In 2006, President George W. Bush solicited the help of US Businesses to help with the rebuilding of Lebanon after the war and the Partnership for Lebanon was formed to consolidate efforts (Jamali, 2011). The multi-national partnership was an effort to aid the people of Lebanon in rebuilding their quality of life by, “expanding the reach of education and workforce training, creating jobs, building out the country’s technology infrastructure, and connecting communities and government” (Cisco, 2007). Salam Yamout from Cisco was appointed as the project manager for the PFL, placing Cisco at the head of the initiative table for ensuring success of the project (Jamali, 2011). Cisco was born from a marriage (literally and figuratively) of communication and innovation at Stanford University.
While working in separate buildings, husband and wife, Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner wanted to communicate via email, but found the computer systems they were using could not communicate with one another (disparate local area protocols), so they invented a router to translate multiple computer codes and the “multi-protocol router” was born (Jamali, 2011). The Stanford team expanded beyond the university and incorporated as a networking firm in San Francisco in 1984, and one could conclude even the Cisco name came from its’ San Francisco birthplace (Jamali, 2011). The case study delves into the PFL program by reviewing the management, impact, challenges, and successes of Cisco and its partners from the formation of the PFL in 2006. The program, as mentioned above had lofty goals of rebuilding Lebanon and through multi-national efforts it was able to accomplish a great deal in a relatively limited amount of time. Some of the published successes of the PFL program within Lebanon include: 90% of the interns were employed later, US$1.57 million micro-loans funded to 729 residents (as of December 2011), US$10 million invested in Information and Communication Technology companies, 13 rural community centers networked to provide training and job resources, 52 public secondary schools brought online, and 640 homes were
rebuilt (Partnership for Lebanon, n.d.).
The key strategic lesson, which stood out the most from the case study, is the implementation of vision and processes that are already in place within the company. Cisco had already established a, “culture revolved around a set of core values and principals including open communication, frugality, innovation, giving back to the community, collaboration trust, integrity, and inclusion” (Jamali, 2011). These were the foundational principals that led Cisco to the leadership role in the PFL, and set the tone for measurable progress for improving the quality of life for those living in Lebanon at the time. In the words of the Chairman and CEO of Cisco, “I’ve always believed those who are most successful owe an obligation to give back [to the community] (Jamli, 2011)”.
Like Cisco, it is paramount for company leaders to establish values and vision for the people of the company to live by. The established values of a company become the pillars by which the strength of the company stands. It is the very foundation that determines the difference between companies that struggle to survive, flounder from idea to idea, and contribute very little, if any, to the community, and ones that sore to the highest levels of success, and do so in a way that contribute a great deal back to all its stakeholders. In short, a company needs to be prepared to handle challenges beyond the scope of day to day profitability and survival. Multi-national companies traditionally have surpassed the glass ceiling of self-preservation and look to become true corporate citizens. Corporate leaders of growing organizations need to invest in CSR and build the trust of their stakeholders in order to build strong businesses. Leaders, who miss this point, miss an opportunity to build stronger businesses, and more robust bottom line results. Much like the rebuilding of Lebanon, the rebuilding of businesses, post-Arab Spring, saw many companies start to realize this impact of CSR and other forms of social accountability.
According to Dr. Faith Mehmet Gul, founding director of CSR Middle East, trust is one of the main issues in the region. People in the Arab region have lost faith in their government, losing faith in each other, and losing
faith with businesses. The company who does the best job investing in business will be the overall winner. The challenge is determining how to build trust. CSR programs offer a starting point for businesses to build trust (Avina, 2013) The bottom line “key lesson” is to establish a consistent and prevailing culture that can build your business internally and externally, and give your company a competitive advantage over the competition – by doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons. A lesson we should all live by.
Cisco, Corporate Sponsors, and PFL
By having a Cisco employee as the lead project manager for the PFL the burden of initiative also rested on their shoulders. Each of the companies tasked with making an impact in the region certainly looked for positive outcomes from the program, but the leaders at Cisco were aware they needed to be the ones to take the first step. During the opening email exchange within the case study, where George Akiki was responding to Salam Yamout regarding her concerns with the sustainability of the PFL program, Akiki assures her the program has been a success, but continued success depended on Cisco setting the tone for building sustainability into every project going forward (Jamali, 2011).
Clearly, successful projects need leadership, and those leaders need to challenge the status quo and have vision beyond the day to day operations. It would have been easy to focus on the successes of the PFL project and even congratulate themselves on the tremendous success of the program up to that point, but Yamout and Akiki had the vision to look forward and consider the long term success of the program and determine what it would take for the program to be successful for decades to come. How often do people lose sight of their short term and long term goals when bombarded by the challenges of the everyday? How easy would it have been for a single company to redirect focus on the stateside economic issues during that period?
But, having a team of companies collaborate to progress the program forward helped to solidify the success of the PFL. Without question, good leadership was the cornerstone of the PFL success, but multi-company engagement gave the project the needed resources to reach the levels of success the program had. The concept is summarized quite nicely by Avina (2013) when he explains the benefits of multi-company collaboration
to maximize impact: First, joint collaboration amongst many companies allows a blending of core competencies which track important national goals and aspirations. Second, it ensures a pathway beyond ad-hoc support to more strategic targeting of areas that are critical for the long-term growth and development in the affected countries. Third, it provides a mechanism for even broader partnerships which may also include donor-financed activities where the private sector can partner to increase impact.
These are concepts that should be taken into account by any company considering CSR success. By bringing together multiple stakeholders, the project success increases by spreading out the responsibility and accountability. This also helps to keep the program on track by giving different aspects of the project a separate voice. It is not uncommon for projects to get sidetracked and rabbit-hole from the varying agendas of its members, but by collaborating across various stakeholder platforms the core purpose of the project should maintain more integrity. In short, the more points of view a company solicits when considering a CSR program, the more likely the successful outcome of the projects it determines to take on.
The Challenge of Sustainability
Much of the initial work done by the PFL was implemented through financial resources accumulated prior to any involvement in the region. It is apparent that George Bush called upon these companies not only for their expertise, but also because of their immense ability to fund the programs needed to rebuild Lebanon. Building or rebuilding, at the end of the day, requires expertise and financial resources – and more of the latter in most cases. Clearly a region torn apart by war needed extraordinary circumstances to rebuild its infrastructure, but it became quite apparent during the case study reading that financial backing was the primary underscore of the PFL project.
Financial backing comes in various forms with the most obvious being direct funding, but other financial resources need to be available to support the infrastructure of program initiatives provided by PFL. The reading gives an example of a management office being established in Beirut with full time
senior Cisco staff on hand (Jamali, 2011). There is an example of extremely high end routers being donated to help establish an International Internet Gateway in the region (Jamali, 2011). There is an example of internship intervention program where student from Lebanon were provided job internships within Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, and other companies from 2007 through 2009 (Jamali, 2011). These are just a few specific examples, but when one considers the enormous amount of time invested into the PFL program from some of America’s top executives it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that an enormous amount of time, money, and resources are needed to take on any CSR program with the scope of the PFL project.
That being said, one of the key lessons from the PFL is the concept of building sustainability into the programs from the very start. Executives, governments, NGOs, and participants in CSR programs need to build in sustainability measures from the very beginning of project management. Participants must look beyond the scope of the resources “within” the project and factor in the sustainability of the programs if and when the resources funding the program run out. Within the opening dialogue between George Akiki and Salam Yamout, the reader can quickly conclude the over pinning concern of both parties is the sustainability of the achievements within the region (Jamali, 2011). Jamali states, during the closing arguments of the case study that the PFL reached a turning point of sustainability where the future of the PFL program was in question. Even though the PFL program was making measurable progress and impacting the lives of the Lebanese people, it was painfully clear that the sustainability of the program was looming as their greatest challenge (Jamali, 2011). Senior leaders need to take into account the impact of the contributions made during any cause or program, and be certain to avoid any backsliding by building a solid foundation of sustainability for the long haul.
Overall the case study emphasized the need for private businesses to give back to the community, and for multi-national companies to step up and make the world a better place. Corporate citizens should act like good citizens, with a set of established values, which position them to make a positive
change for their stakeholders. Too often businesses have hidden behind balance sheets and individualized agendas, but it seems the people of the world are waking up and demanding ethical more behavior. Doing what is right means less about, staying out of trouble, and more about reaching out to stakeholders, governments, and NGO’s to make an impact throughout the world. There are numerous companies, like Cisco, with access to enormous amounts of resources, and without a clear vision of how they intend to operate a solid CSR program those resources are terribly wasted. CSR can easily become a “nice to have” or “something we will work on later” if not built into the culture of a company early on. Even small private businesses should start out with CSR built into their business plan, so as the company grows so does its ability to give back to the community. The incentive for companies to embrace widespread CSR vision should be rewarded, certainly by consumers, but possibly even by local and national governments in the forms of grants or tax incentives. As more and more people are educated around the principals of solid CSR management they will find it is not only good for the world – it is also good for business.
- Avina, J. (2013). The Evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Arab Spring. The Middle East Journal, 67(1), 77-92. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/ 1289014832?accountid=3783
- Cisco Saudi GM Affirms Cisco’s Commitment to Lebanon. (2007). Al Bawaba. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/ 194823806?accountid=3783 Jamali, D. (2011).
- Partnership for Lebanon and Cisco Systems: Promoting Development in a Post-War Context. In R. Ramadan (Ed.), Organizational Leadership 690: Responsible Corporate Leadership.
- Course Package: Harvard Business Review Articles: Coursepack. Manchester, NH: Southern New Hampshire University Bookstore. (Reprinted from Richard Ivey School of Business.)
- Partnership for Lebanon. (n.d.). Corporate Social Responsibility. Retrieved October 23, 2013, from http://csr.cisco.com/casestudy/partnership-for-lebanon