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Sustainability in the Board Room? MEIoD CEO Maali Khader talks ESG and Corporate Governance

Our core aim is to raise the standard of corporate governance in the Middle East. We do this through publishing research and resources; hosting webinars and offering capacity-building programs on a range of topics; and providing advisory services to entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, and investors.

We believe that the implementation of effective corporate governance within companies of all sizes across the region has a positive effect for all stakeholders. The right governance structures can improve organizational resilience, ensure continuity, improve risk management, foster innovation and creativity, and make Middle Eastern businesses more attractive to both local and global investors.

How are you seeing Sustainability becoming part of the agenda for businesses in the region?

Traditionally, sustainability was perhaps not high on the agenda for businesses in the Middle East, although in many ways it is inherently part of the DNA of most businesses, but over the last 5 to 10 years we’ve seen growing recognition of the central role that it must play.

That’s partly a response to global business trends, and the demand from investors for environmental, social, and governance issues (ESG) to be prioritized, but it’s also fair to say that there are companies in the region who have risen to become global leaders in sustainability—it’s not always a case of following what businesses in the Americas, Europe or Asia are doing.

Is this affecting the types of advisory boards and directors your network are looking for?

It’s certainly an important factor. An understanding of ESG/sustainability issues is very much a marketable skill for directors, as companies who want to add this capability to their boardroom seek out candidates qualified and experienced in this area.

But it’s not always just a case of bringing in “new blood” to address the need for expertise in sustainability. We also work with many experienced and long-serving board members who want to develop their skills and understanding around these issues as well.

How have you seen Corporate Governance improve in the GCC over the last decade?

Over the past decade, we have worked with over 500 businesses in the GCC, introducing international best practices and identifying new opportunities for growth. During that time, perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen is in attitudes to corporate governance, particularly among SMEs and family businesses.

Where once these businesses viewed corporate governance as an issue strictly for large, listed companies, increasing numbers of owners and board members representing smaller businesses are aware of the transformative effect that implementing good governance can have, even at an earlier stage of growth.

Could you tell us more about Sustainability in the Boardroom course and why it is relevant in the Middle Eastern context?

We address the definitions and scope of ESG and advise on the depth in which these need to be discussed and acted upon by board members and management. The program helps delegates understand their role in managing ESG issues, and in building and maintaining a sustainable business model which improves efficiency, grows revenue, and reduces external risks.

Environmental and social change is a growing challenge for companies in the region, so we go beyond a purely theoretical approach to provide delegates with practical frameworks they can implement in their own businesses.

And finally… please could you give our readers your top tips for doing business in the Middle East.

Openness is crucial. Whatever sector you’re working in, and whatever size or structure your business, being open to new ideas and approaches gives a competitive advantage by fostering agility, creativeness, and innovation. That also extends to people—the most successful companies we work with champion diversity, as it brings new opinions, new ways of thinking, and new responses to the challenges businesses face.

And, at the end of the day business here in the Middle East, just as across the globe, is primarily about relationships—whether that’s with business partners, employees, customers, or other stakeholders. Successful and long-lasting relationships can only be built from a position of trust, so frank and honest communication in all business dealings is vital.

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