Living (and working) in Africa, we cannot stand indifferent to the socio-environmental challenges around us. We are confronted with it in every aspect of our business. However, in these markets vast potential is locked up for those willing to venture beyond the known, and many of our clients have already capitalised on the opportunities at hand.
The potential in the developing markets highlights the concept of serving the poor whilst creating wealth. It is a partnership between corporations and communities with the potential to change communities and to leapfrog corporations to new profit levels. It is however a partnership that requires a new paradigm to business and development strategies and one that will require the courage to venture into potentially unchartered terrain. The question would be whether you have the vision to react now?
Amartya Sen (Nobel peace laureate) remarks that “as people who live – in a broad sense – together, we cannot escape the thought that the terrible occurrences that we see around us are quintessentially our problems. They are our responsibility – whether or not they are also anyone else’s”.
The opportunity to create sustainable value – shareholder wealth that simultaneously drives us toward a more sustainable world – is huge. To create value for your company, and for the communities in which you operate (and also preserve potential for the future), you need to comply with four “sustainability criteria” (as defined by Stuart Hart) (or as Richard Branson of Virgin Group says: you need to screw business as usual….):
(i) reduce the level of material consumption in production;
(ii) be transparent (ethical);
(iii) reduce their environmental footprint; and
(iv) create value by serving the poor
While most would agree with the principle, the practical implementation thereof (and the positive impact on the bottom line) is less clear and we find that many clients continue with business as is, thus losing out on potential lucrative profits and the opportunity to serve (South) Africa’s poor.
I do however believe that each corporation, regardless of industry, has the ability to develop a sustainability vision and it will be to the long term benefit of all the company’s stakeholders.