit, the country is diverting revenues derived from fossil fuels towards investment in youth. On the outskirts of Qatar, the massive Education City complex is home to several American and British universities along with Qatar University. Cornell University, via the local Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC-Q), helps tackle Qataris’ health challenges. The campus' staff and students have partnered with multinational and local companies to volunteer on local health programs to help raise awareness about proper diet and exercise. In a country rabid over sports, WCMC-Q hosted events tied to Qatar’s National Sports Day.

Another organization, the Indian Islamic Association Qatar, sponsored a health camp last Friday that offered several health-related programs to over 5,000 workers, the vast majority of whom head low-income households. For expatriates who have relocated to Qatar and need ideas on how to make a difference locally, approaching health programs is a start. According to WCMC-Q’s Hanan Lakkis, local government ministries are supportive of and eager to cooperate on expanding health programs.

What about jobs and skills training?

Qatar ranks among the highest in the world with a per capita income of well over $100,000 and an unemployment rate hovering at 0.5%. But with oil and natural gas derived from finite sources, the country’s leaders and people have to plan for the long term. A slow shift is underway: a billion-dollar investment in a polysilicon plant is one step. Qatar’s people, however, will need solid skills and, of course, jobs in the long run. Skills training and Qatarization (the movement of Qataris into jobs usually held by expatriate workers) hence offer companies an opportunity to work with locals and demonstrate they are engaged stakeholders.

The Qatar Foundation spearheads many social responsibility programs, including ones related to employment and skills training. One arm of the foundation, the Social Development Center (SDC), partners with businesses to run internship programs, career counseling, volunteer opportunities and job fairs. One of the newest programs may shock those who are quick to make assumptions about the Middle East: SDC recently held its first graduation program for Qatari women who are seeking a career in the international beauty industry.

Businesses operating in Qatar are also reaching out to locals to fill positions. The French energy giant, Total, claims it is aggressively recruiting Qatari students for a variety of functions, and also promises to sponsor them and offer them scholarships. Local financial institution, Doha Bank, also organizes a variety of educational and skills development programs - and also supports an “eco-schools” initiative to embed environmental awareness in local schools. And, Vodafone has a long history of CSR projects in Qatar focused on social projects including education.

All of these programs prove the locals' and expatriates' interest in supporting youth, health and community development in Doha. A comfortable standard of living and high incomes do not mean a country is free of social problems--nevertheless, the dynamic atmosphere infectious in Qatar can inspire both locals and expatriates to improve the quality of life for everyone in this tiny country making huge moves on the international scene.

Leon Kaye regularly writes about Qatar on GreenGoPost.com. Leon contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; and 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: Leon Kaye]

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