Over the last few years, there has been a growing impetus and awareness about the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, and the role the corporate sector in Nigeria in ensuring that Corporate Social Responsibility becomes a significant business driver within their overall strategic delivery. A few of the ‘big boys’ in the Nigerian Corporate sector, such as Dangote Group, MTN, Etisalat, and the in the banking industry, most notable, Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB), have led the way in ‘putting something back’ in society. However, I feel there is more to be done on how major businesses and multinationals enhance and implement their CSR activities. For many, the concept of CSR is just an ‘add-on’ to the many commercial activities that takes priority over the social impact of their business activities on society. Nigeria is now ripe for moving on to an advanced stage on the CSR agenda. It is time that the private/corporate sector begin a transformation of how CSR should really be delivered and how its impact should be effectively measured to ensure that it continues to make a positive impact on the wider socio-economic, human, community and societal environment.
As a Diaspora who has become a very recent ‘returnee’ to Nigeria, I was struck about the lack of prioritisation of CSR in many of the numerous large businesses (aside from the big ones). Admittedly, much of my findings are mainly based on anecdotal and desktop research. However, I have read many articles about CSR in Nigeria and have spoken to a number of senior people in the corporate industry over the last 5 years, and I think it is safe to say that many in the sector are still ignorant about the importance of CSR, and its benefits to their brand and the advancement of their operations in the communities they operate in. I feel it is important that working in partnerships with NGOs, civil society networks and practitioners, and social policy experts needs to be developed within corporate business strategies. This ensures that CSRs go beyond the once-in-a-year donation to a favourite community project or charitable work in a small corner of the community. It should become a key part of organisational strategic aims and objectives, eschewing core corporate, ethical mission and values that gives the ‘brand’ a positive image and reputation in diverse communities. In Western countries such as the UK and the United States, CSR has become a big part of brand awareness and developing customer loyalty, as well as establishing community/public trust in the commercial world. For example, the banking sector in the UK have taking a serious ‘bashing’ on their reputation over the last 5 years. The sector now increasingly see CSR has an important instrument in repairing its tarnished reputation in the eyes of its main customer base – the public. We could do with developing such virtues in the Nigerian setting right now!
The corporate sector should revisit its mission and values, and organisations within it must ensure that CSR is high priority within their business objectives. Surely, this is a ‘win-win’ situation for the sector in terms of putting something back in improving our ailing society (e.g. in areas of education, infrastructure, health, improving job prospects for unemployed, vocational skills advocacy and the like). At the same time, there will be benefits in terms of brand awareness, public trust and positive image, which then ultimately leads to increased organisational profits and sustainability that society can actually thrive on. The responsibility of ensuring a good society is not just down to government. The corporate sector, working closely with civil society, can become significant agents of change. A strong CSR culture is an essential vehicle to help achieve a social, cultural, and economically vibrant society.