By Princewill Ekwujuru
In this interview, Chief Responsibility Officer of TruContact CSR Nigeria, Ken Egbas spoke on how the Social Enterprise Report and Awards (SERAS) project, has shaped and improved the acceptance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability as part of the business policy of organisations in Nigeria. Excerpt.*Ken Egbas
What are the highlights of your thirteen years of promoting CSR and sustainability in Nigeria?
Thirteen years of pushing the SERAS have been if you ask me one of the most daunting challenges I have ever faced as human being, as a leader and entrepreneur.
First and foremost, a lot of people whose opinions we sampled on Sustainability and CSR in 2006 told us these things could only work in Europe and America, but not in Africa, especially in Nigeria, that we are not yet there where you can bring conversation around CSR and Sustainability.
Being a consulting firm that we are one of the things we have also done is look straight into the future, because the thing about being a consultancy is being able to look out for what might shape the conversations in the future.
What might determine the value of the prospects of brands and products differentiation in the market and those movements that will hamper or possibly help to elevate certain organizations and brand over others. So we saw CSR as one of them.
We also knew we were going into an era were governance, and how organizations behave, people’s perception of brands and products, not just because of colours and flashy names, but more out of the character that they see about these organizations.
So we knew very well from that period which was in 2005 and perhaps to the end that CSR and Sustainability are not something that is just going to be an addendum, but something that has come to stay.
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Shortly after we had the struggle trying to get brands in Nigeria and Africa to understand that this is a key part of future engagement we had challenges when the financial system in the US had issues and it spiralled to all sectors of the world.
So those who used to have the argument that Nigeria and Africa are isolated from the global reality began to see a shift and understand that this is real. I think that is one of the things that helped to drive the project this far.
When you drive something this new there is a challenge of getting organizations to accept it. Let’s use Nigeria as a case study, when we began the SERAS in 2006 only two organizations had CSR or sustainability policies, and most of these organizations are multinationals with their headquarters in Europe, even when you come to the Nigerian operations of those organizations you notice that they just have a policy document, no plan to even implement them.
Over the last twelve years we can hardly see any of the big players today registered on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) or operating in key sectors of the economy who are not talking about CSR and Sustainability, who are not looking at very interesting and innovative ways to drive conversation and engagement with their stakeholders.
So even though it has been a very difficult journey for us, it represents a level of progress. You get to SERAs now even before the call for entry all the big organizations, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are calling to find out when is the next SERAs, when are the processes starting, even though it’s been difficult we have made a lot of progress.
The biggest progress for us was in 2016 when we began to get calls from other parts of Africa, from South Africa community, the Ghanaian business community, the Kenyan business community, everybody wanting to participate because they have seen that in the continent of Africa this is the most organized or perhaps the only platform that has that level of depth in recognizing the works and the impact and investments of organizations in CSR and sustainability. So for us even if it’s been a difficult journey, lonely road to travel, very difficult getting funding for it, funding in the sense that organizations see it as something they should be part of without necessarily making financial commitments, you can understand why because it’s not flashy.
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CSR and Sustainability is technical. It is not like you are bringing people from Brazil to dance on the stage and people will throw money around that, selling it to them as something that will help their business, their differentiation, their profitability and help their positioning in the market not just in local market, but in the global market space, it’s not been easy but we are getting there.
Would you say the objective of setting up the platform has been achieved?
Yes definitely, the purpose of setting up the SERAs has been achieved to an extent, because the achievement is supposed not to be measured in one sweep, it should be a continuum.
What we want to achieve when we set up the SERA was first and foremost we wanted to create a platform that enables organizations to prepare for the future. We wanted to set up a platform that enables them prepare for that future, to see the inherent need to prepare for the internal workings of the dynamics and understanding of what their businesses were about, the impact they make on the society, the negativity that are derivable from their being in the society, and how to mitigate the gains of some of those negativity on the environment, on people, social institutions and all of that.
We were set up to get organizations to be able to align with the best global standards on responsible behaviour applicable to any other part of the developed world.
And we were set up to get organizations to understand that they are not just businesses anymore, but that the people they deal with, the society, the community looks at them not like inanimate object, as people used to see companies those days, people see brands and organizations these days as human beings, they expect them to have certain characters, attributes that are human in nature, how they feel about them, how they think about them, what they do for them.
The transaction between a brand, the customer and the stakeholder is seen from the angle of give me a product, take my money. People are now very interested in what you stand for.
If there is no water in their environment, the consumers know you have enough resources to carry this project, they know you are profitable enough to build a sky scrapper made of diamond.