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We are committed to giving our best in Nigeria – MTN Foundation

Odunayo Sanya, executive secretary, MTN Foundation in this interview with Ademola Asunloye, speaks about the foundation’s work in Nigeria and the impact made over the years. Excerpts:

Being at the helm of MTN Foundation, how difficult is it for you to decide which project to support?

For us, it is more about the people. The Foundation focuses on two key areas aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – youth development and national priorities. Our interventions around youth development are tailored towards equipping our younger generation with the skills, tools, access, knowledge, and opportunities to be economically active citizens. Some current projects under this include MTNF Scholarships for STEM and blind students, MTN-MUSON Scholars Programme, Arts & Culture Productions, MTN School Support program, our Anti-Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP) and many more. We are also invested in areas we consider national priorities. In this regard, we embrace initiatives that promote community infrastructure, economic development, health and entrepreneurship.

A lot of organisations run their CSR initiatives internally, what informed MTN’s choice of establishing a foundation?

At MTN, our core belief is that “Everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life.”We also believe that our success as a business is tied to the well-being of the communities we operate in. The Foundation was incorporated to show commitment towards a long-term journey of impacting lives. The MTN Nigeria Foundation Limited by Guarantee (MTNF Ltd/Gte) was established in July 2004 as the social investment vehicle for MTN Nigeria to foster sustainable development in Nigeria, working with the people, communities and governments at various levels across our nation. It is funded by a dedicated commitment of up to one percent of the profit after tax of MTN Nigeria.

We are constantly engaging governments at various levels and international agencies to identify areas of need, and this sometimes requires empirical data collection.

The Foundation has an independent governance structure with the sole responsibility of responding to the needs of the society. It is governed by a board made up of reputable individuals with proven records and a passion for humanity. These structures were put in place to ensure that the operations of the Foundation are tailored to meet the intent for its establishment – impact lives, one community at a time.

Would you be willing to share some of the criteria you use to determine and evaluate projects you support in the areas where your foundation focuses its impact?

Let’s take an example. Our “What Can We Do Together (WCWDT)” programme is an initiative set out to support and meet specific needs like water, power supply, maternal health and education identified by communities. Through the WCWDT initiative, communities& individuals nominate projects that are important to them and we take action on their nominations. That is how we identify and prioritise our projects -we focus on what is important to the Nigerian people and their communities.

We are constantly engaging governments at various levels and international agencies to identify areas of need, and this sometimes requires empirical data collection. To determine viability, all initiatives are also subjected to an internal model called CRIVM Model (Cost-Effectiveness, Relevance, Impact, Visibility & Marketability). In addition, we use the Theory of Change concept to determine the impact of an initiative before resources are committed to it.

How do you measure the success and impact of your projects?

By the number of lives affected. This is our guiding philosophy, which is our primary impact assessment metrics. Our goal is to touch as many people as we can and make lives better. For instance, our Mother and Child Health Initiative (Yellow Heart Initiative) is aimed at creating awareness on maternal and child health issues, and the provision of delivery packs to pregnant women. This has impacted over 400,000 people in Cross River, Gombe, Kogi, Lagos, Imo, Sokoto and Ogun States. This initiative was developed to solve a specific problem.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 20% of all global maternal deaths happen in Nigeria. Between 2005 and 2015, it is estimated that over 600,000 maternal deaths and no less than 900,000 maternal near-miss cases occurred in Nigeria. A Nigerian woman has a 1 in 22-lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum/post-abortion; whereas in the most developed countries, the lifetime risk is 1 in 4,900. That is why improving maternal health through awareness, upgrading maternal wards across the country and donation of delivery packs to women are key priorities of the MTN Foundation.

Similar to our Mother and Child Initiative is the Community Support Projects with a focus on primary healthcare centres across the country. The overarching theme of our Primary Health Care intervention is the provision of maternity equipment to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality at the grassroots. The Foundation has re-modelled maternity wards in government-owned hospitals (General Hospitals) at 24 locations in Abia, Kaduna, Cross River, Niger, Sokoto and Oyo states, and donated dialysis and mammography equipment to 10 and 6 hospitals respectively in General Hospital Alimosho, Lagos, General Hospital, Calabar, UniAdo Teaching Hospital Ado Ekiti, Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Federal Medical Centre Nguru, Yobe and others.

We are also taking action to tackle the high rate of unemployment in the country. We have initiated over 48 project categories to empower Nigerians and will continue to do more. What happens once a life has been affected at the onset of intervention and afterwards? That is how we measure success. One life at a time.

The year 2020 was one of the most difficult years in recent history, with a pandemic sweeping through the globe. Looking back, what were the roles you played during those tough days?

In 2020 when we heard the news about COVID-19, December 2019 to be precise, it was still a story. By February 2020, it became almost everyone’s reality including ours. By March 2020, as an organisation, we activated our business continuity strategy and executed remote working even before the government declared a lockdown. It was all new, and we knew that a level of safety and assurance was needed across the nation.

Understanding this, the Foundation has continued to partner with the government in various capacities to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on Nigerians. We provided over 71,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) valued at N250 million to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) towards the COVID-19 national response as support for frontline staff under the Federal Ministry of Health/NCDC.

We also worked with different organisations and institutions at different levels under the umbrella of CACOVID to ensure that isolation centres were built and recently, commissioned a NIMR-MTN Oligosynthesis laboratory in Lagos. It is the first of its kind in Nigeria and the second in the West Africa hub. It will leapfrog medical research, enable the local production of test kits for disease outbreaks and is critical for locally made vaccines.

We are committed to ensuring that we give all that we can to the country and communities we operate in. We run and support ongoing campaigns encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, stay safe and wear a mask.

MTN has long been a supporter of Nigerian youth empowerment and education. Let’s talk about what you’re doing now in the sector and your plans?

As I mentioned earlier, youth development is one of our focus areas as Africa is a young continent. The power of our youth needs to be harnessed to create a future they can thrive in. The MTN Foundation is presently running the MTNF Scholarships (for STEM and blind students), MTN-MUSON Scholarships, Arts & Culture Productions, MTN School Support for secondary schools and the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Program (YEDP) in partnership with the Bank of Industry; a platform where young entrepreneurs are offered equipment loans, grants and training.

Read also: MTN foundation targets capacity development of youth with 360 scholarships

The Foundation has offered several annual academic scholarships for tertiary institution students, together with ICT and business skills training. So far, we have awarded over 9,644 scholarships valued at ₦1.93 billion to over 4,000 young Nigerians. Our partnership with the MUSON since 2006 through the MTN-MUSON Music Scholars Programme has directly trained about 400 music professionals. MTNF gives talented musicians annual scholarships to acquire a globally accredited diploma in music at the MUSON School of Music to preserve and promote arts and culture in Nigeria, and in the past 15 years, over 380 Nigerians have been recipients of this scholarship.

We have also initiated over 48 project categories to empower young Nigerians.

In recognition of the impact of substance abuse on the productivity of our youth, we initiated the Anti Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP) as a multi-stakeholder intervention aimed at increasing awareness of substance abuse and addiction among youths. We partner with relevant government and non-governmental organisations to deliver this.

The pandemic no doubt tested us but we will not renege on our promise to Nigeria and Nigerians. Our plan for the future is to do much more.

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