Innovating for scale and equality – One Africa One Voice

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The SVAI takes a closer look at how business leaders across Africa are tackling the challenges of driving equality and innovating with scale.

Innovating for scale and equality - One Africa One Voice

Chief executives from across the continent connected virtually during the recent CEO Connect Forum, to share insights into how they are driving equality and innovating with scale through Shared Value. All who participated agreed that there is a huge gender and innovation gap that must be addressed in order to advance Africa’s contribution towards the SDGs and that the best way for African businesses to predict their future, is to create it.

The roundtable discussion was preceded by a fireside chat between SVAI CEO Tiekie Barnard and Professor Mark Kramer, which highlighted the importance of creating Shared Value and driving profit with a social purpose. Key take aways were that opportunities for growth are driven by partnerships and collaborations, access to finance and financial inclusion remain pivotal to Africa’s future, and gender equality can be an economic game changer for the continent.

These pointers also set the stage for a dynamic CEO discussion, with chief executives sharing practical examples of purpose-led initiatives, equal opportunity programmes and Shared Value outcomes within their respective organisations.

A case in point is Novartis, which has signed the EPIC (Equal Pay International Coalition) Pledge with a commitment to pay equity and achieving the 50:50 goal by 2023. Next month, the company is also launching Novartis Biome Sub-Saharan Africa; a one stop innovative ecosystem, which aims to create an environment where solutions to some of the most complex challenges can be sourced, incubated and also distributed.

Says Racey Muchilwa, Country President and Head of Novartis Sub-Saharan Africa: “We plan to address inclusivity and equality challenges by focusing on innovative finance, early patient diagnosis success, skills development and supply chain innovation. We want to ensure our medicines reach the patient down at the village and that the health care worker has the right education to be able to manage the patients.”

For its part, mobile network operator Vodacom is focused on building a multitude of different technology platforms that speaks to economic transformation and creates shared value.

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub sees partnerships as key to helping the group achieve its strategic goal of connecting for a better future, considering that a massive 3.7 billion people remain unconnected today, with 3.4 billion that are close to connectivity, but are not taking full advantage of it. “In realising our social agenda across the continent, we are looking for partnerships to help drive more coverage across the continent and cover 10,000 small towns, which would never have been covered before.”

Jeremy Awori, CEO of Absa Kenya concurs. “Through our partnership with Safaricom in Kenya, we’ve launched a mobile app which enables any person to open a mobile wallet – a bank account essentially – within a minute, simply by using their national ID. The impact of this partnership was enormous. We were able to onboard a million clients in less than 40 days and we grew to five million clients within a year.”

Richard Firth, Chairman and CEO, MIP Holdings sees technology is just another resource to drive abundance. “Solutions are out there for every problem that we face. Although we have to choose to find the right solution and not necessarily the quick solution.”

Innovation is driven by the young people that are in the system, people living and breathing the problems, according to Nichole Yembra, founder and MD of The Chrysalis Co. She sees her role as being able to help support many of these innovative companies on the continent and, as they grow from one stage to another, centering shared value. “It’s a lot easier when the company is a couple of months to a couple of years and you can make Shared Value part of their DNA in the beginning, it’s something that they continue to think about as they grow and they scale.”

As to the role of the private sector in addressing gender equality, there was consensus that change has to happen at the top if it’s going to carry through the company and a fully integrated programme is needed to deliver sustainable results. More importantly, the thinking and commitment must start with the board, if a gender transformation agenda is to be implemented company-wide and deliver real results.

A case in point is Absa Kenya, which in 2014 became the first company on the Nairobi Securities Exchange to achieve a 50:50 gender diversity mix at the board level. “We have seen the benefits in terms of the way the company thinks about problems, the solutions we come up with by having much more balanced perspectives,” adds CEO Jeremy Awori.

In closing, participants agreed that the vision for Africa must be an inclusive environment where we can gain the benefit of all Africans across the continent, whether it’s youth or women, and for companies to have very specific agendas to advance inclusive and diversity agendas.

As noted by Prof Chris Ogbechie, Dean of the Lagos Business School, during his closing remarks: “We all agree that business has a responsibility in building the Africa we want – an Africa that meets the needs of the present, but does not take away the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We must be supportive of innovation and take personal responsibility to influence and hold each other to account to lead impactful change in the short term.”