Last Friday, immediately before this week’s Africa Climate Summit, KENCTAD (the Kenyan Entrepreneurs’ Conference on Trade & Development) organised a conference on sustainability.
It was all to do with how being serious about ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) issues benefits businesses, and I was invited by Ngida Sebastian, KENCTAD’s ESG Lead, to be the keynote speaker.
For a whole day, we heard about the seriousness with which so many organisations in Kenya take ESG, and it was fascinating for me to listen to this collection of good people talking about how they took these subjects seriously and expected to do well as a result.
For my talk, from observing other ESG stalwarts with whom I have been interacting, I had already thought about what such organisations have in common, and this was further reinforced as I listened to the day’s other speakers.
The most fundamental characteristic is that the leaders of these entities live all the uplifting values that most others at best just talk about.
To sum it up, they are responsible members of society, whether relating to the environment, to social issues or to how they govern themselves. They are fair to all key stakeholders and treat others as they wish to be treated.
A direct consequence of living such values is that they say “No” when they should, and hold back from sub-optimising to the short-term.
A good example of this in the area of CSR(Corporate Social Responsibility). In my talk, I referred to Prof Michael Hopkins, from whom I learned that CSR should be so much more than a project, or even a programme, but a whole mindset of being responsible – and in support of sustainability.
Its ultimate impact should be that the beneficiaries of your CSR reach places of dignity and self-reliance – ideally to the extent that they in turn are able to offer CSR to others.
One of the questions posed to me during my session was about the difference between CSR and CSI (Corporate Social Investment).
I like that CSI term as it implies the existence of a return on the investment, one that is measurable and impactful.
And it speaks to a longer-term consequence of being responsible, beyond immediate short-term benefits.
As I wrote in my recent article on trust if we are to develop a more trustworthy – a more responsible – society, we must gather a critical mass of trustworthy people and institutions.
This I reiterated at the conference, and it was beautifully spelt out by two other speakers.
Peter Wairegi, the Chair and CEO of KPRA, (Kenya Professional Realtors Association), told us how they drew together the good guys in his sector, introducing standards, offering training and generally raising the performance bar.
And Akshay Shah, the Chair of KEPRO, (Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organisation), spoke equally inspiringly about how this Business Member Organisation works on accelerating the growth of Kenya’s recycling ecosystem, leading to a Circular Economy that will protect our natural environment and creating jobs for future generations.
As with KPRA, they collaborate with the relevant government bodies to bring in regulations and build the capacity to behave responsibly: “sticks and carrots” as he put it.
There were so many other uplifting stories, including from Maryann Nderu, EABL’s Sustainability Manager, about their promotion of “positive drinking” and of women in leadership; Edna Kimenju, Deloitte’s ESG Manager, about how they advise on bringing about sustainability; Rufus Mwenda, a member of the ABSA sustainability team; and Noreen Nthiga, an organisation development and policy specialist in the Office of the President, on supporting SMEs in these areas.
If I had more space I would add several others. But let me conclude by noting that in Kenya today we have an amazing number of responsible people who are running responsible organisations.
They are both visionary and practical in how they approach ESG; they keep things simple and transparent and expect to make a positive difference to the society in which they operate.
They also prove that it is not only a nice thing to do but that it works commercially, not least for their long-term sustainability.
Increasingly these days, if we are to attract good people to work for us, good customers and good suppliers, good financiers and insurers, we’d better get as serious about ESG as those who spoke at and attended the KENCTAD conference on sustainability. I’m so glad I was there to absorb their positivity.