The African Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility
Africa has always brimmed with potential. Its dynamic history, tapestry of cultures, and varied geography have both preserved its rich vitality and to some extent, created barriers to the continent reaching its full potential. It is the world’s fastest-growing region for direct foreign investment, yet investors in the United States are still reluctant to dive in.
Among other apprehensions for US businesses, security risks and logistical challenges are key concerns that will ultimately require commitment to collaboration to tackle. As standard models of development fall by the wayside, leaders working in the field recognize that inventive solutions centered around multi-sector engagement must materialize to solve the region’s—and the world’s—biggest problems.
In February 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invited United Nations branches, international NGOs, African ambassadors, and leaders in the business world to learn about its newly published report, Purpose and Prosperity: How U.S. Businesses are Creating Impact in Africa. The report recognizes that only through collaboration between the public, private, and social sectors, or tri-sector partnership, can we meet goals such as zero hunger and education for all.
For decades, multinational companies have engaged in Africa by both conducting business and working with the social sector to deliver pro bono services. For example, in May 2016 the UPS Foundation partnered with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Zipline, a California-based robotics company to experiment with drone technology to deliver blood and vaccines in Rwanda. UPS’ supply chain knowledge and Zipline’s “zip” technology have created a system to deliver blood within approximately 30 minutes to anywhere in the western region of the country for life-saving medical procedures. The companies are now working with the Rwandan government to extend the drone network to the entire country and intend to expand to another country in the region in 2019.
In his opening address, Ambassador Carlos Dos Santos of Mozambique explained how we need more programs like UPS’ to develop critical infrastructure and stronger economies. He went as far to say that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) “provides high market value and is not optional.” Keynote speaker Jane Nelson, a CSR expert and the director of the CSR Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School, underscored the ambassador’s statement by highlighting the potential wealth in African markets. By 2050, the continent will hold two billion consumers. Agribusiness alone will be worth USD$1 trillion by 2030. Companies like UPS, she asserted, can leverage their core business strategies to strengthen the impact they are making on the continent.
By 2050, the continent will hold two billion consumers. Agribusiness alone will be worth USD$1 trillion by 2030.
The first panel of corporations, including representatives from UPS, P&G, Abbott Laboratories, and Betchel Corporation echoed the sentiments of Nelson and Dos Santos. Tara Hogan Charles, Governance Relations Manager at P&G, proclaimed that the business believes in the “growth story of the continent,” and is continuing to invest in facilities in Nigeria. P&G views its “Always Keeping Girls in School” program as a key component to its business strategy. In fact, a major trend among the participating corporate representatives was how CSR is essential to their company’s business strategy on the continent. By investing in local communities, they are helping to build a strong workforce, promoting goodwill among their consumers, and gaining valuable market insight for new products and/or services.
A major trend among the participating corporate representatives was how CSR is essential to their company’s business strategy on the continent. By investing in local communities, they are helping to build a strong workforce, promoting goodwill among their consumers, and gaining valuable market insight for new products and/or services.
Despite the long presence of many of these companies in Africa, both Ambassador Dos Santos and Ms. Nelson emphasized the need for increased investment to produce lasting change and accelerated growth. Many businesses are still hesitant to enter the market. Luckily, there is a half-step companies can take. With the support of partnership facilitators such as the DC-based nonprofit PYXERA Global, Fortune 500 companies like JPMorgan Chase and SAP have been introducing their employees to these dynamic, emerging markets through Global Pro Bono. By sending employees to consult for social sector organizations pro bono, these companies and many others deepen understanding of potential opportunities across their global workforce, while also increasing employees’ skills and productivity. Global Pro Bono provides an opportunity to increase understanding of these markets, while contributing to a triple-win, for the company, the participating employees, and the NGO partners together with the communities they serve.
No matter the approach or focus a company chooses for its CSR programs, it is clear from the panels and speakers at the Forum that traditional development is fading. The private sector is embracing its role as a partner with the social and public sectors for collective prosperity, ushering in a new ethos for global development. It is also clear that those who can marry the needs of all three sectors will be invaluable in the push for a better world.