Integrity + Relationships = Return: Leadership, Public Relations and UAE Altruism

What’s the internal rate of return (IRR) for leadership altruism? What’s the connection between creating a follower-friendly identity and being a good leader? It’s complicated!

Personal chef Jean Crovato, profiled in today’s Washington Post, praised her longterm employer, Joseph Robert Jr. for teaching her that the business term “internal rate of return” really means working with Integrity, building Relationships, and only then, getting a Return.” What Roberts understood is that everything needs an authentic and connected investment.

The United Arab Emirate (UAE) has been following that principle in the United States, most recently donating $100,000 to give tornado-torn Joplin, MO schools a step up.

The What:

“Today, the nearly 2,200 high school students in Joplin each have their own UAE-funded MacBook laptop, which they use to absorb lessons, perform homework and take tests. Across the city, the UAE is spending $5 million to build a neonatal intensive-care unit at Mercy Hospital, which also was ripped apart by the tornado.”

AP: Hope High School in Joplin

AP: Hope High School in Joplin

The Why:

“The gifts are part of an ambitious campaign by the UAE government to assist needy communities in the United States. Motivated by the same principal reasons that the U.S. government distributes foreign assistance — to help those less fortunate and to influence perceptions among the recipients — the handouts mark a small but remarkable shift in global economic power.”

The Flap:

Although the UAE have been allies in the international fight against terrorism, there’s been a great deal of controversy about this generosity.

Some Joplin citizens have called it “blood money.” Conservative talk show host Debbie Schlussel is afraid that the ongoing “cultural exchange” between Joplin and the UAE might have dire consequences, including “the chance to bring anti-American, anti-Israel, and pan-Muslim speakers to Joplin High?” She accuses the Joplin officials who accepted the gift as being “dhimmi whores for jihad.” It’s a shame she resorts to this kind of inflammatory and out-of-touch rhetoric to answer what’s actually a good question — where’s the national aid for these school systems?

But I expect she will not be the only right wing pundit to milk this event for all its worth — namely fear-mongering and xenophobia. And milder critics are already up in arms because of the implications of this kind of foreign aid and investment. Sure, we need the help, they seem to say, but why can’t we just  help ourselves? So the debate is on.

The Leadership Implications:

But in terms of leadership, this case study teaches us some interesting lessons.

The UAE is demonstrating good leadership — putting its money consistently in hospitals and education and in communities with genuine need — and good PR at the same time.

They’ve changed their donation strategy to make sure their help is real, and their presence is visible. “The UAE did not want to just hand over money as it had done after Katrina, risking involvement in programs that might be plagued with waste and mismanagement, and it didn’t want to simply rebuild what had been damaged by the tornado. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we bring to Joplin that probably won’t be forthcoming from anywhere else?’ ” Otaiba said. “We wanted to bring them something they didn’t have before.” (From the Post article)

So there’s an effort for authenticity in their effort to address public opinion. “The UAE’s unusual approach has its roots in the 2006 controversy that erupted when a firm based in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, sought to take over the management of six U.S. ports. Intense congressional opposition, some of it resulting from misperceptions about the UAE’s relationship with the United States, scuttled the deal. Afterward, the embassy commissioned a survey of American attitudes toward the UAE” and found that 70% of Americans had no opinion about the UAE.  So this, and other humanitarian efforts, are designed to change that nil to a positive.

This initiative is no different from the same offerings the US makes via international aid. Altruism and PR are married in these collaborative leadership initiatives — it’s about national identity and international influence as much as a desire to do good deeds.

Who is the human leader behind this initiative? Ambassador Otaiba, doing what ambassadors usually do, and more….

Yousef al Otalba

Yousef al Otalba

In addition to giving talks and meeting with government officials, “Otaiba, who received a master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University and has a nuanced understanding of American politics, figured he needed to do more than just talk.” He started sharing multimillion dollar support in 2009; the Joplin initiative is simply the most recent.

Three leadership qualities shine through this kind of humanitarian gift:

1. An international and inter-cultural understanding of how to communicate a leadership message through action, not merely words.

2. A willingness to use resources available for meaningful presence.

3. A steady, calm and helpful presence in the face of fear — in this case anti-Islam projection, and the ongoing struggle to eradicate terrorism.

So, can we trust this leadership? Sure, as much as we trust Marriott’s five-point strategy to support green living in its hotels, or the new global initiatives for multinationals to invest socially and support clean environments in the communities where their workers come from.

So how cynical are you feeling today? Is this kind of humanitarian aid a gift horse whose hidden agenda is dangerous to us? Or is it a good way to share the wealth and dispel negative feelings? What do we as followers need to ask — and know — about this common leadership initiative from leaders with money and power?

One comment

  1. Great article but one of the best leaders in Middle east is undoubtedly P Mohamed ali and even awarded the best leader here by the sultanate of Oman: http://www.timesofoman.com/article/25767/Business/Dr-Mohammed-Ali-bags-special-award-for-leadership

    Like

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