Friday, 11 September 2009

Meeting for Africa in New York

Near the end of September, New York will be a flush with Heads of state, CEOs and executives. They will be flocking to the city not just for the annual UN General Assembly, but also the annual Clinton Global Initiative, a CEO’s working lunch on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the African-American Institute Awards Gala Dinner and the Africa Investor Index Awards.

Increasingly, businesses are being welcomed to governmental and multilateral events. It is a sign that all parties are recognising the need for collaboration and mutual understanding. And the growth of Africa-focused events is also a promising sign given the impact of the financial crisis on aid flows to the continent.

At the CEO’s working lunch on the MDGs, the main topic of discussion will be how Africa can make substantial headway to attaining at least some of the MDGs. The theme of this year’s African-American Institute Awards Gala Dinner is “Nurturing Democracy and Hope for Development in Africa.”. Interestingly, most of the sponsors are from the corporate world, including Constant Capital Partners, Chevron, DeBeers and Exxon Mobil. Corporates are being recognised for their contribution to Africa’s development and many businesses are doing a good job of it at that, as highlighted by Africa Investor’s Index Awards, which awards and recognises Africa’s institutional investors, stock exchanges, best performing listed companies, stockbrokers and capital market regulators. These awards demonstrate the burgeoning financial industry in Africa which is driving economic growth.

As for the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting which brings together business, government, and civil-sector leaders to plan and launch specific projects, ‘Commitments to Action’, to address global economic, environmental, and social challenges, it probably comes as no surprise that most of these 391 commitments are projects based in Africa. Many of these commitments are from large corporations such as Diageo, Standard Chartered, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Guaranty Trust Bank, Equity Bank Ltd, and Philips. Again, it is a demonstration of the private sector driving social, environmental and economic development in Africa.

More obviously can be done - we are still along way away from attaining all the MDGs in all African countries. As it stands, corporate contributions to Africa’s social and environmental development mostly takes the form of philanthropic giving. However, there are signs that companies are beginning to view their role in Africa’s sustainable development slightly differently.

Over the next five to ten years, I believe we will see a shift from ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)’ thinking and a philanthropic giving mentality, to a more strategic approach to sustainability. I believe we will see the following trends:

· Business management strategies and the ways of doing business will increasingly start to embed ecological, social and ethical viewpoints and measurement tools and standards. Many MBA courses in the US and the UK are looking at the development of strategies which create business as well as social and environmental value.

· More companies will begin to tie their marketing strategies with green initiatives, as we have seen with electric and hybrid cars.

· Larger companies, through their public affairs department, will increasingly engage governments on environmental and social policies to deepen their understanding of public opinion and public policies especially in the themes of climate change, energy and water.

· Companies will move away from providing grants to non-governmental organisations to investing in stimulating small to medium sized social enterprises such as ‘clinical social enterprises’.

· All companies, large and small, will begin to use social media and online tools more frequently to improve their stakeholder engagement methods and transparency.

My hope is that businesses who are beginning to implement some of these initiatives are showcased at events like those taking place in New York, so that they can be replicated and adapted into other business models.

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