BasNews (Erbil)

By Kira Walker

“We’re a visitor here and we try to leave it a better place than we found,” said Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. co-founder Todd F. Kozel.

Through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, international oil companies (IOC’s) are making positive contributions to the social and economic development of the Kurdistan Region by taking responsibility for their actions – social, ethically and environmentally, and fostering the best possible relationships with the communities in which they work.

Companies are mandated in their production sharing contracts to give back to the communities in which they work. Agreements are signed with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and yearly payments are made, from which the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) then allocates funds for capacity building projects.

Additionally, and at their own discretion, companies put voluntary funds towards CSR programs to help them earn, secure or retain social licences to operate.

“A sound CSR strategy is a vehicle to achieving sustainability,” noted Maya Khouri, CSR Program Manager at Aamina Iraq.

According to Khouri, CSR was first implemented in Kurdistan in an ad-hoc manner while companies were in the exploration stage of operations. Unsure if they would have a long-term presence in Kurdistan, companies were not as willing to invest much and most CSR initiatives came in the form of small donations like school supplies.

But, Khouri said, a shift has taken place since the arrival of large IOCs in Kurdistan like ExxonMobil, Gazprom and Chevron.

“Because of their reputation, the bigger companies can’t afford to mess up. They have big in-house CSR teams and the focus is on long-term impact projects that will benefit the people,” Khouri explained.

Despite the good intentions of CSR programs, locals were initially skeptical that their communities stood to benefit from both the resources and companies, because in the past, money gained from resources was used towards the oppression of Kurds.

But that attitude is changing, said Shaho Hussain, CSR Advisor to the KRG’s MNR, and people are starting to have high expectations when oil companies move into their communities that they will enhance their social and economic welfare.

Among the most notable and positive CSR contributions to the development of the Kurdistan Region was $40 million in funding and organization support for the Kurdistan Children’s Hospital by Oryx Petroleum Corporation Ltd. The funding towards the hospital was part of their CSR community outreach program which also includes education and health services.

The not-for-profit children and maternity tertiary referral hospital currently under construction on the outskirts of Erbil is set to open in March 2014. The facility will act as a benchmark, improving children’s healthcare services to international standards unrivalled across all of Iraq.

Western Zagros is another company that has done a great job, Khouri said.

“They care about the communities and have really given back. They weren’t looking for publicity and were led by  management that took initiative on their own,” Khouri added.

Western Zagros focuses on five key CSR initiatives: local employment, water supply, education, health care and youth recreation.

“We believe that our presence has a positive impact on the local community, assisting to promote sustainable development and improving the quality of life,” their website notes.

As part of their commitment to the development of the Kurdistan Region and its people, Marathon Oil, along with their partner Total, established the Kurdish Merit Scholarship Program this year.

“The scholarship is the first of its kind for undergraduate study abroad and provides support for students in petroleum related fields with the intent that they’ll return home and become tomorrow’s leaders in the oil and gas industry,” said Adel Chaouch, President and General Manager of Marathon Oil.

Up to seven Kurdish high school students will be selected to study an oil and gas undergraduate program at Texas A&M University, renowned for its high standards in educating petroleum professionals.

Marathon has a wide-range of other CSR initiatives in Kurdistan related to education, improving infrastructure, environment, adult literacy and refugee relief support.

Gulf Keystone have placed a heavy focus on the training and professional development of local employees to increase local capacity, including English language, IT and driving skills. Currently, 75% of staff are Kurdish employees, though their aim is to increase this to 80%.

They also work with local universities to provide invaluable field experience for students and fund a number of scholarships for short-term and long-term technical courses in the UK for Kurdish employees.

Gulf Keystone have also assisted the Syrian refugees who have spilled over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan as a result of the ongoing conflict.

“This fall, we helped with the plight of the Syrian refugees by pledging $1 per barrel produced towards their support, estimated to be $10-$12 million dollars in total,” said Kozel.

GardaWorld, a global risk management and security services company operating in the Kurdistan region, also extended their CSR programs to assist Syrian refugees by donating funds for the purchase of ShelterBoxes, kits that typically consist of a disaster relief tent large enough to accommodate an extended family, blankets, groundsheets, water storage and filtration equipment, cooking utensils, a basic toolkit and a children’s activity pack, among other vital items.

Additionally, GardaWorld also supports weekly visits by an expatriate medical team and a local doctor to remote villages throughout Kurdistan to provide primary care medical treatment and medical supplies. If a patient requires further treatment, they are transported to the nearest city in a company ambulance.

“Since we started working in Kurdistan, we have conducted over 1,000 medical outreach programs to rural communities,” said Andy Edwards, Managing Director for GardaWorld Iraq.

Edwards noted they also conduct frequent and numerous training programs to facilitate the training of locals in a broad range of security-related services and skills.
“CSR is applied to everything we do,” Edwards noted.

GardaWorld maintains that their strong belief in and culture of local engagement distinguishes them from other operators in the region and “underscores our ongoing commitment to Kurdistan, its people and its future.”


As per KRG's agreement with the Iraqi government and under the 2015 Budget Law


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