CSR & Sustainability in the 21st Century: It should be an inception philosophy and linked to UN SDG’s.

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It’s an undeniable fact that we are in an era, where it’s become imperative for companies to be INTENTIONAL. In this era, corporate actions should be able to create some shared value and give hope to immediate communities or others in dire need of some intervention.

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be part of the 4th National CSR and Sustainability Conference organised by the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), West Africa, one of the sub region’s leading sustainability and corporate social responsibility advocacy organizations.

Their annual conference, which brings together some major stakeholders in the CSR and sustainability space in Ghana, sought to discuss lessons from multinationals and how to promote a culture of social responsibility and sustainability among indigenous Ghanaian companies.

While listening raptly to the engaging and insightful panel presentations from Professor Martin Gyambrah, Director for University of Applied Management (Ghana campus), Dr. Jemima Nunoo, Lecturer at GIMPA, Gabriel Opoku Asare, Director for Corporate Relations, Guinness Ghana Breweries Limited, and Michael Sarpong Bruce, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Tigo, I picked up a few lessons. Today on my blog, I want to share with you these lessons.

  • Responsibility and Sustainability should be an inception philosophy

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Often, responsibility and sustainability for most local businesses is not an inception strategy or philosophy. For these businesses, it is rather an afterthought or an activity undertaken as a reactive measure.

Rather, businesses right from the onset should have CSR and Sustainability at the core of their inception philosophy or strategy. It should be a core business practice to have sustainable processes, products, packaging, and delivery.

SDGs

Conduct a survey of most local businesses’ in terms of their engagement with the SDGs and a sobering outlook will be revealed. But given that 2030 is not a distant time, it’s imperative that as a stakeholder group, local businesses contribute to its attainment by linking their responsibility and sustainability efforts to the UN-SDGs.

The private sector can be a force for good and lead the way. With the financial power and able human resources, businesses are better placed  and should be poised to lead the agenda for sustainable development/growth. This should be the BIG ambition of local businesses apart from the focus on bottom line.

In their presentations, Tigo and Guinness Ghana had a particular trend. These multinational companies had linked their local responsibility and sustainability initiatives to the UN-SDGs. For Tigo, they had been able to successfully link their Automated Birth Registration to the UN SDGs 9 (Innovation and Infrastructure) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), while Guinness Ghana has also been able to link their Water of Life, Alcohol in Society and Local Raw Material initiatives to the SDGs 6, 12, and 8 among others.

  • PARTNERSHIPS – Stakeholders need to come together for the good of society

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Partnerships, Collaborations, Alliances…name them. These will not only be key to ensuring that corporates impact their communities but also achieve the SDGs. Cross-sector partnership has become essential to scaling and sustaining impact as far as sustainability is concerned.

Businesses, Governments and civil society organizations can play a critical role to unleash innovative solutions, mobilize expertise and hard to reach resources, and create a shared accountability that could never be achieved alone.

For companies like Tigo, they’ve been able to partner UNICEF and the Birth and Deaths Registry (BDR) to deploy the nation’s first Automated Birth Registry, which is showcasing how partnership can play a crucial role in addressing a pressing social need through the application of technology and expertise from different sectors of the economy.

From May 2016 to May 2017, 328,882 new births had been registered using this new system and Tigo is helping the BDR to attain its goal of achieving a 90 percent birth registration coverage rate by the end of 2017.

  • Companies are moving beyond traditional CSR to new ways of adding value to society

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Back in the day, a company donating a TV to a police station or a one-off activity by a company was often classified as CSR. This used to be norm until the debates around sustainability set in. It delineated a clear difference between corporate philanthropy and corporate sustainability.

For a company like Guinness Ghana, it is using its Local Raw Material (LRM) initiative as a means to support local businesses through the creation of value chains. In so doing, they are not only using local raw materials in the production of their products but also supporting local farmers to gain ready market for their produce and empowering families.

  • Sustainability should be an organizational culture

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There is a direct correlation between a company’s postion on social and environmental issues and its perception and position as an employer of choice. Young professionals want to be part of a company which has a culture and a reputation for being responsible; and has a far-reaching impact on society.

To this end, sustainability should be embedded in the very fabric of every organization. Essential internal stakeholders such as management and employees should be made to understand the position of the business in the areas of responsibility and sustainability. It must be integrated into the overall business strategy, with a clear vision, goals, metrics and strong executive sponsorship.

Additionally,  for the culture of sustainability to thrive, an employee engagement program with rewards and recognition must be ensured to reinforce sustainability behaviors.

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CSR trends which emerged in 2015

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It is 31 December 2015 and that time of the year, where people sum up their year and make resolutions for the New Year. Instead of doing same, I find myself rather strangely taking stock of the significant Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) trends which emerged from Corporate Ghana.

2015 has been a memorable year. Like others before it, it will soon be tucked away in the vaults of history. Despite this, the fact still remains that the corporate actions of some companies in Ghana, during the year will not be forgotten in a hurry.

These corporate actions (or let me call them social interventions) to a large extent, created shared value and gave hope to many in communities; where such companies operate or other areas, which were in dire need of such interventions.

In a chat with a CSR and Sustainability professional, who works for a top company in Ghana, he intimated that “for most companies, it is not enough to make money and satisfy customers, because businesses cannot be successful when the society around them is failing”.

I found his statement true in the sense that, a look at the corporate landscape reveals an increasing drive by companies. More than ever before, they are ensuring that their events and processes contribute towards making communities around them and those far off, a much safer or a better place.

During the 2015 business year, CSR/sustainability became a driving force for businesses. Some companies in Ghana, with good reputations, spent some percentage of their budgets on social intervention programs and initiatives.  An observation of some notable corporate efforts revealed the following trends.

Trend #1 –Companies are using smart and innovative ways to tackle social issues

The discussions around CSR this year changed from the usual “do the good things” to “do the right things”.

During the year under review, the starting point for most companies has been to solve real social problems rather than just resorting to social philanthropy. To this end, CSR programmes and projects were tailored and tied around finding smart solutions to salient and social needs.

It has become an era where organisations have assumed a more ‘social-centric’ approach in the way they do business.  It thus goes to confirm the blunt but truthful statement by Robert Phillips, in his controversial book Trust Me, PR Is Dead, where he points out that “Social is the new normal – not just social media or social business but social impact, social enterprise and social value”.

Which of these social interventions by companies quickly comes to mind? For me, I can’t forget Tigo Ghana’s Shelter for Education, Aquafresh Limited’s Kalypo Kares, Airtel Ghana’s Schools Adoption Programme, Huawei Ghana’s Ghana Seeds for the Future programme and refurbishment of the Accra Library, the MTN Foundation’s Shea butter production project in the Upper West region and furnishing six-unit classroom block for the Asikasu community in the Eastern region, among others.

In all of the above-mentioned, the emerging trend reveals an approach by companies to ensure that corporate actions are tied to stakeholder expectations.

Trend #2 – More collaborations and ongoing partnerships

In 2015, another trend which emerged as far as CSR was concerned was a situation where companies invited consumers, academics, NGOs, and even at some point competitors for a common good.

It was a year where we saw Ghana’s premier beverage producer, Accra Brewery Limited, (ABL) joined forces with Bekofi, an NGO committed to inculcating positive change in the young generation. The beverage company organise a seminar for more than 600 Senior High School students drawn from selected schools within the Greater Accra Region, on the harmful effects of underage drinking.

Tigo Ghana along the line also used social media (Twitter) as a platform to discuss with its customers and Twittersphere, on the topic of corporate participation in community development.

Apart from the above stated, the company also took a giant step towards digital inclusion for children in rural Ghana by outdooring the Mobile Digital Library earlier this year.  How did they do this? The telecommunications giant partnered Street Library Ghana, founded by its 2012 Changemaker, Hayford Siaw, to provide a Digital Street Library.

They achieved this by employing the use of a van, whose interior is beautifully fitted with tables and chairs and laptops and additional tables and chairs and laptops; which can be set up outside the van to cater for additional children.

Trend #3 – Engaging employees around corporate responsibility initiatives

The challenge of CSR has always been to ensure that employees feel tangibly connected to their company’s causes. Another remarkable trend which emerged this year was employee volunteering.

For most companies, employee volunteering was a core area as far as corporate social responsibility was concerned.  For example, Access Bank Ghana through its Employee Volunteering Program was able to rally its employees around projects situated around education, health, greening and environmental sustainability, financial inclusion and empowerment.

Another example is StanChart Ghana, who also as part of its “Employee Volunteering Month” engaged more than 140 employees to educate the public on HIV/AIDS by visiting the Odorgonno Senior High School, Abossey Okai Spare Parts Market, where they distributed more than 10,000 pieces of male and female condoms and some 8,000 leaflets.

Furthermore, noteworthy examples can be cited in the telecommunications industry, where companies such as Airtel Ghana, Vodafone Ghana and MTN Ghana also engaged staff during the year in various volunteer programmes.

Airtel Ghana during the year got together its employees to hit the runway in a charity initiative dubbed Airtel Catwalk for Charity to raise funds for breast cancer through internally generated funds from Airtel employees, family and friends.

Vodafone Ghana, also through its Employee Volunteering Program paid hospital bills of some patients up to the tune of GHC 30,000 while MTN also initiated 21 Days of Yello Care Staff Volunteer Programme, which saw employees from Ghana and 21 other operating countries give back to their communities.

It’s already a few hours to 2016 and if what transpired in 2015 is anything to go by, I am excited by what will transpire in the coming year. Going forward, I believe companies will build upon these trends and sustainability will continue to be a driving force for most business while aligning them to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Did you realise any other trends? Which other companies had noteworthy CSR initiatives? Let’s have a conversation in my One Corner.