Raising awareness of the Melbourne Mandate at the center of discussions at Middle East PR Conference: potential for change?
At the 3rd Middle East Public Relations Conference (MEPRC: February 3-4th) attendees discussed a range of issues relating to challenges and opportunities of building a sustainable industry in the Middle East, the conference theme. Hosted by Zayed University and supported by MEPRA and the IABC (Europe, Middle East and North Africa) a key agenda setter was the Melbourne Mandate. While the majority of attendees (university faculty members from seven universities/colleges, researchers and practitioners) were not familiar with the Mandate, the keynote presentation by Dr Bruce Berger of the University of Alabama and the Plank Centre for Leadership in PR gave them an inkling. Berger spoke on the Centre’s recent global study which highlighted two key trends. Leaders in PR need to develop:
“Soft” skills to increase self-insight and reflection – raise the empathy quotient of the profession as a core competency; improve interpersonal skills to manage change and conflict; and create a greater sense of cultural awareness.
- Professional and educational structures that produce measurement skills and guidelines, ethical frameworks, and knowledge of economic and global environments in which they occur.
An industry panel that included Berger then discussed the merits of the Melbourne Mandate building on the survey. The panel included practitioners: Sconaid McGeachin, CEO of H&K Strategies Middle East and MEPRA Board chair; Ibrahim Al Zubi, Head of CSR at MAF; and Noaman Al Saleh, Head of Communications and CSR at ENOC. I moderated the session eliciting discussion from the audience.
We looked at the three key tenants (below) of the Mandate and explored what a communicative organisation might look like.
define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
build a culture of listening and engagement; and
- instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.
While there was general agreement for the Mandate, indeed one of the panelists suggested it could go further; overall the feeling was of a huge gap. Teaching faculty are not including these issues in their courses or teaching materials nor are they being discussed beyond the concepts of CSR. Practitioners understand the need for engagement and those embedding sustainability in their operations such as MAF totally buy-in to a listening culture (it was MAF’s employees who had pushed for more responsible operations) but most still see their roles as corporate messengers. There are regional and cultural reasons for stakeholder engagement to be limited to philanthropic initiatives – a transient expat workforce and an underemployed local workforce do not bode well for constructive engagement especially in the public sector. While MAF is an exception, many CEOs do not prioritize employee well being as yet, let alone those outside the organisation. There are many regional definitions of responsibility – ultimately, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that counts!
by Rebecca Hill
Communications strategist based in the UAE and IABC Board member for Europe, Middle East and North Africa.