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CSR in Africa, the Next Sustainable Business Frontier

Words by Leon Kaye

Once the domain of larger global companies and the communities in their host countries, corporate social responsibility (CSR) in emerging markets has scored the interest of multinational and local companies alike. So watch for CSR in Africa to become central in both local and multinational companies’ agendas. No longer overlooked by the world’s most powerful companies and countries, Africa has become a power in its own right. This continent of over one billion people now reaps more success and progress, but still confronts many of the same old challenges.

Yet some of these challenges offer new opportunities for innovation and social enterprise. For example, according to the Brookings Institute, only 140 million, about 14 percent of Africans, have access to the Internet. But the fact that over 600 million Africans use a mobile phone offers huge openings for technological advancement and social enterprise. A generation ago, after the Berlin Wall fell, Eastern Europeans adopted cell phones at a quicker pace than their cousins across the pond because the demand for communication meant many people had no need for a land line. Fast forward to today, and any lack of infrastructure throughout Africa just means more amazing technologies thanks to mobile telephony will come out of new buzzing tech hubs such as Nairobi, Accra and Cape Town.

The same Brookings Institute Study has shown Africa is already on the move economically. Africa’s rise makes it the second-fastest growing region on Earth with an annual growth of 5.5 percent--not stratospheric, but certainly sustainable and an enviable rate when compared to the United States, the European Union and Japan. Furthermore, since the early 1980s Africa’s middle class has tripled in size and claims one-third of the continent’s population. And while corruption and weak institutions hinder the progress of all Africans, conditions are improving: 14 African countries rank ahead of Russia, 16 pull higher than Brazil and 17 rank higher than India.

Now countries from all over the world have taken notice. The same companies trumped by the Chinese firms who started investing in Africa several years ago now realize Africa is ripe for investment. PepsiCo is one company with a long term interest in Africa; Novozymes is an engaged investor in Mozambique; SAP’s ties go back almost a quarter-century and the German enterprise software giant is now bullish about Africa’s future.

But these same companies that cast a keen eye on Africa must prove they are engaged stakeholders and are in the region for the long term. The needs are overwhelming: HIV/AIDS still leaves a devastating impact as well as other infectious diseases; the demand and desire for education amongst Africa’s young outpaces the amount of opportunities actually available; and the global land grab, in which large tracts of land were leased long term to foreign governments or multinationals, could prove even more disruptive and tragic in the long run.

More companies now realize there are opportunities to build a legacy where others only see limits. SAP supports and works with science centers and museums in South Africa’s larger cities; Standard Bank has found a gold mine in offering mobile banking to Africa’s poor; Impahla Clothing, a supplier to PUMA, is a carbon-neutral clothing manufacturer; and MTN, a telecommunications firm, works on health and literacy challenges in Ghana.

This week I will travel through South Africa with SAP to witness some of Africa’s transformation. Watch for other examples of what companies can do on environmental and social challenges in the coming weeks.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. At Better4Business in Anaheim on May 2, he will join a panel discussing how companies can present their CSR initiatives to the media. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Leon Kaye’s expenses in South Africa this week were paid for by SAP. SAP also provided data and statistics in the article to Leon Kaye.

[Image credit of downtown Johannesburg: Wikipedia]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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