Speech Dutch ambassador Jan Waltmans at CSR Lebanon Forum 25 October 2018

Honorable Minister, members of parliament, dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s great to welcome so many of you today.

I love your country, the hospitality of the Lebanese people, its natural beauty, its climate and cuisine. This is why I celebrate with you results and successes and why I discuss challenges.

Please accept my speech in that spirit.

My opening question to you today:

In what kind of Lebanon would you like to live 25 years from now? In what kind of Lebanon would you like your grandchildren to grow up?

In a Lebanon where one is advised not to enter the sea because of health risks?

In a Lebanon where one has to look for remote spots not to be confronted with garbage during a hike?

In a Lebanon that competes for topping the list of worst drinking water quality in the world?

In a Lebanon where life expectancy may decrease partly due to air, water and soil pollution?

Or would you like your grandchildren and yourself to live in a Lebanon that has addressed its problems, that has managed to reduce the impact of garbage, has improved the quality of water, has solved its electricity problem and reduced air pollution and has managed to become a country of innovation, in which one sees the entrepreneurial spirit that the Lebanese have been known for for centuries?

I trust that your answer will be in line with the latter part of my question.

Much is needed to create the better Lebanon. Yes, there are many hurdles to overcome. Yes, one can point at officials, at problems in and influence from the region, at lack of vision and action, at corruption and at refugees.

How do you want to look at what you have performed during your live? You want to be proud because of having made more money than maybe expected? Or you want to be proud of both having been successful in such terms and in having taken initiatives to build a healthier, more cohesive and more inspiring Lebanon?

You can inspire, you can make a difference. Few believed in 1975 that the water quality of main rivers in Europe, like the river Rhine, would improve enormously in the decades to come. It did happen, because local and central government agencies, civil society and the private sector managed to agree on steps to be taken. It happened because key people took the lead and inspired. This process initiated innovation, which is now turned into business opportunities.

We have come together today to focus on CSR, which is a tool to contribute to sustainability

CSR can lead to costs in the short run, but can also generate profits for the private sector in the medium and longer term.

CSR can initiate and support innovation, which can also in a wider sense be beneficial to companies and the society at large.

Both consumers and staff members of companies and organisations increasingly ask for CSR, especially in middle and high income countries. With the pressure on the environment globally and with a growing world population CSR is going to stay.

As said, we all have to play a role. It starts with awareness raising, education, teaching our children and paying attention to these issues within our organisations. Lead by example!

Good CSR practices start by applying good ethics within an organization. Providing ethical and respectable working conditions is the essential starting point for any company active in CSR.

Lebanon has been going through a waste crisis since 2014. Unfortunately and till today, there are no sustainable solutions to the problem. The solution doesn’t only start with reforms coming from the government, but also at an individual level. If people would not litter in nature and in the villages and cities, if recycling at the source would become the rule, if people used less plastic bags and bottles one would solve part of the waste problem. Government agencies would feel an even greater pressure to come up with solutions.

The Netherlands faced and faces similar challenges. And it’s only by joining our efforts and raising awareness that we are now pioneers in waste management. It has become a business model and one can make a profit out of garbage. The people in the Netherlands are increasingly aware of the consequences of our way of living, through education and other sources of information. Consumers considerations change, also in Lebanon. This has an impact on the priorities companies set. CSR is increasingly being integrated in the strategies and actions of companies.

Lebanon needs inspiration. Lebanese youth need hope. I meet youth all over the country who inspire. Volunteers in and near Rachaya who assist elderly and clean up litter. University students that find solutions for the agriculture sector via the Agrytech programme. Red Cross volunteers that work up to 20 hours a week, without salary, to help sick and wounded fellow citizens. These people inspire and are role models.

CSR and you can help them to bring change to Lebanon. Confront corruption to the extend you can, contribute as a company to limit your environmental foot print, contribute to a culture shift that will keep bright young Lebanese in Lebanon. Inspire the young generation and help to ensure that you and your grand children will live in the Lebanon one can be proud of.

Allow me to thank Khaled Kassar of CSR Lebanon for his efforts to promote CSR in Lebanon and for his contribution in bringing us together.

CSR2 Oct 2018
Dutch ambassador Jan Waltmans