CSR in Iran - a contradiction?

Last week took me to Iran to talk about CSR. Maybe not the first address that would jump to your mind when thinking of CSR, but there I was, 3 in the morning at Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport in Teheran and my friends from CSR Iran, Alireza and Tahereh waiting for me. Yes, there is such an organisation in Iran, and boy are they busy and professional. Customs was easy and no different than at any other place in countries were you need a visa to enter. Only difference were the women, who in the plane looked very European, but in the airport methamorphosed into Iranien ladies wearing a head scarf. Well, we drove all night to reach Esfahan, because the flight that should have brought us there for some reason had been canceled. It is a 4 hours drive on an astonishingly well developed motorway through rough and dry landscapes, past the holy city of Ghom. The workshop was in the office of the largest steel company in Iran, a semi state company called Mubareek Steel Company. To my surprise, the CEO came by, a number of directors and approx. 30 middle management people sitting there awaiting me, and what I had to tell them about CSR. I would wish sometimes in our western companies for such great interest in CSR. So I talked all day about CSR as the business concept, about making money by doing good, about ISO 26000 and its human rights chapter, about the respect for the laws of the country and the respect for international norms of behaviour and we had an open and engaged dialogue and discussion. Nobody took any offence in touching issues that we in the West associate with Iran in a negative way and I learned a lot about their thinking just as I hope they listened carefully to what I had to say.

CSR in Iran is still in most cases about charity and donations, it is not yet in the stage of becoming a strategical tool, but it is on the way and we found some elements in Mubareek that were not named CSR but cleary related to it. internally and externally. Still there are a lot of open issues, also in this company, but we planted the seed and we will see how big the tree will become one day. My hope is that my friends from CSR Iran will be able to pick up on this kick off meeting and work with the company in the future and maybe also have me coming back again as consultant. Not only for business reasons but Esfahan is a beautiful city, as I found out at a late evening walk through the historical city centre and across the ancient bridges of the city. As they say, you see Esfahan and you have seen half of the world.

Late at night the flights were operating again and I flew with Tahereh back to Teheran having a most enlightning discussion with a young, smart, well educated Iranian girl that does not fit in any of our clichees of surpressed, rightless women in this country. Of course I am not naiv, I know of the case of the woman sentenced to be stoned and many other such cases, but Iran is not black and white, it is, as in just so many issues in different countries all over the planet, different shades of grey. And with a strong light at the horizon with these smart and eloquent girls that will find their place in society.

This impression got even stronger the next day when I held a second workshop in Teheran with participants from different sectors of society, businesses, NGOs, academics and others. The questions I got from them put them in the top league of interested, smart particpants that I have witnessed during my many travels around the globe. We had planned the workshop till 1pm, at 2pm they were still sitting there discussing with me and nobody had left. Being openly critical to some of the government policies put me in strange situation of not really knowing how to answer, so I resorted to my usual tactics, being honest and transparent and saying what I think, and I guess that was appreciated by the people.

The evening then completed this picture with a stroll through some of the shopping malls of Teheran where the young girls were showing more hair than not and holding hands with their boy friends and just having fun. Maybe I only saw one picture of Iran, but that there is such a picture is something worth to be told about and gives hope for this beautiful and great country.


Shirin Ebadi might disagree with you. There was a feature on her view of the situation in Iran in the Austrian Radio (http://oe1.orf.at/artikel/255312, in german).