Stakeholders at the 2013 CSR Awards urge government to provide suitable business environment and policies that will encourage companies to remain committed to their host communities
As it is the practice around the world, apart from profit making, a business organisation is expected to give back to the host communities where it operates, through provision of infrastructural facilities, essential services, or scholarship programmes, among many other means. Although, not all corporate entities in Nigeria engage in full and enduring corporate social responsibility, CRS, for their consumers and host communities, but those that have embraced it over the years have continued to enjoy support and commendations from their beneficiaries. The philanthropic activities of these companies have not gone unnoticed, as those that have remained, faithful, focused and innovative in their CSR, were recently honoured at the 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Award Night, held at in Lagos.
While explaining the idea behind the theme, Harnessing CSR for Development and Democracy, Taiwo Olowookere, managing partner, C-tru Concepts, organiser of the event, said the government could not provide everything for the people, as the corporate organisations too have roles to play in assisting the government to develop the society. “Of course you cannot force them into it because they pay their taxes, but some are doing it even when they are not putting so much into it,” he said. Therefore the essence of the event is to attract companies that have not embraced CSR and to encourage those already involved to do more. “CSR has been on before now, but people don’t put so much into it anymore. So, to get their interest back we believe the best thing is to appreciate what they are doing now, that will spur them to do more and it will encourage others, wanting to imbibe the culture of giving back to the society,” he said.
Patrick Irabor, director, Project Development and Design Department, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, FIIRO, who represented Gloria Elemo, director-general, lamented the high rate of poverty and unemployment among working age population. Irabor said although the government at different levels has introduced various strategies on poverty eradication, job creation, food security and improved nutrition, but it is obvious that the government cannot do it alone. He noted that different organisations and companies have a significant role to play in supporting the government towards achieving a sustainable development.
The FIIRO director, however, emphasised that Nigerian corporate community still has a challenge of developing CSR strategies that will strengthen business and at the same time contribute to the society. Citing the 2012 Collective Social Investment Report on Nigeria, published by CSR In Action, an independent ethical action network for CSR, Irabor said, about 52.3 per cent of business organisations invest their CSR in school infrastructure and educational gifts; 46.8 per cent invest in health initiatives while only 8.5,1.5,6.3 and 3.1 percentages invest in training and skill acquisition, agriculture, good governance and nutrition respectively.
To harness CRS, Irabor said there is need for a more coordinated approach towards it, “this can be achieved by creating an enabling environment for businesses to do CSR.” He said Nigerian government needs to establish a CSR policy that also complements traditional, social and environmental policies through regulations, laws and financial instruments, such as tax subsidies and awards; endorsing instruments like trainings, conferences, campaigns, brochures as well as partnering instruments like networking with other government bodies, civil societies, public-private partnership, PPP and so on. Irabor added that a national framework for CSR in Nigeria should also be developed, “so that there is a unified platform on which businesses carry out their CSR by keying in to priority areas and working with the government and other partners on moving Nigeria forward,” he said. At present, Lagos State government is championing this platform through the ‘Adopt-A-School’ Initiative, where a private organisation in the state adopt a school and invest in its system and infrastructure. Some of the companies that are partnering with the state include, Airtel Nigeria, Etisalat, Guaranty Trust Bank, GTBank and Oando Foundation.
During the event, business organisations with outstanding CSR were presented with awards in different categories. For instance, Mansard Insurance, BOA Group, Computer Warehouse, Guaranty Trust Bank and Diamond Bank, received Best Stewardship Awards in Insurance, Banking, Conglomerate and ICT, respectively, while Sweet Sensation Confectionery Limited won the Abimbola Fashola Award for Academic Excellence, among others. According to Yemi Yusuf, head of marketing, Sweet Sensation, through the Sweet Sensation Education Support Scheme, SSESS, the company has in the last three years, sponsored over 500 bright but indigent students from primary to tertiary institutions.
In his acceptance speech, Tochukwu Ononiwu, team lead, brand and advertising, Diamond Bank, said the award would spur the bank to do more in its CSR commitments, which include capacity development, women wellbeing and entrepreneurship. Ononiwu urged other companies to “continue to invest in your communities, because it pays a lot.”
However, Yusuf emphasised the need for the government at all levels to make the business environment a lot more profitable for business organisations, through provision of major infrastructure like power. “Multiplicity of taxes is already eating deep into the profitability of companies and this will affect our CSR efforts,” he said. Similarly, Olowookere said the government should encourage private organisations to participate more in the development process of the society. He suggested provision of tax rebate, tax incentives for companies that are truly committed to their CSR.
According to Olowookere, some of the criteria for selecting the awardees, include, the effectiveness, consistency and documentation of the CSR projects. He added that his organisation plans to have a CSR Foundation, which involves bringing corporate organisations together to achieve a particular developmental goal. “For instance, to repair a particular road, we can bring Shell, Chevron, UBA together to do it. It will be easier to achieve the goal faster than any other projects,” he said.
In essence, while corporate organisations need to do more to improve the lives of their host communities, it is necessary for the government and even the community members to provide them with relevant support, if CSR must be properly harnessed for development and deepening of democracy.