The SERAS CSR Awards Africa Ends on a Glorious Note
The wait was well worth it for the finalists and delegates that travelled from fifteen African countries to be part of the finals of the 2019 SERAS CSR Awards, the number one corporate social responsibility and sustainability recognition event in Africa.
This edition which held in the Grand Ballroom of Lagos Oriental Hotel at Victoria Island was definitely an upgrade on the previous twelve editions as TruCSR pulled all the stops to create an OSCAR-like atmosphere with all the glitz and glamour in place. Considering that the previous 12 editions held at the MUSON Center, Onikan, Lagos, the 2019 edition announced the SERAS as having finally come of age, and now a member of the big leagues of events of its kind around the world.
The night began with Ken Egbas, the founder of the awards, stressing the difficulty of growing the platform to the height it has attained. In his words, “It has been thirteen years of a grueling grind of a journey growing The SERAS CSR Awards Africa into what it has become today – Africa’s biggest and most important recognition in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and also a leading business awards and most credible platform of its kind in the world.”
Egbas also drew the audience’s attention to the objectives behind setting up the platform in 2007 in the first place which were – to remain the gold-standard recognition in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability in Africa, and also enable the drive towards actualization of the sustainable development goals in Africa by enabling a platform that promotes, measures and harmonizes the contributions of private sector, governments/public sector and non-governmental organizations to attain set targets.
The total tally from the 13th edition shows over 900 entries received from nearly 300 organisations, with over 5000 projects across Nigeria and other parts of Africa verified, assessed, and documented, 240 award recipients, and an annual awards ceremony that has hosted over 15,000 key industry leaders and many others.
Egbas also used his moment to announce the release of Nigeria’s first CSR and Sustainability ranking due for release on 1st December 2019, in partnership with Forbes Africa. The rankings are a culmination of 13 years of data collection from field visits, interviews with leaders of over 250 organisations and their various stakeholders.
The evening went straight into the presentation of the first set of eight awards, soon after a brilliant opening by ageless crooner, Yinka Davies, and new act Iree who bellowed the SERAS theme song. The quickly followed by new music act, Bode Black.
Twenty-five awards were won on the night. Some of the winners include – Best Company in Stakeholder Engagement, which went to Coca-Cola. Chevron carted home The Best Company in Infrastructure. Dangote emerged winners in the Food Sufficiency category. New entrants IHS emerged winner of the Best Company in Work-Place Practice. Flour Mill, also a first timer at The SERAS, won a category as well, while. International Breweries Plc completed the list of first timers who shone at the award this year.
In the individual honours category, Olumide Orojimi of the Nigeria Stock Exchange beat Omobolanle Laniyan of Access Bank and Victoria Ndee Uwadoka of Nestle to the top honour as the CSR and Sustainability Professional of the Year. The drama didn’t end there. The ever ongoing competition for Africa’s most responsible business between Access Bank and Dangote saw Dangote win 3 categories and emerged first runner-up, overall. Union Bank polled enough numbers from their showings in the various categories to come third overall. The top win for the night went to Access Bank, who become the second company to record a hattrick of overall wins, having won in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The only other company to have recorded such a feat is MTN who won in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
Also noteworthy are the 2019 extraordinary achievement awards that went to Fauziya Abdi, for her project WAVE – Women Against Violent Extremism, in Kenya; Professor Ezekiel Okemwa of CANOPS, for one of the most successful tree planting campaigns in Africa; and Also Ishihara of Japan Bio Farm, for creating enzymes that makes crops resistant to drought in Zambia in the process boosting crop production by over 400 percent.
As the night wore to a close, it as easy to tell that the guests had enjoyed a beautiful evening. According to Mary Ephraim, the executive director of TruCSR Consulting, and chairperson of the local organising committee, “we have come to the end of a process that began in March 2019, where the most responsible businesses in Africa have been unveiled to the whole world. As always, our goal was to deliver a world class awards ceremony that offers the best experience for all our guests, and one that shows the other organisations in Africa why business-for-good can only make the world a better place for all.”
At the end of the ceremony, Ken Egbas made the rounds congratulating all the winners and posing for photographs with winners, friends, and well-wishers. It was easy to tell from the strain in his voice and the bags around his eyes that the event must have cost him and his team a few sleepless nights. When, asked “how did you pull this off?” it was with a wry smile playing on his face that he said, “Hey, I did not pull anything off…I am just as surprised as everyone else as to how near excellently it all turned out…this is definitely God’s hands on the project”
I have followed The SERAS from its first edition in 2007 and I am aware that funding for an idea this lofty has been a challenge for the organizers. In 2009, Egbas told me a story of how he went to pitch for a sponsorship proposal to a leading telecoms company, where he found himself in the same room with organisers of a music show. He came out of that meeting with a 750,000 naira cheque for The SERAS. While he sat at the lobby not knowing what to think, he saw the music show crew fist bumping, and celebrating having clinching a 100 million naira sponsorship. He said he considered shutting down the event out of frustration and discouragement. But considering the grand success of the SERAS this year, and the credibility and relevance that the platform has garnered all over Africa, it is surely a matter of time before the platform becomes self-sustaining. Nonetheless, it makes you wonder as an observer, why a project that is this deep and drives change and development and creates access to opportunities for the less privilege and people at risk in society should go cap-in-hand each year. Hopefully, with the performance of The SERAS over the years, itself and others like it should begin to enjoy look-ins.