27 May 2014, Sweetcrude, Lagos – There has been a paradigm shift in the focus from which businesses operate today from the traditional idea of maximizing shareholder value for short term returns to focusing on reframing the timeline, social contexts and risk factors that affect businesses’ operating environment. It is this trend that necessitated about 28 Business Leaders from critical sectors of the Nigerian economy, including oil and gas, telecommunications, financial services, real sector, pharmaceuticals and business services to meet last Friday in, Lagos, to engage in a session on creating sustainable economic future for business, society and the environment.
The meeting served as a platform or precursor for the setting up of a business council for sustainable development, which will affiliate with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The thinking of advocates of such an association is that businesses, has been and should remain drivers of innovation and efficiency, creator of wealth and a harbinger of economic freedom.
The epoch making roundtable held at the Federal Palace Hotel on 23 May, 2014, was meant to seek the buy-in and commitment of businesses in Nigeria for the establishment of the council. The council is expected to provide solutions to critical sustainable development challenges confronting Nigeria, thus providing a positive sustainable future for the society and rapid development of the economy. In other words, evaluating their social duty to enable them behave responsibly within social and environmental. As experts argue, sustainable development is a dynamic process that enables all people to realize their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the earth’s life support systems, thus aligning sustainability with business success.
With the camaraderie displayed by the executives who thronged the venue of the engagement session, it was easily discernible that business, solidarity, and friendship were at display as the event created an ambience of true solidarity and gave space to development of partnership for a sustainable course.
In his remarks at the event, the convener of the engagement session and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu enjoined Business Leaders to join forces for the goodness of Nigeria as corporate entities, saying that he mooted the idea of forming the association to plough back into Nigeria value creation process that would engender and align with the country’s long term economic and social development.
He opined that “Business leaders should take collective steps as the business community to give help to the country in needed areas, aside from the usual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) embarked upon by corporate organizations on yearly basis, by also acting as forces of good of the society in which they operate.”
Sunmonu said the project has to be collectively owned and driven in a special way for the good of the country.
“As individual companies we are doing a lot in terms of CSR. I believe we don’t need to boil the ocean, but take little steps as a business community in needed areas to create the impetus for Nigerians to perceive us as corporate bodies that will not only make money and take off, but also impact on Nigeria,” he spoke further.
The CEO of Julius Berger, Engr. Wolfgang Goetsch harped on the need for companies to deploy a needs analysis to decipher what should be done for host communities as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to avert the problem of duplication of same project and spread.
Engr. Wolfgang Goetsch commended the idea of informal alliance of business leaders to foster sustainable economic development in the areas of financial capital, and capacity building, stressing that the forum should also focus on climate change especially as it affects global impact. He averred that business leaders should think of designing, in consultation with their stakeholders, common guidelines for environmental and social assessment of their operations in line with best global practices.
Sir, Chris Ogbechie, Director, First Bank Sustainability Centre at Lagos Business School (LBS), who moderated the event, posited that business leaders must also through their alliance promote dialogue on sustainable development issues, saying that within such context organizations approach of implementing CSR should be based on environment issues and structures. He enjoined corporate bodies to do more research work on intervention areas and collaborate with each other to avoid duplication on CSR projects.
The business leaders conceptually believe that businesses should not only engage in value creation, but incorporate social, environmental and other metrics into corporate accounting, balance sheets, by factoring in calculative trade-offs between what is socially desirable and what is economically sound for a corporate body.
From the feelers generated at the engagement session, observers will not be surprised if the Chief Executives empower their boards with a specific mandate of fiduciary duty, which ensures that value creation includes broader stakeholder community, and that the social and ecological impacts of their activities are part of governance responsibilities.
The high-profile engagement session hosted by, Managing Director Shell Development Corporation (SPDC) and Country Chair of Shell companies in Nigeria Mutiu Sunmonu, was attended by the CEOs of Julius Berger Plc, Oando Gas and Power, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Etisalat Nigeria, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), Seplat Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Holdings, Coca-Cola Nigeria, Flour Mills Plc, Promasidor, Interswitch, Chevron , GE Nigeria, Stanbic-IBTC, SNEPCO, Standard Chartered Bank and Intel Nigeria, among others. It was no surprise that the hosts had harnessed the professional support of renowned CSR Consultancy, CSR-in-Action, whose mandate is to create awareness and advancement for collective social development in Nigeria, to manage the participant engagement process.
In justifying the rationale for the formation of the council, the business leaders argued that it was timely and imperative given the pedigree of Nigeria as a country with the largest economy in Africa going by the rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at $510billion, 100million GSM subscribers, but the country whose citizens are low on the Human Development Index (HDI).
They maintained that with the council in place, member companies will share best practices on sustainable development through exchanging information with peers from a cross section of industries and countries.
It will further enable them participate in policy development and influence the framework conditions under which companies operate, while creating a virile avenue to network like-minded business people and educate, influence business leaders globally.
*Epa Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) is social commentator based in Lagos