• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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It’s wrong to treat CSR as an act of philanthropy rather than core business strategy – Warri Monarch

It’s wrong to treat CSR as an act of philanthropy rather than core business strategy – Warri Monarch

Recently, in far away United Kingdom, His Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse III, Olu of Warri Kingdom made a case for the expansion of the frontiers of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and community development for Africa’s development.

This was the thrust of Speech he presented at the Africa Leadership Summit organised by the Africa Leadership organisation at Dochester Hotel, UK.

Speaking on ‘Business Beyond Profits—Expanding The Frontiers Of CSR And Community Development For Africa’s Development,’ the monarch said: “As you know, I am the custodian of the culture and traditions of the Itsekiri people. However, as the Olu of Warri, I not only promote cultural values; I like to think of myself as a development ambassador; my reign so far has focused on strategies and networking among international, national, and subnational stakeholders, to foster unity and spur socio-economic development in our Kingdom.”

He informed his audience that “In fact, I see my role as being at the intersection of tradition and innovation. That’s why I am passionate about how our society—Warri kingdom, Nigeria, and all of Africa—can achieve transformation and development that assures the future sustenance of our continent. Before we speak about the future, though, let us take a little trip down memory lane.”

He explained that Africa had a rich history of community-oriented business practices.
“In our traditional markets, businesses and marketplaces were more than just locations for economic transactions. They were the heartbeats of our communities, serving as centres for shared prosperity, cultural exchange, and social development. Business was community-centric, you would see market women rally together to contribute to send a fellow colleague’s child to school, or help their colleague pay a hospital bill. African Business traditionally was community centred… until it became overshadowed by modern capitalism, which has a profit-first model,” he said.

According to him, “Today, African businesses are thriving, and our entrepreneurs are still ambitious. However, a deep societal linkage and community upliftment through business is less prevalent. Indeed, the pursuit of profit, while essential, has drawbacks. I reign over a kingdom with one of the largest oil and gas activity in the country, however, in our communities We’ve seen the growing gap in inequality, environmental degradation, and missed opportunities for societal advancement. Too many of our communities grapple with poverty, lack of access to education, accessible healthcare, environmental pollution amongst many other issues.

“Yet, year after year, companies engage in corporate social responsibility activities across communities. So, why are the large budgets dedicated to activities and donations not doing much to move the needle of our continent’s development? For far too long, we’ve done CSR as charity, following a model that treats CSR as an act of philanthropy rather than a core part of business strategy. This often leads to one-off, superficial activities that fail to deliver lasting impact. If, instead, we craft CSR as an integral part of our business strategies, aligned with our core operations and value proposition, we can create lasting, scalable impact while also strengthening our businesses.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the starting point of Business Beyond Profits, an approach where businesses are not just engines of wealth but are inherently catalysts for societal transformation.”

The monarch also believed that “As business leaders and government officials, we have the opportunity and, indeed, the responsibility to redefine the role of business in Africa. In Warri, we know the potential of such an approach, so our focus in the Kingdom is to create sustainable impact. Not through handouts or isolated interventions, but by equipping our people with the resources, knowledge, and opportunities to unlock their potential long-term.
“Our initiatives, from skill acquisition and teacher training programs to supporting entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, address the root causes of lack of development and lay the foundation for long-term results.

“We are not a business, but we work with businesses to achieve our aims. More than that, we know intimately what it will take to achieve development in our communities. Ladies and Gentlemen, businesses must expand the frontiers Of CSR if we are to transform Africa.”

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Advising businesses on the right approach to achieving right outcomes in CSR, he said: “Beyond seeing businesses as catalysts for societal transformation, we must also embrace the fact that societal development and business success are not mutually exclusive, but rather intertwined. Globally, many large corporations are shifting from CSR to Shared Value because they understand that investing in community development benefits them, too, not just the communities in which they operate.

“Businesses can leverage their resources, reach, and influence to enact significant changes in key focus areas, from education to health, environment, and infrastructural development.”

Olu of Warri also drew attention to global context of CSR and Shared Value, which he noted provided many examples, from the successes of multinational corporations in implementing initiatives that deliver real impact, to the failures of companies that have been criticised for ‘greenwashing’ or superficial CSR activities.
“The core lesson for us in Africa is that we must create a uniquely African model rooted in our communal traditions and targeted at our distinctive challenges,” he said.

He knew that developing the ideal CSR culture is not just a flash in the pan, he said, “Just as it takes time to build a thriving business, expanding the frontiers of CSR to achieve community development will take time, but we must start now, and we must start together. The corporate sector cannot accomplish this shift alone.

“The strong sense of community in many African societies suggests that community involvement and participatory approaches to CSR will be particularly effective. Communities and grassroots leaders hold an often under-appreciated but influential role in the success of CSR initiatives.

Their local knowledge, community influence, and ability to mobilise action at the grassroots level should be harnessed as bridges connecting businesses and governments to the communities they serve.”

He noted that government has a critical role to play to achieving a meaningful CSR culture in society.

“Beyond communities, Government’s role in promoting CSR and creating an enabling environment is also paramount, from enacting policies to providing incentives. Indeed, a united approach to CSR and community development holds the promise of a more inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.”

Expressing the optimism that there would be a change in the right direction, the monarch said: “In envisioning the future of community development in Africa, I see a continent transformed by the power of business beyond profits. I see African businesses, governments, and communities hand in hand, driven not only by the pursuit of economic gain but by a shared commitment to lifting our continent.

“I envision African communities actively shaping their destinies, harnessing the resources and opportunities unlocked by CSR initiatives carefully tailored to their needs and aspirations.”

He challenged his audience not to sleep on the vision espoused, bu to run with it in order to make a clean break from the anomalies of yesteryear.

“The journey towards this future begins today with us. To the business leaders here, I implore you to redefine your business success beyond the bottom line. Embed social responsibility into your core business strategy. Seek partnerships and invest in initiatives that address the pressing needs of our communities. And remember, transparency and accountability are your allies.

“Government officials, you have a pivotal role to play. Create an enabling environment that encourages and rewards socially responsible business practices. Your policies can catalyse the impact we need. And let’s collaborate more, bridging the gap between the public and private sectors to achieve a common good.

“Together, we can realise our vision of an Africa where thrive, governments serve effectively, and communities are empowered. Let us all strive to leave a legacy that echoes not just in the wealth we amass but in the lives we touch and the communities we uplift. It is not just possible—it is a duty we owe to future generations.”

At the event held July 11, 2023, His Majesty was awarded ‘African Leadership Outstanding Public Service Impact Award 2023 Royalty Category’, while Her Highness, Olori Atuwase III was awarded ‘African Leadership Magazine’s 2023 Pearl’ in recognition of their development strides in the Warri Kingdom.