CSR In Focus: Airtel’s Score Card

Emeka Oparah, Director, Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Africa, discusses with FinIntell the objectives of Airtel’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policy, while he also rates the company’s contribution to the Nigerian society so far.

An organisation’s CSR policy functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. What are the objectives of Airtel’s CSR policy and how will you rate your performance so far?
Our brand vision is to be the most loved brand in the daily lives of Nigerians. Everything we do at Airtel is built around this ambitious vision. Against this backdrop, we have developed robust programmes to connect with members of the communities we operate in. Specifically, we have provided support for underserved segment of the society, built relationships with Non-Governmental Organisations, the Government at all levels and other stakeholders for sustainable development just as we have created a solid platform for our employees who wish to contribute to societal development.

Our performance has been very good, especially with the Adopt-A-School programme and Employee Volunteer Scheme we rolled out last year. We have recorded significant milestones and we hope to take this success further. This year, we have finalised plans for the adoption of nine primary schools across different regions in Nigeria.

The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company's actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere who may also be considered as stakeholders. How much of your goals have been achieved and in what areas?
Several of our goals have been achieved as we have recorded major success in our Education, Health and Community Empowerment Programmes. For instance, our adoption of Oremeji Primary school 2 proved to be extremely successful what with the feedback we got from the immediate communities, parents, government institutions, underprivileged children as well as other stakeholders. In addition to the upgrade of the physical infrastructure of the primary school, we went extra miles to provide learning materials, books, uniforms and consumables to the pupils. We also re-trained the teachers just as we keep regular tabs to ensure that the pupils learn in the right and conducive environment. When Airtel adopts a primary school, Airtel does everything to ensure that kids in those schools get the very best education in the right environment. That is our contribution to uplift underprivileged children and we are committing enormous resources to ensure that it is done right.

What are the criteria used in selecting your CSR projects and how much of these projects have you embarked on so far in the last two years?         
We are a World Class company and we follow best practices whenever we embark on projects. Essentially, we support government owned primary schools, align our programme with National Development Plan, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and other international practices. We also ensure geographical spread of projects and templates for replicating projects.

Thus far, we have embarked on Education, Health, and support for UN Global Partnership for Development initiatives.  In specific terms, we have undertaken projects such as Adopt-A-School initiative, Nokia Education Delivery (BridgeIT) Project, Support the National HIV/AIDS Call Contact Centre and Millennium Villages Project.

Approximately how much has Airtel spent on CRS since inception of the company?
Interestingly, our focus is on creating positive impact in communities we operate in. We do not allow money or budgetary requirements to restrict or define the scope of projects we undertake. We are essentially governed by our desire to assist underprivileged children.

CSR is meant to aid an organization's mission as well as a guide to what the company stands for and will uphold to its consumers. How has the Company’s CSR activities impacted on its business model and the overall bottom-line?
Our business model thrives on providing innovative and affordable telecommunications solutions to empower more Nigerians. But we do this with a human face that is why our brand vision is to be the most loved brand in the daily lives of Nigerians. In the last 24 months, Airtel has been part of the people and environment in which it operates by identifying positively with their aspirations. We have not just revolutionized the tariff structure of the GSM industry in Nigeria but we have also revolutionized the CSR landscape. Before now, you have organisations do renovation work or embark on some surface interventions and then, they leave. With our Adopt-a-School programme, we do not leave the schools we have adopted. A real father never walks away from his child. So, we have formed a life-long alliance to continuously support schools under our Adopt-a-School programme. And this approach has impacted positively on our brand and bottom-line. Communities love Airtel and we have several awards to show for our innovative CSR efforts.

What is your annual CSR budget and how would you rate your CSR performance relative to your peers in the telecom industry?
Our annual CSR budget is largely a function of the programmes we intend to execute in a particular period.
In terms of performance, we have done excellently well. Airtel, like I said earlier, has re-defined the CSR landscape in Nigeria. And our intention is to assist more underprivileged children with access to quality education.

Some of the benefits of CSR include brand differentiation and customer loyalty, how much of this have you achieved from your CSR activities?
We have enjoyed brand loyalty in communities where we operate and we are satisfied with the direction of our current CSR programmes.

Do you intend to expand or increase your CSR activities in the coming years? What will be the budget implication and what do you intend to achieve?
There is always a possibility. However, our focus, at present, is on primary education.

In your assessment, how would you rate CSR activities in Nigeria compared to other countries of the world? What can be done differently?
Quite a number of organisations in the country have taken CSR seriously, which is a positive development. Even some Small and Medium Enterprises are also adopting CSR practices. Organisations should be encouraged to do more in areas of Corporate Social Responsibility and Investment. This is easier where the operating climate is nice and friendly. Definitely, there are some good practices we can emulate from much more developed environments. But we must understand that the operating climates are not the same. Regardless, organizations should be encouraged to consider CSR programmes.