Nearly Two-Thirds of Businesses in the UAE and Saudi Arabia Lack an ESG Framework: ASDA’A BCW Survey

Exclusive research conducted to mark the launch of OnePoint5, ASDA’A BCW’s new ESG advisory dedicated to the MENA region

Dubai, UAE; June 30, 2022: Nearly two-thirds (60%) of businesses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia do not have a framework governing their environment, social and governance (ESG) standards, and around half of those who do are not sure their employees fully understand it.

These were the top findings of an exclusive study of 200 decision makers in the two countries commissioned by ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading integrated communications agency, to mark the launch OnePoint5, its new ESG advisory dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Its name is inspired by the world’s most important sustainability goal – limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

OnePoint5 aims to strengthen the voice of the MENA region on ESG issues while helping clients to adopt more sustainable business practices. The new advisory arrives as Egypt prepares to host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in November, to be followed by COP28 in the UAE in 2023.  

Out of the 200 opinion elites interviewed, 41 per cent said their business already had an ESG framework in place, while a third (33%) said they were developing one. A quarter (26%) admitted their company had no ESG policy. Underscoring the need for raised awareness of the benefits of ESG standards, over half (52%) of respondents who said their company had introduced an ESG framework said they did not fully understand it.

Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the research indicated that the Middle East’s business community had work to do to meet the high expectations of their governments on sustainability best practice.

Developing a strong ESG proposition

“OnePoint5 can help client develop a strong ESG proposition to deliver greater value for their shareholders and stakeholders,” said John. “The specialist advisory will be led by Stephen Worsley, Senior Vice President at ASDA’A BCW. A communications professional with more than 25 years’ experience, he has advised clients in the sustainability and energy sectors, including Masdar, Total, Zayed Sustainability Prize, Engie and First Solar.”

OnePoint5 offers four key services: Advice & counsel to client decision makers to ensure sustainability thinking is central to their business planning and disclosure; auditing and gap analysis to understand a client’s sustainability impacts; designing operational plans to help integrate best practices; and communications strategies and plans to help clients inform and motivate employees and internal stakeholders, as well as amplify external stakeholder awareness of their sustainability commitments.

Bridging the ‘say-do’ gap

“The gap between awareness of the acute need to advance sustainable development and action on the ground by much of the business community needs closing,” added John. “Consultancies like OnePoint5 can help clients address this so-called ‘say-do’ gap, by combining the skills of experienced communicators with the technical abilities of sustainability specialists.”

He said: “The UAE, Saudi Arabia and several other countries in MENA have pledged to go Net Zero and are enacting a wave of reforms aimed at raising the bar for transparency, good governance and sustainability – that is not to mention the massive infrastructure projects being undertaken, from The Line in Saudi Arabia to Expo 2020 in Dubai, the most sustainable Expo ever staged and the planned venue for COP28 next year. The message is clear: all of us need to raise our game.”

Climate Change Already Impacting Middle East Businesses

The survey further revealed that Middle East businesses need to pick up the pace on climate action, with about two-thirds (61%) of decision makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia saying that global warming was already having an impact on the way their business operates.

While governance standards also show room for improvement, 40 per cent of businesses in the two countries claim to have robust policies to combat bribery, corruption and unethical behaviour. Forty-six per cent of respondents in the UAE and 43 per cent in Saudi Arabia said they had a whistle-blower policy in place to expose corruption.

The survey was conducted by PSB Middle East, the wholly owned data and analytics subsidiary of ASDA’A BCW, from May 22 to 29, 2022. The interview sample, comprising decision makers directly involved in ESG affairs, was evenly split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

See all findings here

IATA must step up communications to boost confidence in air travel: Arab Aviation Summit panel

The rise of private charter and the challenges in business travel will have a decisive influence on the industry, but the key is to boost passenger confidence, says Sunil John

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) must step up its communications efforts, provide common guidelines and rally all industry stakeholders to boost confidence in the aviation sector, observed a panel on ‘Airline Strategies versus today’s reality’ at the eighth Arab Aviation Summit in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.

Describing the aviation sector’s response to the crisis emerging from the pandemic as ‘timid’, Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the aviation sector’s current challenges can’t be addressed by airlines, airports, or tour operators alone but “global organisations such as IATA that must bring a commonality of approach and an industry-wide response regarding the safety and vaccine protocols to benefit the sector.”

Moderated by broadcast journalist Eithne Treanor, the panel discussion was also addressed by Linus Benjamin Bauer, Founder & Managing Director of Bauer Aviation Consultancy; and Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Flight Ascend Consultancy.

Sunil John said there is pent-up demand for travel now, but the key is to “build confidence among people who are not ready to fly, assure them of their safety and how they can navigate the various protocols. Aviation is sentiment-driven. Right now, the sentiment is all gloom and doom. Building confidence will happen when the aviation sector has clear and honest communication that addresses passenger anxieties. They must lead from the front. A proactive, courageous stance is needed for the aviation industry today.”

“The United Arab Emirates will take a lead role in driving the recovery of the aviation sector,” added Sunil, “with Expo 2020 Dubai, playing a decisive role in boosting the prospects of both the aviation and tourism sectors. The nation is at the centre of the world and we have the opportunity to convert the pent-up demand for people to get on planes and travel.”

He cited the success story of Ras Al Khaimah in driving domestic tourism as “a smart strategy’ that led to near 100 per cent occupancy at hotels in the emirate during the pandemic year, and the RAK International Airport gaining market share despite the pandemic through “flexible pricing attracting low-cost airlines.”

Sunil said an emerging trend for the sector will be the rise of private jet charters that will eat into the business travel segment of commercial airlines. “The ‘Uber of the skies’ will be a real trend offering the opportunity for people who had never had the opportunity to get on a private plane to charter their travel with an App. You are looking at a whole new market that is going to impact commercial airlines, which will likely lose market share in the lucrative first/business class passenger segment. In addition, private companies are increasingly going to look at business travel for essential or unavoidable purposes only.”

Linus Bauer reiterated the need to build confidence in the industry’s ability to “carry passengers from A to B safely.” He said the decline in business travel was a key challenge, while adding that the opportunities in the Middle East were tremendous, leading to increased appetite for aviation services.

Peter Morris said the success of the industry calls for commercial solutions. “Only business models that meet the needs of customers will be successful. You cannot force people to travel and there are different sets of parameters for business and leisure.” Top priorities include ensuring the continued viability of airlines, airports and tourism providers, he added. “A coherent response by governments is lacking and air travel patterns remain complex. The hit to global GDP is another factor that influences the ability to travel.”

The eighth Arab Aviation Summit is organised by Air Arabia and hosted in collaboration with the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). The event is held under the theme, ‘Arab Aviation in the New Normal.’


Region’s PR industry must reskill for the new opportunity in ESG communications: #PRovokeMENA Summit

The Public Relations industry in the Middle East must reskill and upgrade its competencies to embrace the fast-growing trend of environmental, social and governance (ESG) communications, observed the opening panel discussion of the fourth annual PRovoke MENA Summit.

Under the theme, ‘A New Middle East Narrative: A Manifesto for Change in PR,’ the discussion, moderated by Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, explored the need for the PR industry to adapt and thrive in a profoundly changed media and economic landscape. On the panel were Rania Rostom, Chief Communications Officer, GE International Markets; Mazen Nahawi, the Founder & CEO of CARMA; and Vasuki Shastry, an ESG and public affairs expert, and former Global Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Standard Chartered.

The discussion centred on three imperatives shaping the new Middle East narrative: the new era of peace following the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, the increased focus of regional governments and businesses on adapting to climate change, and the massive investments by state-owned entities in domestic infrastructure and economic diversification.

“The dramatic changes of the past year make it important for the PR industry to rethink its business and operating models,” said Sunil John. “What matters is not just how quickly we evolve and how we reskill, but also how relevant our work will be for our clients and the media. Our research and hands-on experience of over 20 years in the region tells us that the Middle East is entering a new phase of regional growth and optimism, and our role as PR practitioners must be to set a new communications agenda.”

“It is time to integrate an organisation’s social purpose with its operations, which is a profound communications challenge and opportunity for PR,” said Vasuki Shastry. “Companies that can articulate their purpose and back it up with their actions, will take the lead. ESG communications presents a huge opportunity for PR experts to completely reengineer brands. What will make a difference is the ability to articulate purpose and back this up with facts, which will benefit both brand and share premium.”

“The bold vision for change by regional governments to move from an oil to knowledge-based economy has built the path for a strong innovation ecosystem in the Middle East,” said Rania Rostom. “GE’s Global Innovation Barometer, conducted in the midst of the pandemic, revealed that Saudi Arabia and UAE are seen by global business as innovation-conducive economies, which speaks volumes about the progress the region has made. There is a lot more to be done, in today’s fast-changing landscape, and we can only do it by working together.”

Discussing the importance of trust in communications, Mazen Nahawi said the impact of PR is measured is “less about advertising value equivalency (AVE) and other vanity matrices but about trust: do people believe what we say and how are they engaging. The focus today is to measure the impact of campaigns based on data, and whether it leads to driving conversations at the highest levels.”

The panelists observed that the fair representation of the Middle East in international media can be transformed by the region’s digital-savvy youth, with most major companies recruiting millennials, who are a force for change. “We’ve got a richer canvas to work off,” said Rania. “We need inclusion of more voices into our narrative. More diverse and local voices from the ground up so we can build this collective momentum. It’s a time for openness.”

Concluding the session, Sunil said: “A new era of hope and opportunity is emerging on the horizon, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past 12 months. And it is incumbent upon the PR industry to help convey that message through a new manifesto for change in PR.”

ASDA’A BCW is the Platinum Sponsor of the PRovoke MENA Summit, led by PRovoke founder/chair Paul Holmes and CEO/editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman.

BCW Ranked Number One on PRovoke Media’s Global Creative Index

UAE, December 21, 2020 – BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe), a leading global communications agency, announced it has been ranked number one on PRovoke Media’s ninth-annual Global Creative Index.

PRovoke’s Global Creative Index analyzes entries and winners from more than 25 PR, digital and marketing awards programs from around the world over a 12-month period, up to the 2020 Global SABRE Awards. The formula takes into account the expansion of ‘public relations’ work across multiple categories at advertising-oriented shows.

In honoring BCW, PRovoke reported that BCW’s top ranking was “powered by a range of work from across its global network, including award-winning campaigns for Boehringer Ingelheim, Coca-Cola, Huawei, Lenzing, the NBA and Tencel — with much of the work originating from its Asia-Pacific, EMEA and LatAm markets”.

Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW, said: “I am so proud that BCW has been ranked number one on PRovoke’s Global Creative Index because it recognizes BCW’s creative strength, which we have always believed to be the core component of the work we do to move people for our clients.”

Sunil John, President – Middle East BCW, stated: “I’m very proud that BCW has received this global recognition of the exceptional work we are doing for our clients around the world, including the MENA region. I look forward to an exciting 2021with all the challenges and opportunities that a new year brings.”