Under the High Patronage of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Lebanon General Michel SLEIMAN, “The 1st Beirut Conference – Towards an Economy Serving Mankind” will be held on 25 & 26 March, 2013 at Hilton, Beirut Habtoor Grand Hotel.
This prestigious event is organized by UNIAPAC and MA’AM. UNIAPAC is a federation of associations gathering more than 15 000 Christian Business Leaders from 30 countries. MA’AM, the Islamic-Christian Forum for Businessmen is an association whose sole purpose is to determine the motivations, practices and controls of business leaders’ behaviors in organizations.
On this occasion, ifpinfo had the following interview with Raymond Sfeir, Member of EDC (Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers) since 1989 and founder in Lebanon of the Associations EDC and MA’AM (the Islamic-Christian Forum for Businessmen). He is also the founder and President of BMACOM.
1. When was MA’AM established and what are its objectives?
It happened that I have been chosen to represent EDC (Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers) among the 32 associations in France gathered to study the challenges that Globalization will present
Through my experience, I realized that in our age of globalization, we are facing four major issues constituting a real threat to mankind. The first issue is migration, the second is dangerously harming the environment, the third is the richness creation and the forth issue is governance.
Moreover, we discovered that the confusion between economy and finance would eventually lead to disasters and wars. We discovered this in 2004 and our concerns proved right. The outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 is the best example that an entire economy can collapse due to an increasing debt in the housing market.
Yet, in 2004 I had the chance to participate in the creation of The Livre Blanc (White Book – Dialogues for a livable earth). The Livre Blanc’s foreword emphasizes on the fact that this book reflects a quite different way than the one initially planned. Rather than relying on their a priori knowledge about the stakes of globalization, those who led this initiative had to give up first their certainties and leave aside very basic interpretation schemes. It is thus the story of a mutual listening to quite different globalization perceptions: business leaders’, employees’ or farmers’ professional stands but also Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox very differing traditions. I found this book so life enriching that I decided to translate it into Arabic to make it accessible to our Arab brothers.
So after getting the authorization to translate “The White Book” into Arabic, I asked for Bkirki’s and the patriarch’s approval and help. It took around two years for a group of scholars to translate The Livre Blanc in line with the social thoughts of the Church. The outcome was outstanding.
We also prepared a database of 1,740 personal addresses of current prime ministers, ministers, Arab ambassadors in the Arab region and around the world. We sent this book personally to each of them. Actually, we received around 70 feedbacks including “thank you“, “great”, “we loved the book” notes. To be honest, we had not expected this number of feedbacks.
I discussed the issue with Pierre Le Coq and, encouraged by the feedback on the book we decided to establish EDC (Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers) Lebanon. We initiated this work in 2005 and EDC Lebanon was created in 2007. As one thing follows another, the idea of MA’AM (the Islamic-Christian Forum for Businessmen) began to formulate in our mind.
I met with the Patriarch and explained my idea to him. He was excited and encouraged me to go ahead.
Meanwhile, UNIAPAC (Union Internationale des Associations de Patrons Chrétiens) – representing about 16,000 business leaders around the world willing to promote, in the light of Christian social teachings, a vision and a deployment of corporate social responsibility serving people and global common good – had written a document, actually a book, called “Value of Values”. It is a Christian outlook of corporate social responsibility. I translated this book as well and this time, sent it to 2,700 addresses.
2. Now we are relating economy with Faith. How are they related?
It’s all about how our corporate social responsibilities are enlightened by our values, which are the same for Christians and Muslims alike. I mean believing God to be honest, to look to our employees as human beings, to look at money as a mean to do justice, believing in equality and solidarity. Basically, these are the main values that govern our social needs.
The translation of “Value of Values” became a joint venture between Christians and Muslims. We asked a Bishop and a Muslim sheikh to write the introduction. We’re not talking about the Christian way anymore. It’s the believer’s way of dealing with society. By that time, I started talking with businessmen from all Lebanese sects.
We explained the reasons of calling the group EDC “Entrepreneurs et Dirigeants Chrétiens”initially and also why it was better to name it “Entrepreneurs et Dirigeants Croyants” in Lebanon, believers. And actually businessmen from all sects, Muslims and Christians started joining our group.
And this is how MA’AM (the Islamic-Christian Forum for Businessmen) was founded in 2009. MA’AM is currently chaired by Cheikh Mohamed Nokkari and I’m the Secretary-General.
3. What can you say about MA’AM’s objectives?
The objectives are very important. You know that in terms of corporate social responsibility there is now something called ISO 26000 but at that time it was not yet up and running. ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has launched an International Standard providing guidelines for social responsibility (SR) named ISO 26000 or simply ISO SR and it was released in November 2010.
As a guidance document the ISO 26000 is an offer, voluntary in use, and encourages organizations to discuss their social responsibility issues and possible actions with relevant stakeholders. As service providers, certification bodies do not belong to an organization’s stakeholders. ISO 26000 encourages reconsidering an organization’s social responsibility or “socially responsible behavior” and identifying or selecting from its recommendations the ones it could apply to contribute to the society. Stakeholders are shareholders, employees, customers, the government and the environment. Environment is what’s surrounding the company itself. We should take care of all these elements without sacrificing one to another.
Our objective is economic but we are concerned about an economy that gathers all these elements. We don’t confuse economy with finance. “What is the difference between economy and finance? A very important Lebanese personality asked me once to consider both terms identical. In Lebanon we have a saying that ‘a weapon in the hands of the weak could hurt’ and this is true. We should admit that today finance is a ‘weapon’ that’s hurting people and not just the economy. Unfortunately, nowadays economy is serving the finance instead of the finance serving the economy, which should be the normal trend. So this is why we advocate values that should govern our actions and give us courage and hope to go forward.’’
4. And what did you discover?
For values we are studying the Quran, the Nahj El Balagha book (A collection of the words of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib), the Hadith of the Prophet, and the Bible. We amazingly discovered that the core values governing social order are the same in all religions.
This finding gave us an important push to go forward and to say that you cannot play with these values. They are meant to guide you. For instance, in the Quran it is said that you cannot accumulate all money in the hand of one. It is dangerous. In the Quran, Allah doesn’t allow for one person to get so rich and control everything. The real value is not positioning yourself toward East or West to pray, the real value is to believe in God, to give and help your brother who’s in need and even help the stranger who’s passing by. And this is also what Christians believe in.
5. So what did you conclude?
We are not concluding, we are extracting. Religions, all religions exist to sustain life on Earth for a longer time. They are also meant to guide men and ensure their progress. You also have rules for the medium term. Then, you have the decisions of the clergy which are applicable for the short term. Then we have our decisions which are instant and daily. Nowadays, this pattern of rules is in a chaotic situation. So we’re not inventing new rules but reminding the already existing ones that are offered to us by the holy books to rearrange our lives according to the values of God.
6. Are these objectives applied by the members?
It should be but I cannot affirm it’s broadly applied. We’re not in the middle of a theoretical or theological discussion. We apply the rules and the values not according to the books but to our understanding of the books. The picture of the finger that points to the moon explains our approach. There’s a saying that when a finger point to the moon, the wise look at the moon not at the finger. This is important. And I think this will be our core discussion for many years to come. We should look to the future and we should look to the objectives and not to the books which are telling us where to go. The books give us the tools for everyday use like suavity in the Christian doctrine. Suavity is a very important value to us. It means we should help our workers and employees to have a safe and healthful workplace. It means we should help them to get back on their feet when they face a financial problem. Do we have any published item that shows this way? You know any book that combines these values? The “Value of Values” can definitely perform this task.
7. Does MA’AM have an organogram?
Of course, it’s a legally registered Lebanese organization. We have a president, a vice president, a secretary general and so on.
Currently, we are a small group of person meeting every month, every last Thursday of the month. We are a small group but working intensely to draw the paths up the mountain. We are not here to practice something. We are here to know how we practice and each one of us could practice anything. For instance I’m now organizing the Beirut conference but we all realize that practicing should be governed by the rules and the values mentioned above.
8. How was the idea of Beirut conference born?
Actually, the idea of Beirut conference was born when Pierre Le Coq and I realized that this kind of conference is necessary to carry on a dialogue between Christian and Muslim businessmen. We said why don’t we bring together EDC believers? So in March 2011, we held a symposium in Beirut inviting 70 Christian and Muslim business owners and managers from 17 countries. The result was really exceptional.
Following the symposium’s success, UNIAPAC, MA’AM and the IFP Group have partnered together to organize the Beirut Conference, scheduled for March 2013, highlighting the importance of practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in today’s economy as a valuable and ethical approach to both individual and societal development.
The Beirut conference will be held under the High Patronage of His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Lebanon, General Michel SLEIMAN.
It is supported by international institutions including BDL (Banque du Liban), EADS – France, L’Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP) – Morocco, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – Germany, and Les Entrepreneurs et Dirigeants Chrétiens (EDC) – France.
The conference also received the support of Lebanon’s official bodies; The Federation of Arab Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI) and the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mont Liban(CCIA); as well as top universities including the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanese University (LU), Beirut Arab University (BAU), and Université St Joseph (USJ), LAU, …
The Beirut Conference will gather around 500 international Muslim and Christian business leaders from all business, industries, officials and renowned religious leaders, key people in the political and economic sectors, and the media under one roof, to participate in a sequence of roundtables headed by international speakers, who are important players in the adoption of CSR. They will be addressing crucial topics and tactics on how to employ, develop and benefit from Corporate Social Responsibility in your business and economy.
9. So what are the main objectives of this conference? What would you like to conclude with?
• Allowing businessmen to talk to businessmen of the values that lead our behaviors
• Encouraging the establishment of businesses that apply Corporate Social Responsibility
• Promoting equality, a fair distribution of income, and hiring a workforce from diverse racial backgrounds
• Contributing to building a new free global economy with a good balance between the free market and Corporate Social Responsibility
• Opening the way for new perspectives for global economic, environmental and social sustainable growth
• Establishing an efficient and effective platform for top notch businessmen to think and plan together for a better economy
• Integrating religious values with corporate practices so that the economy serves mankind rather than exploiting them, making the work environment more favorable
10. Who are the major speakers?
Speakers and moderators are renowned international figures, including the following:
– Cardinal Turkson, Président of the Pontifical Council Justice & Peace, Vatican
– Mr. Pascal Lamy, Director General of WTO
– Mr. Adnan KASSAR President of the Federation of Arab Chambers of Commerce and Industries
– Mr. Louis Gallois, Former President of EADS
– Mr. Jan Peter Balkenende, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands
– Mr. Mustafa Terrab, President & CEO, Office Chérifien du Phosphate
– Mr. Pierre Lecocq, President of UNIAPAC
– Sheikh Mohammed Nokkari, President of MA’AM
And myself, as General Secretary of MA’AM
11. Actually the Beirut conference is not about religion. It is about pious values that will lead to better economy, better future life, am I right?
Yes, and today we still cannot clearly define the future. Through conferences like the one that will be held in Beirut on 25 and 26 March, we will try to find viable means to create an efficient and economically sustainable society where human beings are considered as the end and not the means. This is at least what we think and plan to achieve.
12. This is your objective in general. Now what about the conference as a gathering place for businessmen of different cultural backgrounds?
Our second target is to create a meeting point where participants from different cultures and spiritualties can network and then keep on cooperating according to our values of better social engagement for a long time.