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Ideas & Debate

Firms should go beyond profit, be more inclusive

A sustainable business model is plain to see.
A sustainable business model is plain to see. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

For a long time, businesses operated with a singular goal in mind: to make profits. Through the provision of products and services, payment of taxes and creation of jobs, businesses were deemed as having fulfilled their responsibility to society.

According to the “B-Team,” a not-for-profit initiative formed by a global group of business leaders, “founded on the belief that the private sector can and must redefine its responsibilities and its own terms of success,” it is time for plan B. This plan of action will ensure that business becomes a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit. Indeed, companies around the world already have, and continue to incorporate sustainability initiatives into their operations.

In order to catalyse the adoption of such initiatives and the achievement of the sustainable development goals, termed as ‘the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,’ a key driver of this endeavour is technology.

The timelines set out to meet these multiple goals and targets is 2030 and bridging the digital divide, both between and within the global north and south, will accelerate the transition towards sustainability at all levels of society. When utilised effectively, technology can and is being used to provide sustainable solutions. However, this is only achievable through partnerships between businesses, government and citizens in an open and transparent manner, partnership-driven digital inclusion in particular.

Technology, in achieving the global goals, is expected to play a role in promoting the empowerment of women, supplying modern and sustainable energy services, significantly improving access to and facilitating sustainable and resilient infrastructure, among others. Most importantly, increased access to quality and timely information is key to promoting sustainable behaviour. Telecommunication companies, therefore, have a crucial role to play. Huawei, for example, is intent on promoting digital inclusion all over the world.

During the recently held Mobile World Congress (MWC), Huawei unveiled a new digital inclusion initiative, outlining their plans to help 500 million additional people around the world benefit from digital technology in the next five years. Over the past decade Kenya has experienced substantial ICT growth. Mobile phones have been a major stimulant to the knowledge uptake of ICT and more sustainable solutions. However, a 2019 report by Jumia Kenya shows that most Kenyans are still not active online despite the country’s high mobile penetration. Only a third of the 45 million users in the country are active due to what Jumia says was the high data cost, making the internet unaffordable for most.

The National Optic Fibre Backbone (NOFBI) is a project aimed at ensuring connectivity in all the 47 counties of Kenya. In collaboration with the Ministry of ICT and the ICT Authority, Huawei is building the project’s infrastructure, which when completed, will enhance communication and accessing high-speed data between counties and public buildings and down to sub-county level. Moreover, Huawei’s collaboration with local partners such as Safaricom in areas such as building base transceiver stations, infrastructure for the Mpesa platform and provision of 400G network will play a vital role in increased connectivity between communities.

Billions of people without telecommunication also means billions of people without access to basic affordable healthcare. Bridging this gap is imperative, and bridging it in a holistic, sustainable way is key for the success and resilience of communities in the 21st Century.

Access to quality and affordable health care, for example, can be improved through the application of technology. This can be achieved through “connected healthcare” - “technology-enabled integrated care delivery that allows for remote communication, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring,” according to the Deloitte Health Centre for Health Solutions report. Through the “connected healthcare initiative,” Huawei showed how and why governments can improve public health with better use of technology. Local clinics in rural communities were connected through the telemedicine networks to bring best diagnosis and treatment to patients reducing the distance patients have to travel to receive treatment. eHealth strategies also greatly reduce costs and improve health outcomes leading to greater patient satisfaction.

Finally, there is need to expand the definition of digital inclusion beyond connectivity to include applications and skills, not just for individuals, but also for organisations. Through the development of solutions specifically designed to address regional challenges, companies such as Huawei are connecting rural communities in Africa, Asia and South America. In addition, promoting the uptake of ICT skills through training programmes such digital literacy training in rural areas, digital skills for life for Form-Four leavers, and Huawei ICT academies for university students will be critical in achieving digital inclusion for a sustainable world.

A sustainable business model is plain to see. As the global business landscape continues to change, it’s safe to say that business ethics and actionable corporate responsibility programmes are here to stay. This is a truly promising change for a sustainable future.

The writer is CEO, Huawei Technologies Kenya.

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