CSI in Africa panel (fltr): Robert Kuzoe, Sanda Ojiambo, Juergen Brokatzky-Geiger and Thabang Skwambane
“As a telco, we define our purpose as transforming lives,” said Sanda Ojiambo, head of corporate responsibility at Safaricom Limited. “The reason why we say this is that we have a firm belief that we can pursue purpose as well as profits at the same time.”
She explained that this is the starting point for her organisation’s discussion around corporate social investment. “It’s about how businesses interact with an entire range of stakeholders. So we ask how do we as Safaricom interact with Kenyans broadly, and then act as a social business?”
Robert Kuzoe, the senior manager for the Sustainability and Social Impact Department and executive secretary for the MTN Ghana Foundation, pointed out that CSI has hidden brand benefits, because when the public see the positive actions that an organisation has taken, they want to patronise its products.
“People do these CSI initiatives to solve societal problems, and it has a ripple effect and comes back to the company.”
He pointed out that companies manage their risks and their reputations, and that the same focus is required for every aspect of CSI, from the boardroom to the implementation stage.”
Jürgen Brokatzky-Geiger, the global head of corporate responsibility for Novartis, explained that integrating social purpose with the business purpose is not too complicated if the business is a pharmaceutical company.
“If you do a drug discovery for a new, innovative drug that helps people not to suffer too much, that’s a purpose. There are parts of the world where people don’t have access to the drugs. Then a pharmaceutical company like ours has a duty to work out what we can do to make the drugs available in those areas. That’s what drives the culture in our company.”
Ojiambo added that for company-wide support of any organisation’s social purpose to exist, the commitment has to come from the top. “Leadership drives purpose. It’s important to understand as well as articulate how you run your business. This is something our CEO has taken to the core – our mission and purpose is to transform lives – not airtime sold. What is the value that we can give to society form those transactions? It’s about impact. Revenue comes later. Do things right and the money will follow.”
Brokatzky-Geiger shared the story of how the CSI purpose was shaped at Novartis. When the new chairman joined, he was invited to present to him, and heard later that he was not happy with the organisation’s CSI strategy. “Next time we met, I asked him what was wrong, and he said that while we look at things like malaria and leprosy, these are initiatives, and he wanted to know what we could do more broadly. I went back and suggested what we could do with our strengths.”
Part of this was acknowledging that they could not solve the problem of rolling out low-cost, high-quality products to regions in need on their own. They instead sell products to governments to use in public clinics, but at the same time, partner with NGOs to educate the public about the causes of diseases like high blood pressure or how to check for breast cancer.
“Every part of society must do what their strength is, then work together. We need to talk to each other so that trust can be built, rather than functioning separately as NGOs, government and companies,” he said.
Kuzoe agreed that this level of engagement was necessary – and not just at an organisational level, but in the communities as well.
“You can carry out an initiative, but then the beneficiaries expect the companies to maintain their project. It comes back to your business. You want the people in the community doing the project itself. If you’re getting into the community to build a classroom block, look for artisans, engage the chief, call people to come and offer their services freely. This gives community ownership – the sense that we are all part of this project and we do it together.”
It seems that CSI practitioners in Africa agree – CSI can’t just be the purpose of a division of an organisation; it has to be a part of the entire business purpose, and become a part of the way that the company interacts with the public, the government and other organisations as well.