Capitalism is a predatory system. This economic system grounded in private ownership of resources and operation in a free market for profit is a monster that feeds on the very people that work for it. The system has a hierarchy of considerations that inform corporate decision-making and while it may seem as if the consumer is at the centre of this debate, it is not so. It is easy to fall for this myth of consumer-centred operations based on the benefits accruing to us by virtue of living in the modern world. A look deeper into the model clears up this confusion. Its priority is higher profit margins at whatever cost, be it the environment or the quality of human life.
While an upheaval of the entire system would be the best solution, it is also very idealistic. This being the reality that we find ourselves in, our next best alternative is corporate social responsibility. Wikipedia defines CSR as the ethical principle that a company should be responsible for how its behaviour might affect society. This in context basically means that it is the idea that organisations should go over and above the minimum prescriptions of law by adopting internal policies which actively pursue improvement of the community within which they operate.
Safaricom, which was recently awarded Brand of the Year is the perfect case study for corporate social responsibility. Since 2012 they have been releasing an annual sustainability report as an embodiment of their CEO’s mantra, Know, Show and Grow which he explained at the 2017 launch to be a dedication to constantly doing better. The report, which did not stop short at highlighting the good, bad and ugly of their activities of the year, was presented in response to the global sustainability goals.
A Harvard Business Review article cites the main goal of CSR to be “aligning a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and value”. There’s an acknowledgement that businesses have a duty to their stakeholders, to make a profit. For this reason, CSR does not require that companies adhere to a strict business discipline. Rather, through self-regulation, they can tailor their business model to accommodate particular ecological or social improvement goals. The article goes on to describe three avenues by which Safaricom’s dedication to CSR can be analysed;
This is charitable giving by which a corporate donates to causes that identify with its ‘soul’. Safaricom through the Safaricom Foundation demonstrates this through the M-Pesa Foundation Academy. This is in line with the Sustainable Development Goal of education for all. They grant full scholarships to learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to give them an opportunity to study. This is not the only contribution in education, they are also in partnership with Starehe Girls High School to sponsor some of the learners. Other ways in which their philanthropy is shown is through donation to causes such as the Heart Run held yearly, among others. Find out more about what Safaricom Foundation is doing here.
- Operational effectiveness
Here, a corporation streamlines activities along its value chain. The focus is on all the moving parts that make up the entire corporation vehicle. Safaricom is signed to the United Nations Global Compact which focuses on urging companies to align their operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. In their operations, they insist that their business partners sign onto the pact as well, committing to uphold ethics and take actions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
With this in mind, Safaricom’s 2017 report revealed that their workplace gender balance was evenly split at 51% men to 49% women. Their dedication to inclusivity, gender and diversity as part of the SDG goals goes even further as they revealed that despite this balance, there were more men in senior management positions than men, and that they would seek to improve this. Read more on Safaricom’s practices on women at the workplace.
They also reported that during the year they had set aside a few employees and given warning to others over allegations of fraudulent activity.
Environmental responsibility for Safaricom appears to be a priority because based on their report, they made strides to reduce their energy consumption by making structural changes to their grid sites.
- Transformed business models
Under this, the corporation comes up with new forms of business that contribute not only to revenue but also to social goals. In this regard, Safaricom’s accomplishments need not even be mentioned. Instances of their partnerships and even financing of great business ideas that are socially conscious are innumerable. From the WEEE Centre which collects e-waste for recycling and preoperative disposal, to M-Tiba which enables people to set aside money for healthcare; Eneza Education which grants access to revision material for students, teachers and parents, Ocean Sole who clean up beaches at the Coast and make decorative art using the waste; the list is endless.
There are benefits to be gained from investing in CSR, especially in this age of consciousness. Consumers are aware of all the things that are going wrong in the world, from climate change to modern slavery. They are therefore more likely to align themselves to a brand that has a soul. The long-term brand image created through impacting communities not only assures you of a dedicated workforce but also through brand loyalty translates into long term revenue.
While restructuring may not be a walk in the park, it’ll take a CEO who is committed to leaving a legacy rather than one who is fixated on the present. As Bob Collymore insisted,” Purpose, People then Profit. If we let our purpose of transforming lives guide our decision making and put our people first, we know that profit will follow.” Read more on Safaricom’s 2017 sustainability report.