Wanted urgently: The Alex Fergusons of business

In the new business age, Public-Private partnerships are the most efficient and reliable vehicles to sustainable growth

08 Apr 2017 . 1,726 Views

At 16, life had nearly defeated Kennedy Odede. And then one day, helpless and alone on the streets of Nairobi, he made an unusual decision: to buy a second-hand soccer ball with the last 20 cents in his pocket as he walked home bone-tired from carrying sacks of maize all day.

His aim was simple; to unite fellow slum dwellers to play football, and give them a single sense of purpose. It worked. His small group soon grew to become a formalised football team, and shortly he had formed a community unified by their vision to create a better environment for themselves, and by themselves.

Business often has the ear of the government. We can pursue partnerships that can bring more impact, and the active participation of the private sector can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, including through the important tool of public-private partnerships. Bob Collymore

He called it Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Today, SHOFCO is not only giving young girls an education and protecting them from the worst abuses imaginable, it is also providing economic empowerment for women, quality affordable healthcare, and clean, safe water to a community of more than 80,000 people

And it all started with one ball! Kennedy’s story reveals that change – and the ability to drive societal change – often lies within the power of the human ability to combine forces to reach a common aim. To score a goal, if you will.

The world has signed up to an ambitious set of targets that aim to ensure that children like the ones at SHOFCO have the opportunity to get access to a number of privileges that many of us take for granted such as food, water, healthcare or education.

The Global Goals aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice; and hope to fix climate change. Because they are not directly linked to profits or revenues, the Global Goals (or Sustainable Development Goals) can feel inaccessible to businesses.

It can be hard to explain why a company is focused on clean energy when shareholders and boards want immediate profits. But, as Kennedy has demonstrated, business leaders and companies can be the spark that drives tangible change and adoption of the Global Goals in a way that no other segment of society can.

Businesses often has the government’s ear. We can pursue partnerships that can bring more impact, and the active participation of the private sector can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, including through the important tool of public-private partnerships.

Businesses also have customers – who are increasingly demanding that the products and services they consume are ethically produced by responsible companies.

These ‘teams’ can support wide-ranging achievements that link back to the ambitions captured in the Global Goals. Because of the scope of their access, businesses can also create sustainable solutions that tackle big issues like food security or water scarcity.

We, therefore, need to create a long-term view that shifts how we view success from the immediacy of our bottom lines to becoming agents of change, who, like Kennedy, do our part to influence our immediate environment.

Here are three tips for Businesses:

  • First, become the “Alex Ferguson”. Find a community of champions who will be willing to join your team. Numbers can move investment, and influence policy.
  • Second, line up the targets. Establish your company-specific goals, broaden them to match the country’s ambitions, and work towards those set targets.
  • And last, score the goal and record your achievements (and failures) regularly to create accountability as we do at Safaricom, through our Sustainability Report.

Bob Collymore is the Safaricom Chief Executive Officer.

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