On our trip around the world, we want to experience cool destinations, meet visionary people and brands with a purpose. In recent years, we have come across more and more brands that tell their Corporate Social Responsibility story according to the triple bottom line; People, Planet, Profit. These criteria measure the real success of a company from an economic, ecological and social perspective. I follow these brands, which understand they should have a purpose in society, with increasing interest.
In Lagos I found someone who shares my interest; Ken Egbas, founder of The SERAs, which he describes as a ‘new way of promoting behavioural change and adoption of sustainable practices by corporations in Nigeria’.
The meeting is set in Yaba, in the office of TruContact, Ken’s PR agency that founded The SERAs. The office is filled with books from floor to ceiling. I try to read some of the titles in the semi-dark – all the curtains are closed to keep the sun and the heat out. People, planet, profit by Peter Fisk, Brand New Justice by Simon Anholt, No Logo by Naomi Klein…
The door opens and Ken enters the room. He is tall and slim, wearing an elegant striped shirt. Behind him a woman enters, armed with a notebook and a smile on her face. “Welcome,” Ken says, “I like you to meet Arit Oku, she is second in command here at TruContact. Without her…” Ken doesn’t finish his sentence but shakes our hands instead and invites us to sit down around a large table.
“Good to meet you at last, Ken,” I say. “You founded The SERAs, Nigeria CSR Awards back in 2007. Why did you decide to do this?”
“Personally, I want to ensure that our living environments remain in good condition for the present and future generations,” Ken says. “And the best way to do this is to encourage organisations to take their Corporate Social Responsibility seriously. The business entity should be used as a vehicle for delivering stakeholder value and not just for maximising shareholder profit.”
Ken reaches behind him to push a button on a fan. “It’s getting hot in here,” he says. The fan accelerates and Ken continues his story.
“In 2007, very few organisations had sustainability reports to present,” he says. “Some international organisations were reporting on the global level, but very few were talking about the Nigeria situation. A very limited percentage of corporations were willing to disclose the actual figures in terms of funds committed to the CSR portfolio.
“The overall goal is to promote behavioural change in Nigeria with regards to sustainability, or the triple bottom line. We do this on two different axes, sharing knowledge and creating awareness. The first is done through the annual report with best practices, and the second by the awards.”
“Awards?” I say. “Tell me about the awards.”
Ken looks at Arit. “We organise an annual award ceremony to reward the best CSR practices,” she says. “It shifts the attention to issues of sustainability and attracts a very high-profile audience of top industry and political leaders.”
“How do brands participate?” I ask.
“Participation in The SERAs is voluntary,” Arit says. “Corporations subscribe and commit to the terms. This includes disclosing information and cooperating during the verification by the field research team. The outcomes of the field research are captured in the annual report and documentary.”
“Are you satisfied with the results so far?” I ask.
It takes a few seconds before Ken answers. “I think we started an important trend back in 2007,” he says, “and a lot has changed already. Nowadays, more organisations are looking at their operations with a sustainability focus and have committed to conducting their business in a socially responsible way.”
Ken pauses for a few seconds before concluding. “But there is still a lot of room for improvement,” he says, making a wide gesture with his arms, probably to indicate the margin for improvement.
“I think you’re doing a great job,” I say. ”It is important that companies are beginning to understand that being responsible brings huge rewards – both financially and in terms of social capital.”
“So true,” Ken replies. “If you’ve finished your trip around the world by October, you should stop by in Lagos again, for The SERAs award ceremony.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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