By Sanda Ojiambo
My journey as a sustainable business professional started in earnest when I met Bob Collymore.
Under Bob’s leadership, the actions around energy efficiency, gender equality and governance and transparency that Safaricom had been undertaking took shape within a strategic framework, and soon thereafter our sustainable business strategy took shape.
A clear delineation between Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Social Investment and Sustainable Business allowed Safaricom to develop a differentiated view of the many ways in which the business could respond to and engage its stakeholders.
At the same time, I widened my horizons, gained experience and grew from the role of a Senior Manager at the Safaricom Foundation to the Head of Corporate Responsibility within the company. This role was later transformed to the Head of Sustainable Business and Social Impact to reflect our broader and more responsive approach to engaging in societal transformation.
My pursuit of the sustainability agenda was not always smooth sailing.
When we started, we were met with a lot of skepticism within our ecosystem. Many thought sustainability was something that companies practiced only when they were strong and profitable. Others believed that it was simply a public relations exercise.
It took hundreds of conversations and several panel sessions for us to demonstrate that sustainability was something that companies could and should do as part of their business strategy.
I attribute the deepening of the sustainability agenda at Safaricom and in Kenya to the strong and focused leadership pioneered by Bob, the growing number of professional colleagues as well as a supportive and engaged team.
Bob was clear that the role of business is broader than delivering shareholder value.
While this is indeed important, he usually stressed, business has to transcend this and deliver stakeholder value and societal transformation.
“People, Purpose, and Profit” was the slogan that Bob coined for this approach, and this was a message that he carried to students, business leaders, regional and international forums, investor roadshows, government officials, and honestly, to anywhere there was a willing audience. That was Bob!
He embedded messaging around climate change, inequalities and promoting shared value in his day to day conversations. He was zealous about maternal health, children’s rights, ethics and anti-corruption, and inclusive business.
Bob was keen to ensure that Safaricom’s internal actions always shaped the company’s external messaging. He was instrumental in providing leadership for initiatives such as the crèches; flexible work hours; health and wellness; expanded learning and development opportunities in a demonstration that People were a critical element of driving Purpose and Profit.
With Bob, the commitment to use our technology, products and services to transform lives saw the emergence of an innovative series of products in health, education and agriculture, such as Shupavu291 (an affordable and accessible e-learning platform), M-TIBA (a mobile health wallet), and DigiFarm (an agriculture platform), among others.
Bob’s commitment to Gender, Diversity and Inclusion saw Safaricom pioneer initiatives such as Women in Leadership and Women in Technology to provide an opportunity for women to grow in their careers and in their leadership journey.
He also championed the Safaricom Women in Business network, aimed at growing and diversifying the number of women-led and women-owned businesses in Safaricom’s Supply Chain.
And finally, Bob’s commitment to moral and ethical leadership saw him appointed to the boards of B-Team, the Acumen Fund and the United Nations Global Compact.
I recently left Safaricom to take up the role of CEO and Executive Director of the Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.
I thank and will forever remember Bob for his mentorship and coaching, which shaped my technical and professional growth in this area. As I reflect on Safaricom’s achievements and growth, it is evident that the company’s commitment to sustainable business and societal transformation continues to differentiate it and position it well for the future.
It is hard to believe that a year without Bob has already gone by because his leadership lessons, his values and his perspectives on sustainable business continue to permeate business discourse on an almost daily basis.
Bob left an indelible impact on businesses and on the lives of thousands of people by leading and supporting sustainable business principles.
The writer is the incoming CEO and Executive Director United Nations Global Compact and was previously Safaricom’s Head of Sustainable Business and Social Impact.