Susty Person of The Week

Susty Person of the Week – Bekeme Masade

Bekeme Masade is a Nigerian social entrepreneur and the chief executive of CSR-in-Action. She has over 15 years work experience spanning new business development, auditing, corporate sustainability and responsibility, business ethics and corporate culture, strategic planning and management, non-profit and rural development, project design and implementation, public-private partnerships and enterprise development. Her work experience spans the private sector, public sector, civil society, and academia. Bekeme over the years has consistently and resolutely developed innovative projects which are aimed at propelling the nation to greater heights. Her vision, creativity, and dynamism over time have led to collaborations and the creation of internationally recognized brands dedicated to progress and sustainability.

CSR-in-Action is a registered social enterprise that is devoted to the advancement of social ethics, social responsibility and corporate governance in Africa. The company is the foremost independent ethical action network and consultancy for collective social responsibility and corporate governance in West Africa with a viable platform for actionable initiatives and has driven advocacy through a myriad of platforms across the nation and beyond.

Her vision is to drive social action in Africa towards creating sustainable shared value, by being a one stop, fit-for-purpose, support partner of all social investment stakeholders. As such, the Group is made up of CSR-in-Action Consulting, CSR-in-Action Advocacy, and College of Sustainable Citizenship. CSR-in-Action is a registered entity which has been granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is the first private sector member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is a member of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG).

Bekeme is also a Partner at Zeneral Consulting, a foremost branding and reputation management firm with clientele spanning some of the most exciting indigenous and global brands.We are happy to have Bekeme featured on the site this week!

How do you define Sustainability?
Sustainability to me means doing the right thing, the smart thing and the profitable thing. It’s looking at your endeavor or business holistically, and identifying opportunities where you can increase value for yourself and for your stakeholders, such that in many years to come – even when you’re not around – you’re still thriving. To put it academically would be to say sustainability is making use of resources in a way that they are still available to meet the needs of future generations. However, it has been my experience that such an outward perspective to sustainability is often perceived as contrary to the goals and aspirations of many entities. It is, therefore, necessary to explain sustainability as the key pillars or tenets that every working entity within an economy needs to stay alive.

In your opinion, what is the maturity level of sustainability in Nigeria?
While sustainability is a relatively new subject in both the private and public sector in many parts of the world, it is certainly a welcome and growing interest. Industry leaders have increasingly become aware that the paradigm has shifted all over the world, and the only way to stay relevant is to adopt a more sustainable, more forward-thinking approach to business. While there still exists a lot of greenwashing and a lot of ‘talk’ of sustainability, even those shenanigans have begun to fail, forcing organisations to go back to the drawing board and tackle issues from the foundation.

How has it been trying to change the stance of businesses towards sustainability and how do these businesses respond to the pressure CSR-in-Action puts on them?
When I founded CSR-in-Action in 2010, my goal was for it to become the one-stop partner for driving collective social action in Nigeria first, and then in West Africa. My focus was, therefore, on advocating for change in the culture of organisations in Nigeria, and as you can expect, I was met with a lot of push back. Many businesses just did not see what the ‘fuss’ was about, with a number willing to throw a few hundreds of thousands of naira at a project and max it out using PR, and a larger number simply not caring.

This was especially apparent when we embarked on the Collective Social Investment Report (CSIR) – an encyclopedia of the CSR/sustainability strategies of companies within the Nigerian economy – in 2012. The unwillingness of the majority of companies to provide the information requested was a huge obstacle to the project that we were forced to surmount through painstaking desktop research. The CSIR is now titled the Corporate Sustainability Investor Report, in deference to the advancements within the economy.

Imagine our surprise when we then introduced a ranking – the 3C-Index – in 2013, and we got tons of feedback, ranging from been aghast to several companies insisting they had been ranked unfairly or insinuating that the size of companies’ donations to the project had an impact on how they were ranked.

Since then, it has been a gradual process getting through to the corporates but we have seen notable improvements, especially as more companies realize that many of their counterparts are failing due to the lack of attention paid to governance and ethical issues. In our experience, we receive an increasing number of requests for support as the years go by.

Are the Sustainability Reports of CSR-in-Action specifically requested or prepared at random?Besides the CSIR mentioned previously – which is a flagship programme of CSR-in-Action Advocacy – we are commissioned to support in scripting sustainability reports for corporate organizations under the auspices of CSR-in-Action Consulting. Consequently, these reports are designed for close engagement with the business. We also have the expertise to provide assurance (social auditing) for internally scripted reports and social engagements.

Based on the Reports, what do the leading businesses do differently?
Simply put, for every leading business, sustainability is ingrained into its business strategy. It is not just a one-off project in a community that is intended to create a PR buzz for the organization. Rather, it is a well-defined and thorough approach to business that takes into full consideration the three elements of sustainability – people, planet, and profit – and embraces stakeholder participation completely. It is, therefore, typically driven by the highest level of management and is cascaded down to the entire business with a clear vision of what success looks like.

What are your favourite SDGs and why?
While there are several causes that are particularly close to my heart, especially child care and development and gender equality, I must say that the “partnerships for the goals” has my full attention. I’m a firm believer in the amazing results that we can achieve if we would direct our efforts and resources towards an agreed cause. By combining our strengths, we can achieve so much more in even less time than it would take if we all go at it individually. SDGS 8 and 10 are also part of my life’s ambitions; inclusivity and equality are key to sustained and collective growth.

L-R: Bekeme Masade, Olajobi Makinwa (UNGC Africa Chief), Amina Mohammed (UN DSG), Omobolanle (Head, Sustainability, Access bank),& a member of UNGC Local Network Steering Committee at the Honorary event for Amina Mohammed.

How much collaboration is required by the Nigerian government and corporate organizations in achieving the SDGS in 2030 and beyond
I’m sure we would all agree that no one sector of the society can achieve it all on their own. This again speaks to the point earlier made about partnerships for the goals. Both parties have a crucial part to play in the sustainable development of Nigeria – an important element of which is the achievement of the SDGs – considering the power private and public sector wield over the state of the economy. In my opinion, we would be better off if there is frequent engagement between both sectors such that the private sector does not exist in a vacuum or outside of the requisite policies, frameworks, infrastructure, and even support for viable growth.

Furthermore, we cannot ignore the critical regulatory function that the government and its agencies need to play to control the activities of the private sector. We all know that corporates are mostly driven by the need to make profit, sometimes at whatever cost. As the primary custodians of economic growth and development, the public sector is obligated to set up the guidelines for responsible and ethical business practices that will ensure that attention is paid to sustainable development in Nigeria.

How significant is CSR in achieving sustainable development and do businesses see their role in bringing about the change we want to see?
It is safe to say that CSR is evolving over the years to address corporate sustainability. In large corporate scenarios, there are scenarios where there is a CSR department that focuses mostly on philanthropy in addition to risk, governance, strategy, legal, audit and communication departments which play a crucial role in the development and driving of corporate sustainability strategies. The significance of CSR is unrivaled in the pursuit of sustainable development because it creates a definitive avenue for business to step up to the plate and fulfill its responsibilities to diverse stakeholders. CSR activities enable contributions that create a balance between economic interests, environmental needs, and social expectations by creating a strong platform for engagement with stakeholders.

We often have the dichotomy where some businesses do not see the need for CSR activities, while others place it in higher esteem than cohesive and strategic sustainability ambitions. However, I think that in recent times, businesses see the interconnected nature of CSR activities with sustainable development, and are increasingly acting towards practicing and incorporating CSR into their business strategy.

What category of businesses is more proactive on sustainability, and are there businesses that should be more sustainable than others?
In Nigeria, because very few regulatory bodies mandate many of the tenets of sustainability, we find that businesses adhere to whatever suits their corporate conscience or from influence from international affiliations. However, it has been our experience that some industries have more stringent rules than others. For instance, the financial sector has the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) as one of the sustainability requirements of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), where companies within the sector should report their activities against a set of sustainability principles and targets annually. This, therefore, implies that there will be a higher percentage of businesses within this sector that are practicing sustainability to some extent.

We also have a plethora of regulations that guide the activities of businesses in the Oil & Gas sector, and in the Telecommunications industry that companies must conduct business in strict compliance with, or lose their license to operate.

This should, however, not be the case. We are strong advocates that true sustainable development is individual-oriented, business-oriented, and government-oriented; all of which work together to create a society future generations can enjoy, and those after them. The need for sustainable business strategies, therefore, needs to be clear to entities in every nook and cranny of the economy. It is pertinent that every business knows that regardless of size, maturity or even the nature of the business, sustainability must be the underlying force for successful business, sustainable growth, and continued development.

How can people reach you and know more about you and CSR-in-Action?
At CSR-in-Action, we are always available to answer any questions you have or address any comments made. We can be reached at [email protected]  and or on  08076884871; you can also visit our website on www.csr-in-action.org.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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