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There has been a considerable focus on social responsibility, as well as on the establishment of the In-Country Value Strategy by the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, earlier called Ministry of Oil and Gas between 2013 and 2020. Have these efforts succeeded in achieving their stated goals?

Sustainability is a bigger umbrella that encompasses social responsibility and in-country value. Therefore, the concept of social responsibility cannot be directly substituted for sustainability. Sustainability has become an important global trend, especially in the environmental field.

To understand sustainability in more detail in our local context in Oman, we need to distinguish between two terms:  in-country value (ICV) and added value as they are two different concepts that have been used interchangeably in Oman.

In moving from one stage of development to another, we need to keep pace with changes while ensuring the sustainability of our efforts. We have seen many efforts exerted by different bodies such as the donations of oil companies and family firms’ funds. How effective are these efforts? We can measure their success by the social and economic return they have created in the community. Have they targeted priorities or sub-goals? Can we structure these charities and donations in a better and more efficient way?

There is also a considerable difference between social responsibility, charity, and donations. Companies may try to improve their reputation through marketing campaigns, or via the construction of service buildings for citizens. (See Ann Al-Kindi’s article ‘Towards Responsible Social Responsibility’ in Oman Newspaper, June 9, 2018). This does not mean that we lack professional practices in the field of social responsibility. This broad field overlaps with charities, and in the past, this overlap has led to some confusion of concepts and evasion of responsibility by institutions.

Who sets the priorities of social responsibility? Should institutions meet with social responsibility specialists to discuss urgent priorities? How do institutions determine the most important priorities for them? Is social responsibility strictly a social issue, or is it an economic one as well?

The situation of charitable associations needs to be scrutinised in more detail in order to measure their level of development. Many of these charities have female leaders. Some of the charitable organisations need to increase their professionalism, as efforts are often repeated by different organisations, leading to a waste of time and resources. For example, the Oman Charitable Organisation (OCO), established 25 years ago, needs to keep pace with current developments and find sustainable sources of funding.

It is necessary to identify strategic priorities and build capabilities in the field of sustainability. We constantly hear private institutions complaining about the lack of required skills in their employees. Have they taken any steps to remedy this problem?

The Ministry of Labour has provided support to companies wishing to provide on-the-job-training opportunities for Omanis. What are the private sector’s plans to respond to this initiative? Will we see Omanis being trained by major international companies such as BMW, Audi, or BP? Will we see Omani programmers participating in apprenticeship programmes at Microsoft, Google, Apple, and other tech giants? How many job opportunities will these apprenticeship programmes provide for Omanis? Who sets these priorities? We need to set the frameworks and goals of these apprenticeship programmes to build our local capabilities.

Many social programmes and projects come as responses to particular social requirements. When will we take the initiative and be proactive? Do we have Omani professionals in the private sector who are managing corporate social responsibility outside of oil and gas companies and the banking sector? Does the private sector differentiate between charitable funds and social responsibility? It is time for these companies to develop their administrative structures and create sustainability departments that work towards social responsibility and in-country value.

After reviewing the status of sustainability in the country, how can we make the necessary reforms? Can we form a sustainability committee that includes major companies and banks? Can we gather social responsibility specialists, charitable organisations, economists, and senior officials to restructure the Oman Charitable Organisation?

The features of good and bad professional practice are well known. After a study revealed that more than 80% of Saudi companies did not have specialised departments for social responsibility, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia developed a targeted strategy to address the problem. Can Oman establish a similar Code of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Strategy building can be achieved through dialogue between stakeholders, however this method will not be fruitful if we lack an action plan. Which authority is responsible for this issue? Is it the Centre for Sustainability and Governance? What is the role of this Center in the new administrative structure of the state?

In conclusion, if we want to meet the requirements of sustainable development – in which the Sultanate has already excelled, as reflected in its first voluntary report submitted to the United Nations — we need an immediate action plan. This article has posed numerous questions as an attempt to conduct a root cause analysis; solutions are possible with the proper and precise analysis.

It is worth noting that Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), a pioneer in the field of social responsibility, has issued a sustainability report in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. PDO may take into account the methodology of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), as an independent body, to boost the credibility of its report. PDO is keen to issue its annual report on sustainability. But what about the other private sector institutions that do not consistently publish an annual sustainability report?.

So, has this article presented some facts that go beyond sustainability clichés?

Ann Al Kindi