In Conversation With Sazini Mojapelo

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We sit down with Sazini Mojapelo, Managing Executive: Group Head of Citizenship and Community Investments at Absa Group, to talk about her Shared Value journey. She is confident about the road ahead and her advocacy role, as newly-appointed Chair for SVAI founder Shift Impact Africa.

How and when did you start your shared value journey?

Ten years ago, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer first introduced the Creating Shared Value (CSV) business concept in a Harvard Business Review article. In South Africa, however, we have been privileged to have the King I, II, III and IV Reports on corporate governance, which have challenged business to look at the triple bottom line and drive profit with purpose – for more than two decades.

When I came into my role in 2015, shared value was one of the main strategic drivers. At the time, we were part of the Barclays Group, which was one of the founding members of the shared value Initiative in the US. In fact, the Barclays Group became one of the main proponents of shared value, with many case studies featuring the work we were doing on the African continent.

My own shared value journey started in 2016. I was responsible for the Africa business, looking at corporate citizenship and assessing how we can embed the shared value thinking into it. We took it in and made it our own. We called it shared growth and said we want to go beyond just creating value. We wanted to grow our business by redefining how we do business and the way in which we do business.

Unlike many companies that stumbled upon the shared value concept, Barclays was globally recognised as a shared value front-runner and pioneer. ABSA, by default, also continued on the same journey.

Any key milestones or achievements during this time that are still front of mind for you?

The shared growth agenda, which we started under Barclays, has been one of the key achievements for me. We managed to introduce a new way of thinking to the organisation and its leadership, prompting a move away from focusing exclusively on the bottom line. As ABSA, we recognised that we had to change our products, services and entire supply chain. We need to not only adhere to the BBBEE requirements, but also look beyond that and drive a completely new shared value agenda – from both the perspective of transformation, as well as growing our business and realising the right societal impact.

Looking back, another pivotal point was the major change we achieved at the board level in terms of understanding and driving the business towards shared value and shared growth. In fact, one of the biggest advocates was our board chair, Wendy Lucas-Bull, who made sure that the change occurred bank-wide and was not limited to a specific business unit. Throughout our journey, I have seen her push leadership, management and the board to think along those lines and understand that shared value is a way of existing – a way to grow our business and not just preserve it.

In fact, our journey has led to significant shifts among our leadership, both at board and management levels. Our previous CEO, Maria Ramos, was very focused on the added-value proposition of shared value for ABSA as a business. Similarly, our current CEO, Daniel Mminele, is also giving us the space to relook our strategy and redefine the role we play in Africa’s growth and sustainability. Already, in our strategy refresh, we have identified shared value as one of the key tenets that will grow the business.

Do you see shared value as key to Africa’s future sustainability?

I do see shared value as one of the main business models capable of supporting and driving achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). At an operational level, it can be instrumental in helping companies remain relevant and sustainable in the societies or markets in which they operate.

More importantly, shared value should not be seen as the exclusive domain of multinationals and large corporates. Across the African continent, there is a need for all companies – small, medium and large – to understand, adopt and implement the shared value practice.

I would encourage every company to start by having it as part of the leadership and learning chain, and then identify two or three drivers to guide profit with purpose within the business. In other words, do not relegate it to a support function but elevate it to the highest decision-making level. A top-down approach is important if you want to bring about the type of strategic changes needed to shift the social impact dial, as well as measure and monitor performance at a board level.

You recently assumed the role as Chair for Shift Impact Africa, founder of the shared value Africa Initiative. This position will see you almost as a voice and advocate for shared value on our continent. How do you feel about that?

I am very humbled and honored to take on this role. As a black woman driving the shared value agenda on the African continent, together with other like-minded women, I am confident we can shift business towards profit with purpose – one listed company, one African organisation at a time.

My goal is simple – to help drive understanding and adoption of the shared value business model across the continent. In short, I am quite excited. I am feeling challenged and I am ready to support and advance the shared value agenda on the continent.

What, in your opinion, can be done differently or better to fast track gender parity in the workplace?

The obstacles faced by women in climbing the leadership ladder are undeniable and so much work still needs to be done. We must take our cue from what Melinda Gates recently said; we do not want to wait 99 years for gender equality – it has to be in our lifetime. But, what does that mean?  What needs to be done to make it happen?

For me it has to move beyond the advocacy and the conversations. If we do not get to that point where the status quo can be changed, then we are not going to see gender equality in our lifetime. In this regard, policy and decision-making are critical levers to move gender equality forward. In fact, #ChooseToChallenge, which was the mantra of International Women’s Day this month, already helps to move the issue beyond trying to convince to challenging the status quo.

As for gender parity in the workplace, that becomes a far more pronounced conversation. Gender parity and issues of remuneration are not something that is spoken about publicly. So how does one confront something that is regarded as private and confidential, and typically done behind closed doors?

As women, we need to be brave and choose to challenge. We must stand our ground and demand indices to measure gender parity both within a company and in a country. We must get to the point where we can publicly talk about those indices, and identify companies that are doing well and those that are not. I hope there will come a time where we can start naming and shaming companies. Yes, the information may be private and confidential, but if there are publicly available indices, it will help companies to push the boundaries and move beyond mere compliance.

I believe that compliance is by far the biggest challenge we face. If we use South Africa’s BBBEE scorecard as an example of such an index, which measures and equates a company’s compliance to a percentage. Unfortunately, companies limit their engagement to meeting the stated target [of 30%] and are not committed to pushing beyond that. There is a misconception that if we are all at 30%, then we are doing very well. Yet, there is only one JSE-listed company with a female CEO.

The number of women getting into executive and senior management roles has to change. The number of women sitting on boards, staying active at boardroom level and driving the decisions needs to change. Also on the African continent, there exists cultural beliefs that as a woman, you have to assume a certain role and place within society. Those antiquated perceptions need to be challenged. As a country and as business, we need to do something to make sure that we push and keep women in leadership roles. In twenty years’ time, I really do not want to have the same conversation with my daughter – who is only nine now.