Fuelled by Ubuntu, Africa’s future looks bright

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From the United Nations to Italy and across the Atlantic to America, business leaders who played an integral part in shaping the SVAI’s African journey over the past five years, offer unique insights into what they deem as critical building blocks of business sustainability and resilience in Africa.

Fuelled by Ubuntu, Africa’s future looks bright

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruptions to Africa, adversely impacting welfare and livelihoods in Africa, reducing earnings and increasing poverty. While 2021 is still a year fraught with upheaval and economic hardships for many, economic leaders are developing strategies to build back better.

This time, however, African countries’ economic development strategies are not solely focused on transformation as the key to sustained and inclusive growth. COVID-19 has placed a new spotlight on resilience as an equally important economic outcome, with unity and collaboration as critical building blocks. Of course, any economic recovery that ignores climate change and the broader objectives of sustainable development will cost Africa more economic pain in the long run.

It was against this background and under the unifying theme One Africa One Voice that the SVAI hosted the 2021 Africa Shared Value Leadership Summit from 8-9 November. In a world forever changed by COVID-19, business influencers gathered online and at the live event in Johannesburg, South Africa to break down what economic growth and continental unity could look like for Africa, unpacking the key role of African Entrepreneurs and the significance of gender equality and inclusion in building back better.

This year’s keynote speakers came from across the globe, sharing uniquely African perspectives fused with international insights and guided by the principles of Shared Value. The unifying message from all has been the vital roles of collaboration, partnerships and inclusiveness in ensuring the success of business sustainability and resilience in Africa – built on a foundation that places shared value at the centre.

“We are on a journey to build vibrant, resilient African economies and business leaders must accept the call to joint responsibility and lead organisations to sustainability and corporate responsibility. African businesses will not survive the historic risk of exploitation if they act unilaterally. It will take a united front amongst business leaders to claim the space needed to compete fairly in Africa and in the global arena.”

This is according to Sanda Ojiambo, Executive Director at UN Global Compact, during her opening keynote on the role of business in answering the rallying call of One Africa One Voice.

“Africa’s diversity of cultures calls for us to bring forth Ubuntu (our best principles of collective action) and to share our indigenous knowledge and martial our best abilities. We must do so in a way that connects our leadership outcomes with the hopes of our peoples and the demands of our Green Planet, hopes for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity as espoused in our Agenda 2063, the Africa we want. ”

She stressed that African businesses will not survive the historic risk of exploitation if they act unilaterally. It will take a united front amongst business leaders to claim the space needed to compete fairly in Africa and in the global arena. And, to support the longevity of African businesses, Sanda Ojiambo emphasised that profit must be driven by purpose as this is the only way to ensure that no-one is left behind. Principle-based sustainability action, she maintained, not only serves to meet customer demands, it fosters greater innovation and opens up new business opportunities.

Access to electricity will be equally instrumental in helping Africa’s realise its potential in a post COVID recovery era and to address a variety of long term sustainable development goals – economic productivity and growth, social development, job creation, improved health system education and poverty reduction.

This is according to Maria Cristina Papetti, Head of Global Sustainability and Infrastructure and Networks at Enel Group, who unpacked the concept of a just transition in the context of Africa’s current energy realities. She also underscored the potential of harnessing renewable energy solutions in the pursuit of building an equitable, sustainable and profitable African energy sector.

She elaborated: “Due to urbanisation, industrialisation and digitalisation, future electricity demand in Africa is expected to grow faster than anywhere else in the world. At the same time, the growth of renewable energy in Africa has been nominal with only 2% of renewable additions during the last decade. This will necessitate a significant scale up in electricity sector investment, if countries are to guarantee clean, affordable and secure access to electricity, as well as support continued progress towards sustainable development. ”

In this regard, renewable energy technologies represent the most competitive, secure and sustainable solution to achieve universal electricity access in several African countries. Furthermore, renewable energy could create significant spillover effects across the 2030 Agenda dimension of sustainability. There is also a significant job creation potential from both investing in renewable energy and investing in the associated local supply channels.

Investments in clean energy, Maria Cristina Papetti pointed out, could potentially create three and a half times the number of jobs as the same size investment in fossil fuels.

Large and targeted investment flows in the renewable electricity sector across Africa are now needed to address the reliability of electricity supply and progress on access to power. At the same time, according to Maria Cristina Papetti, a new work model for collaboration should allow both the public and the private sector to play an appropriate role in delivering the new infrastructure, while allocating risk and ensuring commercial returns to be generated?

This is exactly what the shared value model is all about – the ecosystem perspective that takes into account what is available at local level to co-create projects, develop new business model opportunities and foster socio economic development.

Likewise, Shared Value stalwart Prof. Mark Kramer noted during his keynote, when a company is started with a sense of social purpose, it can grow rapidly and reach heights that other companies simply cannot match.

In reflecting on the 10 years since the article on Creating Shared Value was first published in the Harvard Business Review, Prof Kramer noted the enormous impact of corporations on social issues.

“Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, two thirds are companies rather than countries. The reality is that companies shape our world and our lives. If we want to solve the extraordinarily challenging and difficult problems we face as a world today, we need to engage companies in the process not as philanthropists, not as corporate social responsibility, but to really make business partners in shaping solutions to the problems we face.

According to Prof Kramer, it is very evident that the world is moving toward the concept of creating shared value, which places a social purpose at the core of a company’s strategy and operations, albeit at a very slow pace. “We are seeing progress in how companies are thinking seriously about their social impact, not as something that is peripheral to their operations, but recognizing that these issues are core to their operations and that they can make material change at scale on these issues in the regions where they operate.”

He is also very optimistic about Africa’s opportunity to leapfrog the developed world and move directly to a model of building shared value companies and industries. “I’m particularly hopeful when I look at the young entrepreneurs in Africa who are finding innovative solutions to the world’s problems and building businesses that address these problems.”

Other keynotes delivered during the Summit focused predominantly on gender equality, responsible and agile entrepreneurship, as well as supporting and promoting African entrepreneurs.
Being an agile African entrepreneur
Christelle Kwizera, Founder and CEO of Water Access Rwanda

Gender Equality and economic growth
Dr Amy Jadesimi, CEO, Ladol Nigeria

My responsibility to build back better as an African Entrepreneur
Dr. Patrick Bitature, Chairman & CEO of The Simba Group (Uganda)

Supporting and promoting our African Entrepreneurs
Mamadou Biteye OBE, Vice President, Inclusive Growth & Global Social Impact, Visa

Driving localisation and inclusive growth
Richard Lubira, Head of ESD, ABSA Kenya