INI ONUK, a member of the WEF Global Agenda Africa Council, convenes the annual African CEO Roundtable on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) through her company, Thistle Praxis. In this interview, she speaks on the just concluded WEF Africa meeting in Abuja, the 2014 edition of the CEO Roundtable and why AfDB President, Dr. Kaberuka, is keynote speaker at the roundtable.
You sit on the WEF Council and you have become the god-mother of CSR. How did all this start for you?
I am a member of the WEF Global Agenda Africa Council. My appointment or invitation to serve on. the Council on Africa has got nothing to do with my passion and work in CSR and Sustainability. My work has to do with my passion for Africa and what I like to refer to as the’ African Imperative for Sustainability’.
Interestingly, the Africa Council is voted the most active and impactful council in the world. Dr. Kaberuka, Ashish Thakkar of Mara Group, Carlos Lopes ofUN-ECA, Caroline Kende-Robb of Africa Progress Panel our Communications Technology Minister amongst other brilliant leaders are members of this council. We are all focused, determined and action-oriented leaders.
I am glad that despite the security challenges, the 24th WEF Africa was able to hold in Abuja. The World Economic Forum on Africa is a brilliant platform to project the imperative of sustainability. I moderated a session on Building Sustainable Businesses in Africa which was an interesting interaction amongst a range of organisations and professionals. Indeed, there seems to be a bright future for sustainability in Africa.
The African CEO ~Roundtable on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility is here again. What do we expect this year?
This is the fourth year we would be organising the AR-CSRTM and this edition is focused on discussing the real impact and interplay of financial inclusion. More often, financial inclusion is discussed as a financial issue and not an economic sustainability trigger.
In addition, the event will again feature all the regular programmes: CEO Round-table, Conference, Sustainable Solutions Showcase, Gala Dinner, Eco- Tourism etc. Every year, the AR-CSRTM stands out in the quality of discourse, speakers, spin-off initiatives and ideas. It is the business meeting to attend annually.
What is this year’s theme?
The theme for the 2014 edition is:’The Intersection: Financial Inclusion, Economic Sustainability & Social Benefit. ‘
How do you arrive at the theme. Do you wait for a trend or you anticipate the trend?
We anticipate trends by commencing research in earnest on the topic from June every year (i.e. immediately after the conference) but by November, we develop draft themes and shortlist to at least three (3) possible themes.
We, thereafter, hold strategy sessions where the trends and analysis are reviewed and debated before we arrive at a final theme. After the theme, we develop the sessions, topics and CEO-Round-table sub-themes. By November of each year, we announce the theme for the following year and break the campaign online.
Interestingly, by the time other global events such as World Economic Forum announce the theme for the Davos Meeting, we are aware of whether we were wrong with our analyses and findings or not. So far, most times, we have been right with the global agenda.
What is financial inclusion all about and how does it affect the average joe?
First, Financial inclusion means that the low-income population in any economy will have equal (if not special) access to financial services of the same quality and at rates they can comfortably afford.
Second, financial inclusion is effectively a measure of the extent to which economic agents utilize the financial tools at their disposal, to affect the desired exchanges by supporting the development of the often marginalized groups in the economy.
Why did you choose Kaberuka, the AFDB president as Keynote Speaker?
Dr. Kaberuka is arguably the most respected banker and financial professional on the continent. His records as a Finance Minister and the AIDB President arc inspiring.
Under his watch, the AiDB has made significant progress in investments and not just core sectoral investments but spearheading ground-breaking research on financial inclusion and playing the lead on other issues such as Climate Change, Sustainable Energy and many significant efforts across the continent.
During our research for themes, the AIDB Report on Financial Inclusion was a useful reference and it became clear that Dr. Kaberuka was our Keynote Speaker for 2014! We did a background check on his profile and track record before we concluded.
This edition of the event will feature Brian Kuwik, Vice President & Africa Regional Head, Accion as Lead Discussant amongst other business leaders and professionals which include: Dr. Alex Otti, CEO, Diamond Bank Plc, Andrew S. Nevin, Partner/West Africa Advisory-Strategy Consulting Leader, PwC, Dr. William Derban, Director, PMO & Financial Inclusion, Fidelity Bank Ghana. Others will include:
Hajara Adeola, CEO, Lotus Capital, Henrietta Onwuegbuzie, Project Director, Impact Investing Policy Initiative, Lagos Business School
At the WEF Africa in Abuja, Kaberuka spoke about financial inclusion. What is his financial inclusion gospel all about?
Beyond just a gospel to those who are discerning, the AfDB President is walking the talk on financial inclusion. He has demonstrated that the change Africa needs can come from within and that sustainable development can be attained through strategic investments.
The AfDB, undcr his leadership, has mainstreamed financial inclusion and kickstarted discussions across the continent through the background research study. The bank has also pioneered financial inclusion as a strategy for women empowerment-in Africa.
Why is sustainability such a hot button topic these days and is it ,just a fad that would fade?
When you say ‘hot button’ you refer to something that is likely to fade. I do not agree. I think we have sufficient reasons, global awareness and pressure to take sustainability seriously. Climatic changes and trends in health, agriculture and other key sectors should make any smart business executive rethink his/her modus operandi.
Corporate sustainability is intrinsically linked to the behaviour of a company as a responsible corporate citizen. How does corporate governance and ethics impact on corporate sustainability?
Corporate Governance is one of the seven pillars of social responsibility. They are closely knit but not the same thing, sustainability in a lay man’s term can be said to be the umbrella under which CSR, Corporate Governance and Business Ethics interplay with many other factors, actors and of course, stakeholders. So, it is a complex-sounding yet simple relationship. Corporate Governance and Ethics are practices that promote sustainability.
Thistle Praxis has become synonymous with this annual conference. What happens in the other eleven months?
The AR-CSR is no doubt our flagship initiative and one of our core projects under Thought Leadership & Advocacy. ThistlePraxis Consulting provides services in six (6) broad portfolios which are: Strategy & Performance, Assessments & Audits, Competence Devclopment, Public Sector Effectiveness, Advocacy & Thought Leadership, Research & Reporting. We provide services to a number of organisations and also host other initiatives.
At the last conference, we rolled out our New Media Products which include an online channel, Sustainable Conversations TV (www.sustainableconvos.tv);a MobileApp.ThistleApp (available on Android OS on GooglePayStore); an online Carbon Calculator, TP Calculator(www.tpcalculator.com) ; and a virtual testing website where individuals can take tests on a range of fields, Thistle Test Cafe (www.thistletestcafe.com) .
We are working on another bouquet of initiatives to be launched at our 5th anniversary. Advocacy is key to us in order to bring people to speed quickly about sustainability.
You mentioned the conversations; do you think they are taking a back scat to the AR-CSR?
Sustainable Conversations™, if that is what you mean, is a different initiative and strictly for Thought Leadership, hence the WhitePaper issued at the end of each edition. We have hosted four editions so far on: Sustainable Development Planning, Agriculture, Public Health, Education with two (2) more to hold before the end of the year in partnership with Etisalat Nigeria.
The conversations always end with a communique or white paper. Any success stories you want to share?
Well, we are pleased that initiatives like the Private Alliance on Health spear-headed by business titans like Aliko Dangote and Jim Ovia which were mooted at the event have become a reality. We are working on an Educational Data Bank at the moment and continue to consider possible spin-off projects from our initiatives.