By Marcus Leach
Community responsibility is a long standing tradition in Africa. But increasingly, social and environmental responsibility, are also forceful drivers behind the development of clever, beneficial products and services.
The lack of accesses to communication or clean water etc, translates into a demand for life enhancing products and services among the growing middle classes, as well as those still standing on the base of the pyramid.
Flick through an African business paper and you are likely to encounter a handful of commercial messages about social responsibility. The Kenyan telecom operator Safaricom aims for "Digital Inclusion" and "Let's Go Green". Kenya Airways claims they are "Proud to be Carbon Offset Neutral". Social responsibility is somewhat a self-preservation in countries where the majority lives in poverty.
In the absence of public goods, companies have had to step in and provide employees with basic needs like clean water or HIV/Aids-medicines. At least the ones there to stay, and depend on a license to operate.
Community support is still a central part in "African Corporate Responsibility", if one should generalize, but during the last years, responsibility has also proven to be a forceful driver behind product development. Enabled through the technological development and increased local purchasing power. One well known example is Safaricom's pay-service M-PESA, which enables customers to transfer money via the mobile, even if they don't have a bank account (which most poor people don't). Britain's Vodafone, shareholders of Safaricom, has earned $15.6 million on the money transfer service alone.
Safaricom's corporate responsibility strategy used to be isolated to handing out community funding, but now their ambition is to become global champions in five years, according to Officer Lewis Aritho. The recent strategy, "Path to Sustainability", signed by the new CEO Bob Collymore, integrates sustainability in all business aspects; corporate governance, environmental footprint, support to communities and not least in the development of products and services, where "access for all" is the motto.
Another example, though international, is the telecom provider Ericsson. Margaret Kositany, head of corporate social responsibility (CSR) Africa, claims that their CSR-strategy is closely related to product/service development. In Africa, Ericsson's global vision, "Access Networks", trickles down to services that enables farmers or fishermen to access weather information or the provision of surplus solar power, from Ericsson base-stations, to nearby schools and households, to mention two examples. Obvious win-win services and products.
Safaricom and Ericsson are examples of pioneers driving the social and environmental agenda in Kenya, and Africa. But there are many others like East African Brewers and Equity Bank, to mention a few. Not to forget other MNL:s like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Barclays. And the perception of corporate responsibility as a driver for business is now also being picked up by local media, which will encourage followers.
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