The COVID-19 crisis has triggered an unprecedented homegrown response in Africa. There has been an outpouring of corporate philanthropy and community solidarity: for example, South Africa’s Solidarity Fund and Nigeria’s Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID). Large gifts complement a deluge of giving from private individuals and small businesses to cushion the socio-economics impact of social distancing measures — quarantines, curfews, lockdowns — on the poor.
The private sector has created impact that African governments could never have achieved alone. But both corporate and government action to curb the spread of COVID-19 are focused on urban centres and momentary humanitarian relief. It’s too early for a full accounting of aid efforts. But I see through my work with businesses at Lagos Business School that responses to the crisis concentrate on providing food aid and cash grants to mainly urban households.
The battle against the virus will be won or lost in the continent’s poorest communities, which are most vulnerable to COVID, and it’s a long-term struggle. In deploying solutions and support, businesses should focus particularly on those being left behind, such as poor rural farmers. Businesses should also address core structural challenges which predate COVID-19 and worsen its impact now.
How poor communities are vulnerable to COVID-19
A torn social fabric in Africa increases COVID-19’s impact. Most Africans live precariously at $1.90 a day. In Nigeria, for example, 90 million people — roughly half of the population — live in extreme poverty. Their living conditions further fuel COVID-19 transmission. Sixty per cent of the continent’s population — 587 million Africans — live in overcrowded and unsanitary urban slums, such as Alexandra, Makoko, and Kibera. Here the social distancing needed to fight COVID-19 is impossible to enact, and informal sector workers balk against lockdowns, which bar them from eking out a living.
Rural poverty is even more dire. The poor in the countryside mostly live without access to critical health, education, energy and telecommunications infrastructure. Natural disasters and broad economic trends also limit the productivity, income and food security of the poor, most of whom are farmers. Perpetually neglected, the rural areas have found their only support in dealing with COVID-19 coming from community-based self-help associations. (As an example, MANSAM, a coalition of grassroots women’s organisations and civil society groups, enacted a “Sudan Against Corona” campaign: making masks, donating supplies, distributing posters with essential information, and raising awareness about the virus through social media.)
Africa’s young population may seem a significant protective barrier in this pandemic. As the current pandemic has traversed Asia, Europe, and North America, people over 60 years of age have suffered the most severe cases of COVID-19. The median age in Africa is 19 years. However, widespread malnutrition, anemia, malaria and tuberculosis in African nations may result in a higher incidence of severe forms of COVID-19 in younger patients. These immunity-suppressing conditions combine with weak public health infrastructure and the exodus of doctors to the West to create a perilous situation.
Rethink CSR in a pandemic
I have seen through my work with businesses at the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre that businesses’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives tend to be small-scale, individual efforts. These activities do not address challenges in a holistic way or bring the breadth of resources and expertise needed. Only a handful of businesses, mainly multinationals such as Unilever and Coca-Cola, will have sustainability frameworks which attempt to take a systemic and long-term view of the social problems they are trying to address. Recently, some large businesses have launched collaborative associations such as the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance and the Private Sector Advisory Group; these are vehicles for collective action on key sustainable development issues, from plastic pollution to malnutrition.
The usual CSR dynamic seems to be operating with responses to COVID-19: businesses are generally going it alone under their own logos and deploying fragmented solutions.
For a long time, businesses have needed to pursue long-term, systems-focused, and collaborative engagement to address structural poverty and related sustainable development challenges. The harm caused by COVID-19 is enabled by pre-existing challenges such as food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to quality healthcare and youth unemployment.
Here is what this needed approach might look like in the area of food security.
Longstanding food insecurity is worsened by COVID-19
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing food insecurity, which already affected one fifth of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. Food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
African agriculture centers on smallholder farms, which have long experienced underinvestment and poor productivity. Farmers face challenges accessing many fundamental resources, including quality inputs (seeds and fertilizer), education through agricultural extension services, financing, storage, logistics and transport.
Here’s an example of how this plays out. African countries — Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria — produce more than half of the world’s cassava, a staple crop. However, 30 – 40 per cent of the total cassava harvest goes to waste in the absence of appropriate facilities to store this highly perishable crop post-harvest. Meanwhile, huge locust swarms destroyed a swath of farmland across eight East African nations.
COVID-related lockdowns have interrupted these already fragile food production and distribution systems. Farmers are unable to sell their crops, deepening their poverty and leading to greater dependence on external food imports. But these imports are no longer forthcoming due to COVID-related food export restrictions in supplier countries such as Vietnam and India. The resulting scarcity has made staple foods too costly for many households, leading to increased undernutrition.
Businesses can strengthen the food value chain
Momentary humanitarian assistance has value in light of immediate food security challenges. But CSR programming and investment should focus on strengthening the food value chain from its roots in mainly rural farms to the table.
Businesses expand financing opportunities for the farmers, create access to appropriate training in, and tools for, agricultural best practices, investing in logistics, transportation and storage systems.
•Dr Ijeoma Nwagwu teaches Sustainability and Strategy at Lagos Business School.
Dradrock Real Estate signs branding deal with Tee-A
Dradrock Real Estate Limited has signed one of Nigeria’s leading comedians and television personalities, Tee-A, otherwise known as ’Babatunde Adewale, as its brand partner. Speaking at the brief signing ceremony that held at the company’s corporate office in Lagos, Mr. Oladipo Idowu-Agida, managing director /chief executive officer of Dradrock Real Estate Limited, expressed satisfaction at the consummation of the brand partnership that has been in the pipeline.
According to him the company’s connection with Tee-A started as a client-customer relationship over a period before it elevated to the present partnership arrangement.
“With Tee-A’s level of awareness on real estate and his top-notch influence in the society, I believe this relationship will surely add value to our organization and businesses,” the CEO stated.
After signing of the partnership agreement, Tee-A described his relationship with Dradrock as one that has come a long way and will be mutually beneficial to both partners. Although he is known more for comedy and entertainment, he acknowledged that he had been a real estate aficionado for a long time, so the partnership will not only attract goodwill to Dradrock but also strategic assistance and counseling.
In his words: “This partnership will surely boost the positioning of the organisation in the marketplace because of the great value that Dradrock is known for.”
Commenting on some long-term internal programme that have kept Dradrock Real Estate Limited on top of its game, Temitope Ayanbowale, human capital development manager, revealed that diverse training packages for the staff and management enhanced excellent performance.
“Even now that the Nigerian economy is facing a challenging time, we have experienced remarkable growth in business, and these programmes have helped to establish a strong bonding relationship like that of a family within the workforce, including our external sales partners and consultants” she said.
Immediately after the public presentation, Idowu-Agida led the brand partner, the media, and a host of team members to Pacific Manor, one of the company’s new estates on the verge of completion.
The convoy arrived at Pacific Manor, a magnificent and spectacular piece of real estate luxury. Everyone admired the luxurious and serene community in Lekki, Lagos. On hand to receive the visiting team to this unique estate that sits on 6,400sqm of dry land was Olusola Ayo-Soyemi, project manager.
Learn, play, and earn: Access Bank’s COVID-19 tidings for children
There is no denying the fact that the novel coronavirus pandemic is threatening the collective health and physical well-being of all and sundry, from the recurrent destabilisation of economies to the disruption of international and local value chains, as well as the nationwide closure of schools.
In response to this, Nigeria’s largest retail bank, Access Bank PLC, in partnership with 9ija Kids, a Nigerian EduTech company, has employed the use of gamified technology to engage, educate and reward Nigerian children. The Access9ijaKids platform, which is running for the seventh consecutive week, is designed to introduce children to new ways of learning through the use of digital platforms.
Speaking about the initiative, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Access Bank’s head of sustainability, explained that, in addition to aiding the nation’s fight against COVID-19, investing in the educational development of children formed a key part of the bank’s sustainability drive.
“Access Bank has been at the pulse of the private sector’s fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria and we recognise the effect of the pandemic, in this case, as it directly affects the inability of children to participate in classroom learning. As part of our sustainability drive to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, we have provided a platform that our kids can easily interact with, while also building their intelligence quotients and imbibing information relevant to real-life problems,” she said.
This innovative educational platform is serving as a preparatory ground for kids to learn about financial management while also offering them the chance to have their Access Bank Early Savers accounts credited with stipends for participation.
According to Titi Adewusi, CEO, 9ijaKids, “The idea of 9ijakids is to create learning moments from any topic using games, puzzles, songs, activity books, and so on. Our approach to our game portfolio is to look at the total child — not just academics, but also life skills like financial literacy, values, and most importantly promote the Nigerian culture and heritage.”
Hosted on Access Bank’s website, Access9ijaKids is delivering six different gamified educational learning modules for a period of 12 weeks, with the top five players on the leaderboard rewarded with exciting prizes.