Renown expert on corporate governance, Prof. Mervyn King, from South Africa, is visiting Nigeria soon on the auspices of the 5th edition of AR-CSR™. During the visit, King is scheduled to meet with chief executive officers (CEOs) of Nigeria’s companies. In this interview, the CEO of Thistle Praxis, the organisation behind AR-CSRTM, Ini Onuk, speaks on the initiative.
The AR-CSR™ is five years already. Share with us the vision that informed it as well as one high point.
The vision of the AR-CSR™ is to build a credible and impactful platform for sustainability professionals and stakeholders across the continent. A major high point is the quality of discourse and caliber of speakers.
This year we move from Calabar to Lagos. What do we expect?
We started in Lagos with the first edition of the AR-CSR™ before the Cross River State Government hosted the event for three years. We are in talks with the Lagos State Government to do same and are back to Lagos for Year five. The event will again feature the usual: CEO Round-table, Conference Sessions, Sustainable Solutions Showcase, Gala Dinner and, this year, we plan to organize a Master Class for interested participants as well as a side event for CEOs.
After the ENRON debacle, corporate governance trended, then it seemed as if we all forgot. Do you think there is enough awareness and compliance?
There was a lot of awareness; just perhaps we did not match the awareness with resources, information and trainings to ensure the required, envisaged or expected change in the corporate world. Organisations such as the Institute of Directors (IoD), have become much stronger, visible and providers of impactful resources and support. I must admit this has taken so many years but we have made some progress so far and I look forward to much more to assist organisations comply with best practices; especially MSMEs.
What informs your themes?
Research. We already have three options for AR-CSR™ 2016. We work about two years ahead. For our 2015 Keynote Speaker, Professor Mervyn King, we booked his participation a year ago. When we review the research report on relevant areas, which require consideration and better alignment with sustainability across Africa; we deliberate on them and share with the planning/convening team. We then shortlist possible Keynote Speakers and observe the trends for a few more months before announcing in November preceding the event in June.
Mervyn King is not just ‘King of Corporate Governance’, he is god. How difficult was it getting him to be keynote speaker at AR-CSR™ 2015?
Oh! I already shared this. We reached his office in May 2014 to book his participation for June 2015. It was early and we did not get a firm nod until January 2015 because of the elections and uncertainty at that time. The xenophobic attacks also gave us cause for concern but we are grateful we scaled that. Prof. King apparently has been invited to Nigeria a few times but his schedule always worked against it. We are delighted to host the King of Corporate Governance.
We understand there is a sort of CEO master class with Mervyn King where a select group of CEOs will spend quality time hearing from him. How will that proceed?
It is ‘2 Hours with King’, a closed-door session with Prof. King and select CEOs in Nigeria. We envisage it to be a mentoring and experience sharing session on a number of issues; we have termed ‘trigger issues’. This event became important because of Prof. King’s role and profile – with decades of experience as Judge and Business Leader – in corporate governance issues in Africa. We have received a lot of interest and look forward to the session.
For five years you have preached the CSR gospel. Taking stock do you think you have been preaching to the choir or have you got new converts?
We do not need converts in this mission; we need missionaries and ambassadors; to use your analogy. Converts are good, please don’t misunderstand me; but beyond converts, we do this to get missionaries who will reach into their sectors and value chain and networks to influence other organisations.
In our discussions before the interview you mentioned the fact that you will be setting up a board to run the AR-CSR™ in a long-term, sustainable fashion. Can you throw more light on this?
Yes, the AR-CSR™ will evolve into the Foundation for Sustainability & Responsibility in Africa (FSRA). FSRA will be formally unveiled at the AR-CSR™ and will commence work with the annual research study and publication as well as the Regional Meetings, Work Groups and Alliance for Sustainability & Responsibility in Africa. We intend to take this discourse further by breaking the annual themes into more customized sub-themes for each stakeholder group to exhaustively discuss and integrate. This is a long-term vision and we are living by example to establish a better governing model, away from ThistlePraxis Consulting.
Five years on, has it been worth the stress, the sweat, and the sleepless nights?
It has been worth these and more from the opportunities the platform has created for individuals and organisations alike as well as the impact we have recorded especially in Nigeria, which is our root as ThistlePraxis and conveners of the AR-CSR™. In 2013, we started using a balance scorecard model to deduce the impact of the event. This immediately made it glaring how much potential the initiative has and the need for it to evolve.