UN Dispatch Exclusive: Interview with Dr. Nasser Marafih, CEO of Ooredoo

Clinton Global Initiative, New York – UN Dispatch sat down with Dr. Nasser Marafih, Group CEO of Ooredoo, a global mobile telecommunications company participating in the Clinton Global Initiative for the first time this year. And while this is the company’s first year at the annual meeting, Ooredoo already has a long track record of community engagement and a robust corporate social responsibility mandate.

Ooredoo is a Qatar-based company operating in roughly 15 countries and a customer based of approximately 92 million people. Dr. Marafih explained that the company, from its inception, has taken their social mandate seriously. Indeed, he said, Qatar is a country where philanthropy and support for economic and community development is a serious commitment, and at the heart of  Ooredoo’s corporate culture. The company has developed innovative, mobile-based programs in countries where it operates – for example, an initiative in Tunisia to help people access information about jobs and employment opportunities.

Recently, Ooredoo won one of the two licenses made available to foreign operators in Myanmar, a nation with 60 million people where there is currently only a 10% mobile penetration rate. In addition to the thousands of jobs this contract will generate, as part of their mandate, Ooredoo is partnering up with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to create 30,000 jobs geared towards women in rural communities. What’s most interesting about this initiative is the fact that instead of providing funds to create these jobs, Ooredoo will employ these 30,000 women as distributors and sales agents. The women will receive training and learn new skills, which will not only ultimately serve them in their new jobs selling airtime for Ooredoo but also help women achieve greater financial independence.

A similar program was developed by Ooredoo and the Cherie Blair Foundation in Indonesia, which Dr. Marafih says was “very successful” in generating new economic opportunities for women. As part of this initiative in Indonesia, Ooredoo also built a portal to support women entrepreneurs in Indonesia have access to information about loans, market data, and other key tools to enable them to grow their business. In the context of the Myanmar initiative, Dr. Marafih explained that the role of the Cherie Blair Foundation is to design and structure the program to select and train the thousands of women who will be employed by Ooredoo – a great example of institutional cooperation where each partner leverages their core capabilities to enable the success of the initiative.

Today, global telecommunications companies such as Ooredoo have a critical role to play in developing and providing not only the infrastructure required for growth and development, but also the services and programs that support “human growth”, as Dr. Marafih explained. Indeed, in Myanmar, “telecom services are a critical part of the infrastructure to support services as well as other industries”, he said. In addition to mobile infrastructure development and increasing access to mobile communications, Ooredoo also supports content development: mobile banking, education and healthcare applications to help empower people with typically little access to data and information. In Myanmar, the company will also commit $60 million towards local corporate social responsibility efforts which will help fund programs designed to help unleash economic potential through education, access to information and services for entrepreneurs.

By the end of 2015, 95% of people in the world will have access to a mobile device. Today, there are already 7 billion mobile connections globally, and 2 billion Internet connections. Given the quasi-universal coverage of mobile telecommunications, it’s encouraging – and frankly, exciting – to see companies like Ooredoo, who hold the key to what’s now become one of our most fundamental tools – the mobile device –  firmly focused on their social mandate.