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Opinion & Analysis

Why the future belongs to inclusive businesses

The culture of bribery and corruption has created a sense in some quarters that unethical business practices are a necessary evil to survive in Kenya. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG
The culture of bribery and corruption has created a sense in some quarters that unethical business practices are a necessary evil to survive in Kenya. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG 

Last week, Safaricom #ticker:SCOM launched its 6th Sustainability Report detailing the company’s performance on business targets based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report highlighted Safaricom’s gains made over the years as well as areas for improvement. For example, while Safaricom’s use of water and electricity increased, the telco contributed an annual average of 6.5 per cent to GDP and 98 per cent of their suppliers had signed up to a code of ethics. What was striking was that the report was thorough and transparent, detailing strengths as well as ongoing areas for improvement.

Such detailed reporting is not a legal requirement and it should be noted that Kenya Commercial Bank #ticker:KCB and Safaricom are the only Kenyan corporate companies that deliberately and comprehensively report on sustainability.

Many businesses seem to find such reporting not only onerous but also appear to be of the view that acknowledging low points in performance is unnecessary and risky. Another clear point that came across in the report is that triple bottom line performance that seeks to generate financial, social and environmental return is possible.

Inclusive firms reject the notion that business is about choosing between having a purpose and making a profit as both can be achieved; Safaricom’s consistent performance is evidence of this.

Thus, given that there is a business case for being inclusive and sustainable, why hasn’t the sustainability movement gained traction in Kenya? There are three factors informing this reality; realities that pull away from each other.

The first is that it is possible to engage in dubious business practices in the country and still generate immense profits.

The culture of bribery and corruption in the country has created a sense in some quarters that unethical business practices are a necessary evil to ‘‘survive’’ in Kenya.

Some companies even set aside funds to grease the necessary wheels that facilitate the continuation of their business model. They consistently break laws, take short-cuts and generate negative externalities all in the name of profit.

The second reality is that of an inauthentic commitment to sustainability where the companies function within the law but do not have a sincere commitment to being inclusive.

The principles of people, purpose and planet are seen as external to core business. These are companies that know that they can be seen to be making impact through carefully orchestrated photo ops and PR gimmicks.

So, while they understand that brand value can be enhanced by being seen to be responsible, they do not put a great deal of money or effort in that direction.

The final reality is that of companies that are authentic in their commitment to being inclusive, sustainable and holistically responsible.

They are willing to put energy and effort into being sustainable and have a culture of consistently improving their triple bottom line performance.

While all three realities exist in Kenya, only the third is truly intelligent. In a world of social media and citizen reporting, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to either flagrantly flout the law or inauthentically masquerade as inclusive. The sooner companies in Kenya understand this, the better it will be not only for themselves but the country as a whole.

Were is a development economist; [email protected]

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