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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Uniting Businesses for a stronger Africa

On 3 December 2020, the United Nations Global Compact will convene some of Africa’s leading business executives to discuss their work in driving the Sustainable Development Goals in their respective countries, and improving life in their communities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global Compact Networks from across the entire continent, including, Nigeria,  South Africa Kenya, Mauritius and the Indian Ocean Region, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Morocco have worked together with the New York HQ to convene business leaders to take stock virtually with civil society and United Nations leaders to Making Global Goals Local Business-Africa, the 5th such summit for a better, healthier, and economically and environmentally stronger Africa.

There is an increasing awareness that local needs require local solutions – and this is being reflected in the work which some of the companies have been doing to deliver home-made solutions across the continent.

For example, soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, companies across Africa teamed up to source medical supplies, fund healthcare initiatives, and help their communities in numerous innovative ways. On their part, the African Medical Supplies Platform, an African-led and African-created initiative, was launched to address shortages of essential supplies. In Nigeria, the Coalition Against Covid-19 (CA-COVID) financed the purchase of emergency medical supplies in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, and quickly transformed a stadium into a 110-bed isolation center.

The Nigerian Economic Summit Group also created a Covid-19 incidence and response tracker to help contact tracing, donations, testing, and tracking of cases.

Unilever Nigeria also donated over 300 million Naira worth of hygiene and food products to different communities and medical personnel across the nation including 20,000 Covid-19 test kits to the NCDC.

In other parts of Africa, necessity has been the mother of invention. In Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Incas Diagnostics invented an optimized Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kit to support the national testing regime.

Garment manufacturers in almost every country sewed protective clothing for doctors and nurses.

If there is a silver lining to the health emergency triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is this new-found resilience, resourcefulness, and self-reliance, which will stand African businesses, governments, and civil society in great stead, and provide greater impetus to drive true sustainable recovery.

Another lesson is the importance of collaboration. Across the continent, telecoms groups have worked with health ministries to set up Covid hotlines with advice on how to prevent and manage infection.  Call any phone in Ethiopia and you will be greeted with a jingle on the importance of washing hands.

In Kenya, meanwhile, a team of companies in e-commerce, manufacturing and micro-distribution created a platform called Safe Hands Kenya to deploy free soap, hand sanitizer, cleaners, disinfectants and masks through hundreds of thousands of distribution points. In South Africa, a public-private partnership with Uber and other transport companies has enabled South African patients suffering from chronic diseases to receive their medicines directly at home, without the risk of being infected by going to hospital.

But perhaps the most important thing we have learnt from this pandemic, in Africa and elsewhere, is that companies are only as healthy as the communities they serve. And it is this insight that has driven banks, utilities and telecoms companies to extend lifelines to their customers. During lockdown, Burkina Faso’s water and electricity utilities waived payment for women entrepreneurs in the fruit and vegetable sector, in recognition of their key contribution to family incomes.

In Nigeria, the Bank of Industry cut interest rates and granted a moratorium on principal repayments for businesses adversely affected by Covid-19. Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator Safaricom waived fees on small mobile money transfers during the outbreak and doubled bandwidth to support those working from home.

These sustainable best practices and much more will be explored at Making Global Goals Local Business-Africa, a one-day online event organized by the UN Global Compact and the leaders of its African networks. With the theme Uniting Business for the Africa We Want: Decade of Action and Opportunities, the conference is expected to attract dozens of journalists and more than 3,000 attendees, mainly from the private sector.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UN Global Compact, which former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan founded, the event will feature top African and international executives, including Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director, UN Global Compact; UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; H.E. Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the African Union; Dr. the Honourable Renganaden Padayachy, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Mauritius; Samuel Kimeu, Member of the Board, Africa Union Advisory Board Against Corruption; Siddarth Ramaswamy, Vice President (Supply Chain), Unilever West Africa; Cecilia Muller Torbrand, Executive Director, BSR’s Maritime Anti-Corruption Network; Prosper Burnson, Executive Director, Green Carbon (Ghana), Richard Rushton, CEO, Distell (South Africa), Brahim Benjelloun, Executive Director, Bank of Africa Group BMCE (Morocco),  Evelyn Mere, Country Manager Water Aid Nigeria and many more still to be confirmed.

The sessions will explore many of the key issues African countries are confronting head-on to achieve progress to develop sustainably in the coming years, including the impact of Covid-19. For example, the African Decade of Action session will put the business community’s challenge in the context of reaching the SDGs by 2030, the target deadline for the Global Goals, which include ending poverty and hunger, improving health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, and industry, innovation, and infrastructure.

The Youth and Innovation session will feature entrepreneurs and graduate students. Breakout sessions featuring business leaders like Ms Karuku from EABL and Ms. Evelyn Mere from WaterAid Nigeria will tackle Climate Action: Anniversary of the Paris Agreement and the Role of Business, Gender Equality, and Water Resilience.

African businesses are trying to do their best to help the continent’s response to the pandemic remain a sustainable one. “The African continent’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has provided valuable lessons for the rest of the world in meeting this challenge,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative-now, and for recovering better.

Everyone is invited but registration is required.

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