Bright Perspectives from Africa
Earlier this year, I attended the first Sustainable Brands Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa. I have written about this amazing experience in the past but perhaps I failed to mention some of the wonderful friends I made while at the conference. KoAnn Vikoren, the Founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands couldn’t have put it any better, ‘the people you meet at Sustainable Brands are both smart and nice!’ For me, Nancy Mancilla is both these things and more. I first met Nancy at the Cape Town conference and had the pleasure of getting together again with her, and her husband, a few weeks ago in Nairobi. I love Nancy’s simple and refreshing take on sustainability reporting. She also shares my passion for contextualising the issues around sustainability. She shares some of her views in the article below. Enjoy the read. Muthoni
By Nancy Mancilla, ISOS Group CEO & Co-Founder
The world has turned attention to defining what growth means in light of heightened security issues, climate change and human diaspora. Over the years, we’ve all struggled to find ways to assess responsibility and determine roles needed to advance strategic issues – sustainably. Global leaders finally came together at COP21 in Paris last year to sign across their commitments to reducing harmful environmental impacts and more recently, delegates from Japan and across Africa met in Nairobi met to discuss strengthening ties towards sustainable development and this week, the U.S. and China formally signed onto the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
What does this mean for Africa? Due to our interdependencies, implications are broad. As seen during our trip to Nairobi a few weeks ago, the country is experiencing astronomical growth and as one friend put it, “Kenyans have their day job and then they have their hustle.” These are the people that will feel the trickle down of policies set at the top, but craft creative solutions to delivering on economic growth. However, according to hard scientific evidence, there is need to act fast in order to sway our destiny and avoid the harmful effects of climate change by 2030. It is in this spirit that, our organisation, ISOS Group decided to venture into unchartered territory. As of late 2014, we were granted the opportunity to lead a consortium with AMC International in delivering GRI Certified Trainings in Sub-Saharan Africa (minus South Africa) and have since led two groundbreaking extended practitioners trainings that also delve into determining what’s relevant, designing due diligence schemes, building sustainability governance structures, the basics of greenhouse gas accounting and reporting. With each training, we’ve seen how incredibly well positioned the African continent is to shape the future of sustainable development – to “Africanise Sustainability”.
With that, it’s important to understand how Sustainability or CSR has been perceived: For those who have flocked to our trainings in Nairobi, the concern was shared that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been perceived historically, as strictly giving.
When corporate negligence has occurred in the past, charitable giving in the name of CSR, was extended as a method for covering the wound, not necessarily healing it.
CSR has been seen as limiting; a term that hasn’t instituted real accountability for long-term impact. “Africanising Sustainability” and defining what it means in the broader context of operating on the continent can accelerate adoption. Getting started may mean coming to terms with a few issues that are felt by all nations consistently:
- Rampant corruption in all facets of leadership is still a primary concern of the people. This issue is heightened as other developing nations move in to Africa to rope in precious resources. Using frameworks, like GRI or CDP make addressing governance a precursor to any other barometer of performance. Therefore, publishing sustainability disclosures could result in a transition to more formal systems that weed out opportunities for corruption.
- The scientific community has already proven that human activity, especially by big businesses, is the climate change culprit. For many in Africa, climate change has impacted civilisations, migratory patterns and support systems. Reminding the world as to the historical context and what that could mean for big business moving forward is important for the continent. Similarly, broad awareness and education in the marketplace could present opportunities for leading the change. However, it’s hard data and other performance metrics that should be the common platform for communication. Understanding industry standards and best practice is essential to collecting and reporting impacts, mitigation efforts and successes.
- Impacts caused through international trade have a chain reaction, which can no longer be disguised. For instance, a fair trade coffee company identifies a resource rich, scalable coffee plantation in Uganda, low-cost labor is migrated to the area. Growth is ignited and various informal industries blossom. Without the proper policy infrastructure in place to control growth in a systematic manner, human rights are quickly degraded; labor rights, gender, children’s rights are impacted. As with the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’, Fair Trade initiatives also have unimaginable damaging effects on the wellbeing of labourers. Regular engagement across the value chain is therefore crucial.
- Expanding diversity and inclusion opportunities could put to rest age-old tribal struggles and possibly, bring about long-term peace. Social scientists have leaned toward an informal 3 Generation Rule; it typically takes three generations to overcome the mindsets that have led people into acts of war and genocide before true peace prevails. It’s our perception that Africans are tired of being tied to these sentiments and ready for change. Assessing diversity and laying out equal opportunity measures could aid in establishing a fair playing field to build from.
In summary, we feel that using the Sustainable Development Goal’s could help anchor organisations in what they aspire, while also bridge the gap between what the international community has committed to and what action means on the ground. Tying in proven non-financial disclosure frameworks, like the GRI or CDP, could help measure progress and create communication channels beyond expectations.