CSR Showdown : Middle East vs African Telcos !!

Presentation1The desire to feel good is fundamentally different from the desire to do good. Feel good is when we give a few coins to the beggar at the traffic robot : do good is when we take the beggar off the street and give him education and a home. The same applies to Corporate CSR initiatives. It’s a mindset that spells success or waste in CSR . Strategic CSR is a concept that is appreciated only by visionary and responsible minds and those maybe sorely lacking in the CxO suite in Africa : after all quantifying the dollar benefits of soft wishy washy programs is nebulous at best and a nuisance at worst. The ROI on CSR is a medium to long term initiative and how you create linkages to satisfy both commercial and social objectives takes effort and specialist skills.

In most cases Telco CSR activity in Africa is normally delegated to some middle manager with a stingy budget.The initiatves are normally designed for PR and / or to score brownie points with the Government ….and maybe to assuage a nagging conscience !! Handing a few branded T shirts and umbrellas feels good but it hardly constitutes an element in a strategic CSR plan…that was a corporate branding exercise duh !! When CSR is done with a DO GOOD mindset then initiatives that help reduce the environmental impact of the business and that of its customers; increasing connectivity to the markets that need it most; and in providing value added and community-enriching services such as healthcare and education.Without a doubt the Gulf Operators have taken a gigantic lead in the CSR / Green IT / Talent development game unlike their sluggish competitors in Africa.

UAE based Etisalat Group has outdone itself in “ DO GOOD “ CSR and Green IT arena. Their programs on issues such as environmental sustainability, alternative energy, clean technology, and social welfare are honed to a fine art : a symbiotic synergising circle between social development and business objectives .In 2012 the Etisalat Group’s sustainability and social responsibility strategy was transformed as the company undertook several commitments to ensure that its efforts are better coordinated across all operations. This included pledging its support to the United Nations Global Compact.

One of the key highlight has been the success of Etisalat’s Mobile Baby Programme in Africa – a mobile health initiative that is supporting pregnant women in rural areas. The programme, which was launched in partnership with Qualcomm, Great Connections and D-Tree International, has now saved hundreds of lives and is being offered in multiple countries including Tanzania and Nigeria. This initiative has captured the industry’s imagination. The Etisalat Group along with other major operators, have joined hands to form a programme that will bring together the major African operators to work across borders to provide rudimentary healthcare services under the banner of the GSMA’s Pan-African mHealth Initiative.

The folks at Etisalat have long been convinced that through encouraging diversity and equal opportunities, the company is more creative and innovative. This results in more satisfied customers, better corporate performance, and an environment that attracts the best talent.To ensure that Etisalat’s business will be sustained with the best talent in the future, it launched an innovative Hi Potential (HiPo) programme including almost one hundred staff from across Etisalat’s footprint.Etisalat’s HiPo Programme provides these employees with access to valuable learning resources from organisations such as Harvard Business School and Duke University, as well as the opportunity to take work placements in other countries within Etisalat’s footprint. In other cases and where the need is even greater (e.g. Afghanistan), a comprehensive succession development programme has been designed with key focus on preparing future leaders from within the Afghan national workforce. The programme is based on global best practice and to date has over 100 successors who are being developed for future leadership roles.

Etisalat’s Go Green strategy forms the basis of its environmental management strategy and incorporates four stakeholder groups – staff, customers, government bodies and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).Many of Etisalat’s office buildings have smart technology installed throughout – ensuring that electricity is switched off at the end of day. Its buildings have also been designed by leading architects to reduce the heat effect and minimise the requirement for air conditioning.In 2010 Etisalat formalized its environmental policy and strategy to help focus efforts in reducing our internal consumption and promoting efficiency across our operations. This was launched under the theme of ‘Go Green’ and has so far involved:

• Paper collection and recycling
• Photocopy cartridge recycling
• Recycled paper replacing farmed paper for office use
• Network printing and photocopying to reduce waste and manage consumption

Etisalat is pursuing tower sharing partnerships and deploying hybrid and alternative power solutions including wind and solar power, across its footprint. Significant projects are under development in Nigeria, Egypt and Afghanistan. These programmes will not only ensure that emissions are reduced and improve Etisalat’s operating expenses, but will also provide greater resilience to the company’s services.Their Energy Star Initiative cut the greenhouse emissions from buildings in the UAE. More than 3 million sq meters of facility space from 20 of the largest companies in the UAE are now being managed through the Energy Star project. It has also been calculated that over 3,000 tons of CO2 emissions were eliminated in the first eight months of 2012, with participants seeing a 15-25% reduction in electricity consumption.

Not to be outdone by Etisalat’s CSR leadership other Gulf Telcos are ramping up to provide information and education on more sophisticated business concepts. Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (known commonly as du) launched the Q&A platform Ejaba.me in 2013. The site provides entrepreneurs with answers from experts on topics such as management, legal services, funding, and intellectual property rights. Designed by French entrepreneur Joanna Truffaut, Ejaba.me is intended to give entrepreneurs access to affordable advice at a time in their development when funds are scarce. The site charges by the answer: US$20 for short answers and $30 for longer ones. Other companies in the region are offering more hands-on training and mentorship to entrepreneurs in fields as varied as telecommunications and maritime operations. Dubai-based digital media company Intigral, a joint venture between Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and All Asia Networks (ASTRO), launched an accelerator named Afkar.me to support startups building digital products and services.

The biggest and most successful skills development initiative in Africa was the creation of the $ 2 million Motorola Cellular Training Institute and that was over a decade ago in South Africa. Yours truly conceived and implemented this as a strategic response to the growing technical skills crisis. Based in Johannesburg, the MCTI was the only one of its kind in Africa and one of only six in the world. Designed to train up to100 students at any given time, the facility was equipped with a cutting edge GSM /GPRS laboratory comprising state-of-the art equipment to simulate cellular networks on which students would hone their practical skills.The training curriculum was designed around a number of jobset descriptions based on extensive research into the skill needs of the cellular industry.The robust portfolio of training courses fulfilled the needs of engineers and technicians in network operations, OMC systems, Network planning, BSS optimisation, BSS database and diagnostics, and cellular field engineers. A special certificate in wireless telephony has been developed in partnership with a local University to fast track electrical / electronic engineers, experienced radio engineers and computer engineers without cellular experience into competence as system design engineers, field engineers, optimisation experts for the cellular industry in sub Saharan Africa.

As the Telco network transforms into software platforms ( Cloud , NFV , SDN etc ) the MEA Telcos need to do more to accelerate the skilling software engineers by setting up Software Engineering Centres instead of relying on universities. What is urgently required is an innovative industry-university-government collaboration to prepare math and science graduates for advanced study in software engineering, telecommunications, and satellite communication and provide them with convenient advanced degree programs This will ramp up the development of software and telecommunications engineering human resources, and help accelerate the development of ancillary telecommunications and software engineering industries in MEA Region.

CSR ( education , Green IT , poverty alleviation , job creation etc ) should take centre stage in any self respecting Telco’s business and sustainibility strategy. Corporate Sustainability is a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments. Since corporate sustainability performance can now be financially quantified, they now have an investable corporate sustainability concept. Second, sustainability leaders are increasingly expected to show superior performance and favourable risk/return profiles. More and more, investors are convinced that sustainability is a catalyst for enlightened and disciplined management, and, thus, a critical success factor.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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