THE ART OF GOOD GOVERNANCE

Dubai 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ashraf Gamal El Din, CEO of Hawkamah, on encouraging companies to understand government regulations, helping women become effective board members, and incentivizing transparency.

Ashraf Gamal El Din
BIOGRAPHY
Ashraf Gamal El Din is CEO of Hawkamah, the Institute for Corporate Governance. He is also a jury member of the Arabia CSR Award. Previously, he served as executive chairperson of Egypt Post, and as deputy executive director of the Egyptian Banking Institute, the training arm of the Central Bank of Egypt. He was also the founder and project manager of the Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center and executive director of the Egyptian Institute of Directors (EIoD). El Din holds a PhD from Manchester University, a master’s in public administration from Carleton University, and a bachelor’s in business administration from Cairo University with highest honors.

How is Hawkamah shaping the corporate governance landscape in the MENA region?

We have what we call the Hawkamah Process, which consists of four key pillars: awareness creation, policy advocacy, training courses, and implementation. Awareness creation is done with governments, regulators, and private sector actors. Within policy advocacy, we work with entities to improve on-the-ground activities. For example, we work with regulators and stock exchanges to improve listing rules, and interact with the government to make sure they have clear manuals for publicly owned companies and government institutions. Policy advocacy is where we talk about the specific things governments and regulators can do to push the agenda of governance in their constituencies. In our training courses pillar, we qualify people to sit on boards and be corporate governance advocates in their own companies. There is now a mandate for companies to have company secretaries and investment regulation officers, and we train these people to ensure they are aware of all the issues surrounding corporate governance. The final pillar is working with companies on the actual implementation. We go to ministries, state-owned companies, listed companies, banks, and family businesses to do corporate governance assessments and gap analyses to see how we can work together, improve, and help companies understand corporate governance and adherence to regulations.

How does Hawkamah promote women's representation on boards and leadership positions?

Global numbers show that women make a difference when they are on boards, so there is a business case for it. We are one of the founders of the GCC Chapter of the 30% Club, a UK-based initiative pushing women onto boards and into top management positions. We have done research on the subject: what is really happening, what are the challenges, and how can we handle these. We are working with regulators on the idea of listing rules and also do board briefings. Many of the boards we used to go to consisted only of men, so we explained to them the value of including women. We also work on the training side, establishing and launching a program three years ago with the Dubai Women's Establishment, headed by Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. In most cases, when a woman is appointed to a board, she will be the only one. Since we want to help them to have the confidence to add value, we offer training courses on how to be effective board members.

How does the S&P Hawkamah ESG Pan Arab Index incentivize good governance?

Seven years ago, we launched this index with S&P to establish a benchmark to compare countries in terms of corporate governance. Since we started the index three years before launching it to establish a track record, it really has 10 years of information and data. The index focuses on the 11 largest markets in the region, and we explore 200 variables of environmental, social, and corporate governance factors within listed companies. We were aiming to create competition between companies, and this drive to the top is exactly what we witnessed. In addition, investors look at the companies in the index and create portfolios based on that information. Our studies show that ROI is higher among the companies that are tracked by this index. This is why companies are competing to be on our index, as well as to be at the top. Every year, we announce the top-10 companies in the region in addition to the top 50. Those that want to be in the top 10 ask us what they need to do to gain entry to this listing, which is when we explain their weaknesses. This is a healthy competition that is a highly effective way for Hawkamah to promote corporate governance. We also have an agreement with Dubai Financial Market (DFM) in which we mandate certain governance requirements for listed companies in Dubai.