Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability, Access Bank Plc

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Subjects of Interest

  • Corporate Communications
  • Social Development
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable Development

Giving back 18 Nov 2016

So, what will happen if an organisation isolates itself from the community, in the belief that it exists purely for the financial interests of its shareholders, board, executive management and employees? It will sooner than later find out it is mistaken. Corporate self-isolation will result in further alienation by the community where it operates. If this negative scenario is left to play out, serious backlashes from customers and the consumers may ensue. In extreme cases, the organisation may unwittingly drive itself out of business. Even if it relocates, it would find no hiding place from social responsibility.
The dire consequences of corporate isolationism are well known today, and as such, organisations are now being upfront in engaging their communities. Businesses no longer share their financial resources only with their communities, they go further by encouraging hands-on involvement of their staff including senior executives in community work.  Such organisations have now evolved a tradition of community participation as an integral part of their programmes of giving back to society.

Giving back to the community could be philanthropic in nature, and could also be through strategic community development. Whatever approach the organisation utilizes, society stands to benefit.  Some schools of thought argue against philanthropy but what should be noted is that individuals or organisations, can choose to give back using the ethical approach that works for them. At the end of the day, it is the society that benefits.

Philanthropy is not doling out money for no good reason. The basis of corporate philanthropy is the recognition that a business belongs to a community of people and that it utilizes resources that would have been otherwise preserved. Therefore, corporate philanthropy is an act of responsibility, and it most often tries to promote societal good and compensate for both the environmental and social impacts of its operations – where such an impact is unavoidable. A good example of the latter would be a typical oil-drilling operation, which often has negative environmental impact. As a result, some oil companies are noted for promoting access to renewable energy, not merely to reduce the environmental impact of energy production, but as a sign of commitment to a sustainable society. It is the same reason some of the world's largest beverage companies are promoters of water conservation.  

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is an exercise in enlightened self-interest. This holds true, even with due consideration to the good that has been done with a CSR project. Way back during the Industrial Revolution, industrialists were quickly brought to the awareness that their businesses have to cater for the interests of their workers beyond simply paying their wages. Businesses started to provide staff with hospital clinics, bath-houses, lunch rooms and recreational facilities. Quite obviously, these provisions would have helped to preserve the health of the workers, optimise time utilization and generally contribute to a conducive environment to maximize productivity.

Subsequent stages of industrial development have harnessed the early knowledge of giving back to the community. Many organisations now provide well-funded holidays for senior staff and their family; more and more organisations practise profit-sharing with staff; and the workplace have been more amenable to working mothers. In essence, since the earliest productive businesses, the social wellbeing of workers – not just their financial compensation – has been recognised. But as the African adage goes, “charity begins at home, but it must not end there.”

Wider footprints of corporate social responsibility have been mapped to include provision of social amenities across communities. The facilities often include schools and learning materials, access roads, big health facilities, etc. In the context of the globalised world economy, we have also seen a number of CSR initiatives that are global. Facebook is working to provide free internet access in developing countries. Google's Project Loon – a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space – is already extending Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide. Over 1.5 million Indians are already using Google's free Wi-Fi to access the internet at train stations.

Access Bank is working with the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, other organisations and stakeholders to eliminate malaria using the innovative financing platform of “Malaria to Zero.” They are galvanising private sector resources and capabilities for sustained support towards averting at least one million malaria cases and deaths by 2020 – a foremost step towards complementing government's effort in achieving its malaria pre-elimination goals by 2020. The long-term goal of the Malaria to Zero initiative is a malaria-free Nigeria by 2040.

A number of local and global businesses have gone ahead to institutionalise CSR, either by establishing a dedicated unit and a line of budget that caters for their CSR programmes or instituting foundations as semi-autonomous entities. These have arisen from, and in response to, growing sophistication in delivering social responsibility projects, as well as the need to communicate transparently such programmes of giving back.

CSR initiatives that are well-targeted and delivered in a transparent manner are money well spent. A track-record of social responsibility can also help mitigate adverse reactions when an organisation runs into either an unforeseen or unavoidable crisis.

However, CSR cannot be simply compensational for wilful damage to, or unsustainable use of, non-renewable resources. Neither would it always make up for all corporate gaffes, including actions that amount to social insensitivity. This is why CSR is now situated within the body of Sustainability principles, which encompass how an organisation generates financial returns on investment as well as promotes both social and environmental benefits of its operations.

Sustainability is about preserving a delicate ecosystem of finance, people and the environment in a way that all continue to co-exist harmoniously and flourish. Promoting societal good, through giving back, is an essential part of preserving our collective existence as a community of people and businesses in a preserved environment.