To succeed in Africa, businesses have to be resilient, adaptive, innovative and entrepreneurial. They strive to succeed, despite the rapid changes and number of challenges encountered in the operating environment. With an increase in the rate of urbanisation and pressure on under-supplied infrastructure, many primary and secondary cities and towns on the continent are characterised by a sub-optimal quality of life. This situation is dire and alarming especially because the solutions to the challenges experienced are readily available on the continent.
How can these solutions be applied?
Increasingly, we look to the role of business in society. Businesses exist to create, optimise, and maximise value, identify opportunities for growth and value creation while using their vantage positions as value creators to contribute to the quality of life of stakeholders, as well as engender societal and environmental change. Even within the pursuit of growth, in most cases assumed to be economic, we are observing the benefits of responsible business operations to the overall sustainable development of Africa.
Which Businesses Are Responsible?
Responsible businesses are principle and value-driven. In addition to profit-making activities, they demonstrate consideration for employees, customers, suppliers, and the wider society. As such, businesses can be critical change agents, well-positioned to be at the helm of the transformation of Africa. It may be difficult for businesses to achieve their goals without causing unpleasant footprints in the society, but responsible business leaders take appropriate steps to create shared value in the society and mitigate negative business footprints. Responsible business leaders undertake this because they understand the relationship between profit maximisation, the health of the people and the entire ecosystem. They recognise the interdependence between business and the society as well as the physical environment in which they operate. For this reason, responsible businesses are responsive and understand that the true costs and obligations of business are measured by both their financial and non-financial performances as they affect their stakeholders.
Evidence from Nigeria
Lagos Business School faculty, Prof Chris Ogbechie and Dr Adun Okupe explored this idea in the Nigerian context in their paper titled, ‘Responsible Business in Africa: A Nigerian Perspective.’ Drawing on qualitative data from research on business intervention in societal issues in Nigeria, the study queried how businesses frame the societal issues in their business environment, how these frames influence their decision to intervene, and the mechanisms for such interventions. The data revealed that while there may be various intervention mechanisms (corporate social responsibility initiatives, philanthropic programmes, etc.), there is a unifying sense of responsibility to positively impact on society.
Interestingly, further analysis showed that there were challenges and factors hindering the decision(s) to intervene. A common theme was the need for intra-industry and inter-sector collaborations to amplify the social intervention efforts of businesses. Participants lamented the lack of trust as an inhibitor to collaboration, and the dearth of reputable third sector organisations (NGOs) to act as vehicles of coordinated social change.
In conclusion, there are several global, industry or national-specific sustainability benchmarks, principles and bodies useful in incorporating responsibility into a business, such as: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), United Nation Global Compact Principles (UNGC), Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standard Board (SASB), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE), Private Sector Advisory Group on SDGs (PSAG Nigeria) and many more. Businesses operating in Africa should adopt principles which are material to their business operations and context. It is time to think beyond business profitability and reconsider the role of enterprise in enhancing the wellbeing of the society and the entire ecosystem on which lives depend.
On October 4th and 5th 2018, Lagos Business School hosted the inaugural Africa Responsible Business Forum (ARB Forum) which presented a timely opportunity to provide thought leadership on and practical examples of how responsible businesses are being developed, to inspire current and future leaders of businesses in Africa. The ARB Forum aggregated, showcased and highlighted responsible business practices and explored the business opportunities that will contribute to socio-economic growth in Africa, leading to sustainable development on the continent.