Mrs. Ini Abimbola

The belief that corporations have a responsibility towards society is not new. In fact, business concerns for society can be traced to several centuries back. However, it was not until the 1930’s and 40’s that the roles of executives, and the social performance of corporations begun appearing in the literature and authors began to discuss the specific of social responsibilities of companies. In the following decades, societal expectations towards corporate behavior changed, and so did the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In recent times, the concept has changed from mere CSR initiatives to sustaining laudable programs.

In Nigeria, there has been consistent advocacy for corporate bodies to redirect their social responsibility approach, in line with global standards. Ensuring that standard is maintained, Nigerian corporate organizations have gradually stepped up from just building classroom blocks, hospital wards, planting trees, procurement of exercise books, etc to training teachers, empowering health workers, engaging government on policy shift and training students on the use of computers. In 2020, the social responsibility portfolio of businesses was stretched. Many of them without long term plans for sustainable programs were caught unaware by the Covid-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 continued, most organizations pressed the panic button, and began to make indiscriminate donations to the government. Others, devoid of healthcare initiative, suddenly, started setting up isolation centers, and the rest is history.

According to the CEO of Thistle Praxis/Vice President of Association of Sustainability Professionals of Nigeria (ASPN), Mrs. Ini Abimbola, “COVID-19 showed us what is possible with, and from, the corporate world. That they were able to canvass funds, and set up isolation centers in so short a time was fascinating to watch. But the question is, after the initial flurry, then what? What has been the impact or non impact on our health sector? The interventions had no associated sustainability plan. We need to truly question how organizations see CSR.”

On the role of sustainability in driving the economy, Mrs. Abimbola stated that the industry has moved beyond the issue of CSR. “We have gone beyond just doing CSR and philanthropy, or charity. Sustainability says let’s move for impact.” “We are building for the educational sector, we don’t just go and paint schools, and build library. Let think about how sustainable these can be. We are looking at teachers’ training; we are looking at working with the government on the educational platform to say should our curriculum change? Should we change the way that teachers are trained. That is what sustainability is all about. That is the way it can drive the economic growth and impact other areas as well,” Mrs. Abimbola said.

Mr. Ken Egbas, the CEO of SERAS Africa added that “I am of the opinion that much work needs to be done, not just by the private sector but more so by the public sector. The collaboration of the public and private sector would yield focus growth. There is currently a Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan, which looks at economic stimulation, and also, has a Pro-poor/vulnerable focus. This needs to be clearly aligned with the numerous efforts of the private sector for tangible and measurable impact.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Abimbola said “I would want to measure this using the SDGS as a basis. There is an Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) for the SDGs. Though, there are other reports on the progress towards meeting the targets of the SDGs at the continental level, there is little information on institutional implementation mechanisms, levels of awareness, partnerships and coordination arrangements to enhance implementation of the SDGs and the AU Agenda 2063 at the national level. Also, the level of national engagement by stakeholders at national and regional levels in these development frameworks needs closer scrutiny.”

In this special report for 2021 corporate responsibility week, Stanbic IBTC, Multichoice Nigeria, First Bank Nigeria, Coca-Cola Nigeria and Access Bank told the stories behind their strong sustainability initiatives.

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