Africa’s telecommunications industry was brought to the forefront at the recent GSMA Mobile 360 event, which I attended in Kigali, Rwanda. In the midst of meeting with businesses to forge new connections for our Shared Value network and lay the groundwork for the 2020 Africa Shared Value Summit, it was a wonderful opportunity to delve into the industry that may well become the most important in driving Africa’s economic growth over the next decades. Connectivity is at the centre of modern business, and its lack is a serious inhibitor of growth and entrepreneurship. This is also an industry that has an immense capacity for innovation and ecosystem development.
The recent passing of African business icon Bob Collymore, and a subsequent revisiting of the many successful Shared Value initiatives being implemented by SVAI Founding Member Safaricom, the company he helmed since 2010, has made clear how transformational a telecommunications company can be. One of Kenya’s biggest businesses, contributing 6,5% of the Kenyan GDP, Safaricom has become a champion of Shared Value and business innovation on the continent. They have been thoughtful in their integration of Shared Value thinking into their core business strategy, selecting nine of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to align with to scale their impact.
As the SVAI, we believe that the development of strong, integrated Shared Value ecosystems is key to Africa’s delivering on its enormous economic potential in the twenty-first century. Through partnerships with key relevant organisations, Safaricom have developed a series of innovative digital products that connect previously underserved communities with valuable services and tools. In addition to the world-renowned M-PESA, other projects include the M-Tiba healthcare-specific e-wallet; DigiFarm, which provides financial and informational services to smallholder farmers; and the Shupavu 291 USSD-based educational platform. This shows how a business’s thinking around social impact need not be constrained by an industry’s traditional focus areas – in fact, using social and environmental challenges as the basis for strategic discussions can open up new streams of revenue and enable the business to diversify while leveraging their core strengths.
Another of Africa’s telecommunications giants, Vodacom, has also embraced Shared Value thinking and alignment with the SDGs in its operations. This includes their commitment to an inclusive environment for their employees – for example, the Thompson Reuters Diversity & Inclusion Index for 2018 ranked Vodacom among the 100 most inclusive companies in the world. Similar value chain initiatives include reducing their water usage, phasing out single-use plastic bags to reduce waste, and investing in solar power to reduce their energy consumption. This not only allieviates the strain on our national grid and has long-term environmental benefits, but also creates a long-term cost saving.
By investing in and leveraging their mobile networks, the company hopes to drive inclusive connectivity, particularly in rural areas. They are working to expand their infrastructure to bring connectivity to communities that are currently excluded. This also serves to open up a new market for their products and services – which are also designed to help close the digital divide by providing affordable bundles and streamlined ‘lite’ versions of popular applications. The Vodacom Siyakha platform, which is only accessible by Vodacom customers, offers access to career, health and educational websites which have been zero-rated (i.e. do not require data to access).
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution approaches, the digital landscape offers businesses some of the most exciting opportunities for finding new ways to approach our challenges. Particularly in Africa, connectivity is a huge stumbling block on our journey to becoming the economic powerhouse of this century. It is essential that companies within this industry, as well as others across the business spectrum, work together to connect our communities in order to open up new opportunities and create a better Africa for all its inhabitants.
Our own network continues to grow, with Shared Value events coming up soon in both Ghana and Rwanda. We are also working closely with Strathmore University to create a high-quality, accredited Shared Value short course which we hope to make available in the best universities and business schools across our continent. Ultimately, our aim is to empower Africa’s businesses with the Shared Value understanding required to make the shift to purpose-led business and sustainable growth.
Onwards and upwards!
CEO, Shared Value Africa Initiative