HATEM NUSEIBEH, TOTAL UAE

Hatem Nuseibeh is President and Chief Representative of TOTAL UAE. He began his career as a Petroleum Engineer in Abu Dhabi in 1976. Here he tells us about TOTAL's community engagement initiatives in the Middle East region.

Can you please tell us how Total’s corporate philanthropy began?

Total’s community engagement activities can be traced back to 1971 with the creation of the first agricultural experimental farm located in Maziad at Al-Ain. This step confirmed our commitment to the Emirates, our host country, and our belief that we are not just an energy company but also an integral part of the communities in which we operate. In each country, our stakeholders have different needs and expectations. These are evaluated and addressed on case-by-case basis.

In the UAE, our focus is mainly on the development of human capital for the oil industry, building relationships with the communities in which we operate, and cultural, environmental and humanitarian initiatives.

What initiatives are underway in the Middle East?

Here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there is a lot of focus on Emiratisation[1].  This is why Total created the Total Abu Al Bukhoosh Academy, whose main objective is to prepare young Emiratis for employment in the oil and gas industry as production operators or maintenance technicians. An experienced team of instructors provides the apprentices with a training programme that has a proven track record of success. With many years of industry experience in field operations, Total Group’s training approach is based on best practices and aims to lead apprentices towards a successful future. We have had a new group graduating every year since 2011, and so far 70 apprentices have come through the Academy, which targets 100% recruitment of graduates. This is an example of where our social investment is truly aligned with our business objectives.

We are also building a new laboratory in the Petroleum Institute Research Center, which we hope will improve research and development and enhance oil recovery.

At a higher level, we have agreements with national oil companies to provide cross posting or on-the-job training for their engineers in Paris or at one of our affiliates worldwide. So we are involved with training at all levels from technician to researcher.

What do you think can be done to make sure that these initiatives really have an impact?

Total looks for long-term partnerships with established organisations whose principal activities are focused on sustainability and giving back to the community. Finding the right partners can be a challenge as we need to ensure two things - that the money reaches where it is most needed, and that a community, not an individual, is benefiting.

We evaluate each organisation’s programme and consider how it fits with our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy in the country in question. We work with organisations that have a proven track record.

Through regular meetings with our partners, we try to seek new ideas and make use of what each partner can bring to the partnership. We also try to connect Total subsidiaries within the country to go beyond simply sponsoring and create a true partnership.

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We want to listen to people on the ground in order to be partners and give back to the community.   

How do you assess sustainability?

Firstly, all requests for funding must be validated through our steering committee. We use fact sheets and evaluation tools across a number of criteria to evaluate whether a proposal meets the various stakeholders’ needs and expectations, as well as aligning with our focus on communities, culture, education, environment and humanitarian initiatives. We keep track of progress on an annual basis.

Our strategy is moving towards being more hands-on and engaged with long-term partnerships. We insist on developing a sustainable partnership with long-term objectives.

Can you give me examples of initiatives that have been particularly successful?

Our partnership with the Emirates Foundation is a very good example – we have partnered with this organisation since 2006 to improve youth welfare across the UAE.

The Emirates Foundation’s ‘Think Science’ programme aims to support young people in science and encourage innovation. TOTAL is now providing business mentoring for the three winning projects, which involves connecting them with our partners or subsidiaries to support their research, conduct feasibility studies and technical evaluations. We act as an incubator for their inventions and help them transition their projects from working prototypes into models with real-life industrial and commercial applications. We also provide training courses and internships or apprenticeships to improve their scientific knowledge and skills. 

What are the key factors in successful community engagement initiatives, in your view?

It depends on the region, however, the community and their needs are always a priority. We start by listening to what they need and aiming to address these needs.

It’s also important to engage the community in what we are doing, and to share best practice with other organisations in the region. Initially I think there was reluctance to base our work in the UAE on our experience in other countries, due to the differences between these countries, but now it’s interesting to see how much common ground exists.  

We want to listen to people on the ground in order to be partners and give back to the community.

 

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Corporate giving is not just required in developing countries, it is necessary worldwide. 

How do you measure impact?

I think we are in the process of developing tools to do that better. In the GCC we started to look at impact about four years ago when we set up the office in Dubai. In other countries such as Yemen we have done impact studies to see what is useful and what is not useful. We have a tool that evaluates our engagements. The methods we use have evolved over time, and they’re still evolving.

The UAE has changed - the UAE of today is not the UAE of 20-30 years ago. So what we do has to change too.

What advice would you give to other donors or organisations who wish to give back to their community?

I would say: Identify the main stakeholders, evaluate who the key people are and what engagement is required in the country, the usual steps any international company would usually take. I also think you need to stick to your strategy, because you will get a lot of requests for support and this could cause you to lose focus.

We have an agreed methodology, we do not do things haphazardly – this way we know that we are using the experience and best practice gained through working in many different countries. 

I personally think as a company, giving is easy - if you want to build a partnership, it’s a long-term commitment. So be ready to commit and make sure you have the manpower to make it work.

We often discuss what we are doing, and whether we’re doing it for the right reasons – give back not for publicity but because you want to be a good corporate citizen, then it’s a positive experience.

Has your corporate giving shaped your own personal giving?

There is crossover, yes. They always tell us that we should think of the company’s money as if it was our own money. I will go back to the example of the Emirates Foundation – we have run projects where our employees also participated and gave in a personal capacity. I was very impressed by how many employees actively volunteered.

How do you think corporate giving in the Middle East is changing?

I would say it is maturing. It is evolving in a positive way and it is becoming better understood. Today, CSR in itself is a recognised term that is monitored and even audited. There is a general desire to create true partnerships that are transparent and in the interests of all concerned – it probably was this way in the past, but I think it has become more so recently.

I think there is also more understanding that just because a country is considered ‘rich’, it does not mean there is nothing that needs to be improved or changed in that country. Corporate giving is not just required in developing countries, it is necessary worldwide. 

[1] 'Emiratisation' is an initiative by the UAE government to employ its citizens in a meaningful and efficient manner in the public and private sectors: Kerr, S. and A. England (2009). UAE to safeguard jobs of nationals. Financial Times. London