Whenever we think of the digital age, we visualize technology as an agent that transformed how humans function in the world. But the truth is that people have had more of an impact on technology than we could ever imagine. In fact, it isn’t nearly as acknowledged that it is humanity itself that shapes technology and that with every single passing day we hone and transform the role it plays in our lives. In essence, technology is very human with its purpose: to serve human needs and cater to our ever-changing habits. It is with this realization that we can today, more than ever, begin to cast light on the human side of technology, especially in telecommunications.
Here in Lebanon, Alfa has been at the forefront of that for years, leading the tech revolution to boost Lebanese happiness. On the social level, they’ve pioneered the way forward.
By providing 360o community partnership, Alfa’s way of doing business by thinking of telco as a way to improve the quality of life is shown through: supporting national initiatives, building the ecosystem which supports entrepreneurs and SMEs, and focusing on the importance of communication technology for sustainable development and economic growth.
In short, the digital revolution can contribute significantly to the well-being of people and households, increasing health status, education, social connections, and environmental and governmental service quality, which shall optimize their time and energy. Alfa has known this from the very beginning, which is why the telco has made it its mission to be at the head of it for all of society.
Alfa changes destinies through its sustainability commitment – specifically Sustainable Development Goals numbers 3, 9 and 10 – and the Alfa 4-Life CSR program, targeting those who they call, and urge everyone to call, “The People with an Iron Will” (whom make up 3.3% of their own employees). These goals include empowering the visually and hearing impaired, supporting inclusion through the arts, and raising mental health awareness.
This is all not to mention how Alfa supports the next generation through initiatives such as Girls in ICT Day, the Alfa & Ericsson IoT Award, and Alfa A+ for University Students.
Alfa is also committed to reducing electronic waste, resulting in CSR initiatives to protect our environment.
As part of the Alfa 4-Nature program, Alfa launched an environmental initiative, among the most impactful worldwide, in line with its commitment to the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Plan. In October of 2018, the telco launched a first-of-a-kind recycling platform that involved the packing of 460 tons of expired e-waste including outdated transmitters and antennas that were stored in warehouses. Alfa then shipped them to Sweden where they were recycled according to international standards.
Finally, the telco recognizes that every single citizen has the right to the best connections. This is why three out of four subscribers are using Alfa’s data network because they know it provides the best internet connection, complete with higher speeds, top reliability, and optimized performance. For the last 25 years, Alfa has been offering the latest technologies and they are pioneering the journey to 5G.
Moreover, Alfa is more than proud today to reveal the human side of telco, and they will continue in leading Lebanon’s journey forward in the “HUMAN” technological revolution as the country’s happiness provider and human operator.
Alfa has always stood by the Lebanese people as the country’s #1 telecom operator. In fact, it contributes to more than 1.3% of the economy’s GDP, making it an ally for the future ahead. Also, with social media platforms, messenger services, and streaming platforms being used every day, Alfa makes sure 93% of its smartphone users are always connected to enjoy their mobiles to the fullest.
Interview with Marwan Hayek, CEO and Chairman, Alfa
Alfa: Shifting the telco paradigm towards humanity
5G: The future is right here
Congratulations, Marwan, on your 5G launch. Thanks to it, Lebanon is now among the first regional operators to enable 5G. How do you describe this moment?
Yes, Alfa is now officially in the 5G camp. A year ago, during our first 5G tests in Lebanon, together with you, Toni, at TR Summit, we promised and today we delivered our first 5G live sites in Lebanon in three strategic locations, one of them is at the Presidential Palace. This is a tremendous milestone and moment for us at Alfa. It wasn’t easy, the build up to this moment started 10 years ago when we started our journey of shifting Alfa from a traditional operator to a leading digital service provider. As we have always been pioneers, and the first to introduce 3G, 4G, and 4G+, today we were also the first to go live with 5G on 5 September 2019: a date we will remember and cherish forever. Provided the current global economic situation and the stagnation facing worldwide economies, 5G will serve as a catalyst of future growth. It will lift mobile into a technology that changes the world and will support a thriving value chain by creating more than 22 million jobs globally. Over the next 15 years, 5G contribution to the Lebanese GDP is forecasted at around $2 billion.
Alfa’s impact on people
There is no doubt that Alfa’s role has changed to go in tandem with the evolution of the telecoms sector. How did this evolution impact people? And how has the progress achieved by Alfa affected people’s lives?
Alfa has always stood by the Lebanese people as the country’s #1 telecom operator. In fact, today, we contribute to more than 1.3% of the economy’s GDP, making Alfa an ally for the future ahead. Our commitment to connecting Lebanon and empowering it with latest technologies has been at the heart of our roadmap. Many of your readers might not know that I started my career in Alfa as an engineer in 1994 and I went back to assume my current post in 2010, and as I look back at these 25 years, I can’t but feel proud of what Alfa has transformed into today: a beehive of innovation and hard work and a changemaker in our community.
Alfa has been evolving steadily into what I call today, a happiness provider. In 25 years, we grew from a small operator to a digital operator serving over two million subscribers and empowering them with highest worldwide speeds. The impact is tangible. Today, more than 1.7 million active data subscribers rely on our network for their connectivity needs. What is more interesting is that 4G is quickly overtaking 3G and dominating user trends. By the end of July 2019, 80% of these data users were on 4G, a massive growth in just a few months. 4G is currently the dominating network worldwide, exceeding half of global connections as per GSMA. I am proud to say that almost all Lebanon is covered with 4G and all our subscribers, in main cities as well as in remote areas, are empowered by this leading technology. Lebanon today is positioned in advanced ranks among global counterparts in terms of its mobile network. Our national mobile broadband network ranks in 30th position worldwide, moving from 80th worldwide in less than three years. Furthermore, Lebanon and Alfa are ranked today among the top f operators in MENA and 30th around the globe in terms of 4G speeds and reliability.
The fixed internet is still facing major challenges, which means that mobile is the driving force behind Lebanon’s telco growth and it is crucial for us to keep the momentum ongoing. Today, Alfa serves almost half of the Lebanese population, and more than half of our subscribers are mobile users who consume 155 TB per day. Besides this, our 4G speeds enable 250 mbps of connectivity all over Lebanon, as we believe that mobile data services are no longer a luxury but a basic human right.
Building the ecosystem
Our strive to building the ecosystem which endorses innovation and enables fruition of dreams into success stories has been part of Alfa’s DNA in line with our ambitious journey to evolve into a digital service provider. It is also part of our commitment to the UN’s SDGs agenda and my role as SDG 9 leader in Lebanon in which we commit to empowering Lebanon with the latest infrastructure and innovation. Besides our impact on SDG9 in Lebanon which has been massive, through our investments, we contributed to our community and to expanding our economy stimulating more than 3000 job opportunities in the ICT sector. We have secured financing for ideas and have injected $3M in the funding of start-ups so far. And with social media platforms, messenger services, and streaming platforms being used every day, we make sure our smartphone users are always connected to enjoy their mobiles to the fullest.
People with Iron Will: Alfa’s forever Cause as a happiness provider, and a responsible corporate citizen, community partnership is at the heart of what we do. Hence, our technological commitment can’t be complete without the human role we play towards supporting and empowering our community and contributing to its wellbeing. Our impact on reducing inequalities through our “Alfa 4-Life” CSR Program has entitled us to become a leader and role model and has allowed us to make a change in the lives of more than 3000 persons with Iron Will and launch initiatives that have created a cycle of change and raised awareness. In fact in Alfa, our pride is derived from our commitment to CSR and sustainability. Since 2006, we have launched more than 70 initiatives in support of People with Iron Will which helped raise awareness and create a larger chain of change. We take the cause of People with Iron Will at heart. Since we believe that we must be initiators of change and not wait for change to come, I am proud to have been personally behind launching the initiative to change the denomination of people with disabilities and eliminate it completely from the law and our vocab. I launched the People with Iron Will terminology in 2017, and since then I have lobbied for its endorsement and I took this cause to the UN and called for its adoption. Today, I am proud to say that this initiative has been endorsed by official Ministries and governmental bodies and this is just the start to what’s more impactful and bigger.
One Connected Alfa Family Happiness can’t be complete without the strong internal bond. As we evolve, this growth is nurtured from within to blossom and make an impact on the entire community. As such, our investment in our people, the Alfa team, or as we call it our Alfa family is what makes us strong and paves the way to our achievements knowing that we can rely on a safety net. We are an organization who embraces diversity since inception. And we are very proud to have amongst our family a dear to the heart People with Iron Will population which makes 3.3% of our family. The law stipulates a 3% quota and is yet to be enforced, however, we have exceeded this quota. Our Iron Will workforce serves as an example of determination to their colleagues and to the community at large. Women are our precious asset. We have a strong, dedicated and inspiring ladies’ team who make up almost half of our Alfa family juggling between their family duties while being fully committed to their career and Alfa’s mission. We are proud to have built an environment of excellence by being the first operator in MENA to acquire the three ISO certifications ISO 39001 (Road Safety), ISO 14001 (Environment) and ISO 45001 (Operational Health & Safety).
The CSR journey
This CSR strategy by Alfa – Alfa 4Life - is among the most impactful in Lebanon and as the CEO and Chairman, you have always been very active in supporting humanitarian causes. Why is it important for a telecom operator not to neglect CSR?
CSR is no longer a nice thing to do. In fact, currently it is a must do. Companies with no CSR and sustainable development commitment are considered isolated from their surroundings, living on another planet and out of context. By committing to CSR, companies are explicitly committing to a responsible way of doing things. With time this CSR commitment dictates how you think, how you build your strategy and management vision which strongly resonates within the organization on a small scale and within the society on a large scale.
This should be the general approach for any business in my opinion, and in particular mobile operators given the huge impact we have on people’s daily lives. In fact, in my opinion, all companies should endorse and execute a CSR-driven vision but leading companies and mobile operators in particular should play a wider and more active role as we have the means to invest more than small companies and our duty is to act as role models. In our case in Alfa, our we have what is more impactful than the financial capability, in fact we have the commitment and the will to play this role. Until today, CSR is still a voluntary decision made by companies. In my opinion, it should be imposed by law and any breaches to our environment and to acts of integrity should be penalized.
If you look at our journey throughout the past 25 years, you will notice that this vision and our strong commitment to sustainability are what gave us a sustainable distinguished edge. Our commitment to our country and to its people and to this land enabled us to achieve a huge transformation on the digital side and employ this digital journey to benefit our community. Our commitment to CSR and sustainability has allowed us to play the role of a change maker who has changed destinies through technology and beyond. It is part of our brand attribute and our main differentiating edge as a leading operator in the Lebanese market amidst the absence of the true Commercial Competition. Injecting the Human dimension into a telco brand is part of our main branding positioning. It is our philosophy and we do it with passion.
25 years of revealing the “human side” of telco
On another note, Alfa celebrated 25th anniversary this year, revealing the “the human side” of telecoms in every step. How do you describe the journey? Do you think Alfa will top up in the coming years the success achieved thus far?
Alfa’s journey of 25 years depicts a success story from Lebanon. Today, we are more than a brand that seeks to sell its products and services, but a brand that seeks to create a shared value and make a positive impact in our society. We work beyond the “traditional” business mindset and we measure our success not only through our profits, but much more beyond that. We believe that we have established a unique connection with our Lebanese community based on trust and loyalty. I am proud to say that our biggest contribution, in the past and ongoing, was our ability to bring happiness to the Lebanese through technology and overturn negativity, proving that with a great will, great things happen. You know we don’t operate in a stable and an easy-going environment. In fact, we operate in a very challenging environment and as a sector owned by the government, we have a crucial role to play as one of the top economic players in the country. The mobile sector constitutes 10% of the total government revenues and Alfa contributes to more than 1.3% of the total Lebanese GDP. Our challenge is to be able to meet the expectations of our customers and stakeholders first as a mobile service provider, and Lebanese in general as a happiness provider. We remain committed to that like never before.
Over the past decade, the role of corporations has seen a complete transformation and we take pride in having been at the heart of this, let me call it, “business model mindset change” since its early stages. We are firm believers that the role of corporations is massively transforming from “usual business” to much more beyond that, and hence we think and act as a responsible citizen. And in accordance with this belief, we have reshaped and transformed our business operations from the traditional mindset to reflect the human vision in all what we do. This vision which enabled Alfa to be named “The Happiness Provider,” combines technology innovation with our human role towards our community.
As businesses, we are expected, and let me say, demanded, to act more than money-generating machines! Resources are being depleted at alarming rates and we are, more than ever, demanded today to act responsibly, ethically, and actively contribute to the society’s social and environmental welfare and to find solutions rather than create problems. This is undoubtedly on the to-do listfor every business, and especially for leading businesses in leading industries, and to mobile operators in particular since we play the fundamental role of ensuring sustainable human communications and empowering communities through technology. The tangible impact we have on people and on their daily lives through the services we provide gives us the leverage to act as role models and pioneers in working towards finding solutions to the world’s problems by giving the best of what technology has to offer and help save our planet’s resources through adopting a responsible approach in how we carry out our business operations.
By the end of 2018, the number of mobile users worldwide reached 5 billion. This in fact means more power, and more power means greater responsibility towards the people who benefit from our services and the planet in which we consume resources and operate. This simply means that we need to be initiators of change rather than takers in a melting pot.
As a leading mobile operator in Lebanon that ensures the successful daily communication and connectivity activities of more than 2 million subscribers, we are committed to creating a tangible social impact using technology through our “human side of telco” vision. This vision outlines our strong commitment to community development and CSR and sustainability and has become Alfa’s way of life. Since 2016, we have been among the first corporations to commit to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which serve today as the world’s action plan to protect the plant and shift it into a sustainable path by creating a solid infrastructure, reducing inequalities and tackling environmental issues among others.
Our impact on SDG 9 – Industry, Infrastructure, and Innovation – is huge and outlines a rich journey as part of our digital transformation. We have transitioned our network from 2G to 3G+, 4G, and 4G+ in less than 5 years while maintaining top quality, and we were the first operator to launch these technologies in Lebanon, along with 5G.
Besides our technological progress, our commitment to community development is part of our DNA and has become today a fundamental pillar of the development of the society as a whole in Lebanon. This tangible impact is the result of our human side strategy, which I believe is what distinguishes us and allows us to share our success story to inspire others and lead change.
Marwan Hayek’s jubilee
This year, Marwan Hayek also celebrates the silver jubilee of his career. How do you evaluate your professional journey and what are your most important achievements?
I’m most happy that I started my professional career as an engineer in Alfa and came back after many years of working abroad. It was an opportunity to harness all my abilities to elevate the company and achieve a comprehensive change to reach the development and progress we are witnessing today. My ability to make even a small positive change in my country pleases me greatly both on the technological and social levels. Since my appointment at Alfa, I have worked to connect the telecom operator’s technological role with its social role. I can now say with great pride that a great change has occurred, especially in terms of raising awareness about the rights of People with Iron Will and working to remove the “people with special needs” expression from the Lebanese law and the daily vocabulary. Since I believe that you have to give back to life in return, I developed a strategy and vision for Alfa entitled “Alfa Provider of Happiness”, which has inspired every step we take. Through our Community Responsibility Program, Alfa has worked to build an incubator environment for its employees so that we feel that we have a national responsibility towards the Lebanese through the service and technology we offer, and that employees do not belong to a company but to a culture based on faith in the national role, social responsibility, and humans. My humble career both inside and outside Lebanon is a clear indication that hard work, armed with faith, is the foundation of success regardless of an individual’s social background. I am proud to come from a remote area in Lebanon. This has never been an obstacle to my graduating from the best universities in Europe and being appointed in the most important positions in several companies. My message is clear: work then work then work without giving up your basic principles and you will inevitably achieve success.