CSR in rural Africa

- Indranil GHOSH (ig@kko-international.com)

« The idea that business is part of society, and therefore has community and national responsibilities is established in the culture, and economic history of many African countries. » Visser, W, McIntosh, M and Middleton (Eds.), Corporate Citizenship in Africa: Lessons from the Past; Paths to the Future, Greenleaf, 2006.

Having worked in Ivory Coast and implemented the in-house CSR program, here are some of my experiences as to what worked for us and what tendencies needs to be avoided. 

A) Build self-governing individuals: A meaningful CSR strategy in Africa must be less about philanthropy (donation, benevolence or charity) and more about rendering population self-sufficient by providing them the requisite tools (i.e. revenue generation through meaningful employment, training programs to acquire new skills). 

The long term aim of the company must be to reduce its need for intervention (financial and managerial) through the creation of a society where issues such as healthcare, educational infrastructure and poverty reduction are seen less as responsibility of the provider and lies in the sphere for which the individual is responsible, thus becoming a issue of ‘self-care’. This will evidently take time but must be the founding pillar of any debuting program. 

B) Opt for co-financing: The mot d’ordre must be « participatory financing »where investments must be a joint effort. Albeit difficult to envisage an equal participation, a minimal contribution at the very onset that builds over time should provide the population with means of contributing to their own betterment and build a sense of allegiance. 

C) Ensure personalised contact: To enhance the idea of developing self-governing individuals, the management (at its very highest echelons) must adhere to the idea of maintaining personalised contact with the population that goes beyond the mere photo-op. This involves constant physical presence on the ground that includes, but is not limited to merely managing the strategic rollout. Participating in employee representative committees, resolving on-field social conflicts or being a part of cultural events helps demonstrate a hand-ons approach that creates empathy and builds deeper understanding of the social fabric whilst instilling confidence amongst the society as to the underlying intent of the company. The resulting harmony is key to the success of a CSR program.

D) Aim at women: In rural areas, despite a prevalent patriarchal society, women form an integral part of the social fabric that goes well beyond child rearing and home-keeping. CSR programs need to greatly stress on gender equality and do more than pay lip service to the betterment of women. 

E) Embrace technology: The ability to adapt to new technology (known as technological leapfrogging) is vastly improved amongst rural population who have not had to adapt to previously outdated technology such as landlines, GSM phones, fax. CSR programs, notably educational, should aim to equip schools with tablets and digital content. Aim is not to merely adopt expensive models that work in developed nations but to design simpler, cost-effective solutions that will keep in mind the ground realities in Africa while providing access to modern technology. 


F) Do NOT outsource CSR: It is important that those who implement the programs believe in it and experience the rollout in all of its good and inconveniences. It is tempting to bring in specialised outsiders who can take up tasks related to domains such as health and infrastructure. But while one needs the technical support, the day-to-day management must be the sole responsibility of the company in question. 

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is simply not philanthropy. Rosemary Mutunkei, Corporate Sector Engagement Consultant at the Aga Khan Foundation, speaks on how businesses can meet a triple-bottom-line through corporate sustainability. #GinaDinGroup The Gina Din Group is Africa's most awarded communications agency. Launched in Kenya in 1997 by Gina Din-Kariuki, GDG has helped build strong and long-lasting brands.