In a region where governments have ambitious visions to control the effects of climate change and increase energy efficiency, the corporate sector lags. To turn the tide, visionary entrepreneur, Samie Al-Achrafi appeals to fellow corporate leaders in the GCC to follow in his footsteps and become a Certified B Corporation, just like his leadership consultancy, Marmalade Fish. To date the only such corporation in the region.
By Arthur Blok
“Yesterday, I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.” This quote by Persian poet Mohamed Jalal ad-Din Balkhi Rumi inspires al-Achrafi in all aspects of his life: “You can fix and change things for the better in the world by changing yourself.”
Can anyone disagree with that? It is in our human nature to place the blame on someone else. In essence, that is humanity’s biggest pitfall. Al-Achrafi always asks himself questions like how to honor the eco-system in which business belongs.
Al Achrafi: “The corporate sector can no longer be a bystander in the community that gave its life in the first place. I am not only talking about nature and the environment but also the people. It is a new trend to look for a company that does not act in corrupt or shady ways but does some good to the world.”
From this perspective, Marmalade Fish is unique in the Middle East and Gulf region. It is a corporate consultancy agency that donates five percent of its revenues yearly, not profit, to a charitable cause as part of its certified B-Corporation status. It is the first dedicated value change of purpose consultancy.
Independent B Lab
It has supported numerous projects since its certification in 2016. From nature reserves in Madagascar to schools in Nigeria and indigenous tribes in the Amazon when the fires endangered them in 2020. Al-Achrafi: “In the latter, we were able to move quickly with the allocation of funds because we are a small business.”
How do you know the money lands well? “That is, of course, a challenge. The independent B Lab checks everything we do. To keep our certification, we need to be able to evidence our impact.”
Certified B Corporations are new leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. Unlike other business certifications, B Lab is unique in measuring a company’s fundamental social and environmental impact.
Al-Achrafi acknowledged that financial support does not guarantee success. “You need to elaborate on a charitable donation plan and clarify how it is aligned with the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All questions with rather complex answers. That is the challenge of it.”
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global cultural shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
In a dynamic region of almost 60 million people, Al-Achrafi’s Marmalade Fish is the only certified B Corp. First certified in 2016 and re-certified in 2019. This is a sharp contrast in a region where governments like the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia advocate ambitious plans to control climate change’s effects and emissions and increase energy efficiency.
Al-Achrafi: “The other day, I heard someone propose to create a B-Corp movement. My response was: what a wonderful idea indeed. I would love to help you become a B Corp and turn it into a regional movement. Unfortunately, until this day we are the only one in the GCC. To place that in perspective, Luxembourg, a mini-state of roughly 650.000 inhabitants, has four.”
That is a fair remark indeed. Why is there only one B Corp in a region with so many ambitious corporate leaders who profile themselves as part of global change? Despite various governments’ efforts in this region to be more sustainable.
Al-Achrafi: “Is it that leaders in this part of the world do care but are not aware of B Corp? Or are they aware and is it not a priority? Do not get me wrong, B Corp is not the solution, but it is a viable option. B Lab says: do not be the best in the world, be the best for the world.”
The Syrian-British entrepreneur is looking for followers. Which local enterprise will be the first to follow in his footsteps? “There is a saying that you can only be a leader if you have a follower. I challenge the corporate sector to get a B Corp certification themselves. Please join us.”
He continued: “Instead of foosball tables, Friday afternoon drinks, or similar extra, we spend five percent of our earnings on a charitable or sustainable goal. The cost of doing business is usually toxic, while we think that doing business can also be purposeful and profitable for other communities.
In the past 20 years, humanity has evolved from a face-to-face society to a less humanistic idealistic digital world where social media dominates. Digital media that an enormous diffusion and their influence on the behavior of a vast part of the human population is immense.
Al-Achrafi: “Just posting a hashtag on Instagram or LinkedIn on the International Day of Peace does not mean anything, nor does it make any difference. There is no substance, meaning, or debt to it. Not even if you are an - opinion - leader. It only makes people feel good about themselves but does not change anything.”
Al-Achrafi created Marmalade Fish in 2015 with the bold ambition of fundamentally re-evaluating the relationship between employer and employee. A global learning and management consultancy that partners with leading businesses across the globe to sustainably deliver on their organizational ambitions.
He raises some valid points, even when translated into daily practice. A dynamic metropole like Dubai, where he resides, struggles with air pollution, which is often way out of control. “When was the last time you saw a clear blue sky for a few days? I cannot remember it even. How do we bring awareness to the people in a gentle way?”
Air pollution is the most significant global environmental threat to public health and accounts for an estimated 7 million premature deaths yearly, over 600 in the UAE. In all fairness, one can not only look at the country’s leadership to solve that; people must change their habits, Al-Achrafi emphasized.
“It is exactly what Rumi said. Change yourself. If you pick up your children from school, do you have to let your car run, so it stays cool? If you are doing groceries, do you have to take your car? Why not take your bike or walk to the supermarket? If you have colleagues that live nearby, consider car-sharing. There are so many ways to make a difference in all aspects of your life. Why not try it?”