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 centers 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 organizations 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, particularly those in the financial sector as well as the food and beverage industry, can through both CSR initiatives and investments 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 and enable greater access to retail markets at fair prices.
These efforts should scale the hopeful experiments of social enterprises such as the One Acre Fund in East Africa and Babban Gona in West Africa. These social enterprises have business models grounded in rural economies which link the expertise and resources of businesses with government agencies, community groups, multinational food buyers, and international development partners. Farmers are able to boost their productivity by leveraging high quality inputs (seeds, fertilizer etc.), agricultural training, and logistical support to get their goods to market. Boosted farm income supports household consumption and other activities.
This refocusing of attention and resources can enable Africans to make it out of the current food security crisis and build resilience towards a sustainable future. The coronavirus crisis teaches us that it is essential for companies to take a long-term view and systemic approach to addressing poverty, to forge new corporate alliances and inclusive business models for the common good, and to disrupt and transform failing systems of public service provision and value creation.
•Dr. Ijeoma Nwagwu teaches Sustainability and Strategy at Lagos Business School.
MTN ups its digital strategy with brand Chenosis, Africa’s largest API marketplace
MTN, pan-Africa telecommunications company, has joined the league of prominent players in the global telecom Application Programming Interface (API) market. The telecoms giant, a few days ago, announced its new API marketplace to enable developers and businesses discover and subscribe to what will become the largest library of open APIs published on the African continent.
According to Global Telecom API Market Size & Trends Report, 2020-2027 published in May 2020, the global telecom API market size was valued at USD 126.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.9% from 2020 to 2027.
An API is a set of communication protocols and tools that aid in the development of mobile applications. Such interfaces provide readily available features and services that allow developers to only focus on application development. It simplifies the application development process by eliminating the need to develop every feature from scratch.
APIs are imperative across all the mobile applications and services that include messaging, voice and video calling, mobile payments, and location tracking. Increasing number of mobile service subscribers is a major factor contributing to the market growth. As per statistics published by GSMA, the total number of mobile service subscriptions was around 5.1 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach 5.8 billion by 2025, thus, propelling the demand for APIs.
Growing adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) is also expected to positively influence market growth. APIs play an essential role in monetizing the IoT network as they act as a point of interaction between several elements within the network. Mobile operators are focusing on expanding their role in the value chain to provide end-to-end IoT solutions reducing their dependency on other third-party solution providers.
The market has high growth potential in emerging regions, such as Africa and Asia Pacific, due to increasing number of start-ups. Telecom operators, such as Orange and Vodafone Group, have developed partnerships with start-ups in these markets. Such partnerships have enabled mobile operators to tap new revenue streams by allowing start-ups and developers to access their APIs, thus, propelling market growth.
Only a week ago, MTN launched its partnership which the company described as Africa’s largest API marketplace. Branded ‘Chenosis’, the latest API marketplace will enable developers to tap into a broad spectrum of API products and services from across the continent, ranging from telecommunications, e-health, e-government, IoT, fintech, e-commerce, identity and authentication, payments and collections, location and more, from a single marketplace.
“Chenosis is a separate brand and entity, and will have an arms-length relationship with MTN so that it remains open to all mobile network operators, fintech start-ups, payment service providers, mobile wallet operators, financial service providers, and more,” explained Charles Molapisi, MTN Group Chief Technology and Information Officer.
The Chenosis Marketplace allows businesses and developers to publish their APIs so that other developers can discover and consume them. The marketplace also provides the tools for publishers to monetise and promote their APIs, by creating subscription plans and product bundles that developers and businesses can purchase. The Chenosis Marketplace portal has dashboards for publishers and consumers to track revenue and credit balances, view consumption analytics and API performance and lots more.
The power of the platform will be in the creation of mashup APIs which will connect cross-industry APIs and facilitate innovation and the ability to build new services and new business models. Mashups are new product and service orchestrations created by developers from two or more existing APIs.
“We have exciting pan-African and international partnerships lined up to publish and monetize their APIs in the marketplace over the coming months,” Molapisi disclosed.
“These partnerships will enable Chenosis to become the largest and most diverse developer ecosystem on the African continent.”
“This is one of the ways in which MTN is investing in the emergence of an open African API ecosystem that is powered by African ingenuity and innovation,” he added.
The telecom API market is gaining momentum due to increasing number of mobile internet users. According to GSMA, the total number of mobile internet users at the end of 2017 was 3.3 billion. With the increasing number of mobile internet users, telecom operators are focusing on enhancing their solution offerings to provide faster and more secure service to customers. APIs allow organizations to operate at different internet speed and create innovative solutions for engagement.
Increasing adoption of Machine to Machine (M2M) devices is anticipated to drive the market. APIs are crucial for M2M communication as they specify the message format that can be used to control the device. As per industry experts, the number of mobile-connected devices is expected to be around 10.5 billion by 2020, creating market opportunities specifically in consumer electronics and M2M sectors. Furthermore, rapidly expanding e-commerce sector is expected to augment the product demand, such as payment and location APIs.
Equip radio series debuts on Metro FM
As a part of plans to empower Nigerians to become versed and well-rounded in business, entrepreneurship, capacity development and other human endeavors, Global Outreach, a platform that harnesses human potential for maximum productivity, recently launched a series tagged ‘EQUIP’ on Metro FM 97.7. ‘Equip with John-Mabun,’ which hit the airwaves last Thursday, will be aired same day weekly.
Speaking on the initiative, Mr. John-Mabun Adesoga stated that the Equip radio series will influence several youths in Nigeria and across the world: “We delighted because this initiative will help youths to discover their purposes in life and give clarity to young adults who are at the crossroads of their career, marriage and spiritual life. We will be giving out free impactful e-books written out on the radio show and also create avenues for mentorship for listeners.”
Equip is an initiative of Global Outreach that is designed to stir Nigerians to greatness. Also, the goal is to reach out to the needy and empower people through skill acquisition programmes.
Adesoga is also the founder of Purpose Summit, where he teaches people how to discover, align and maximize purpose. Early Dew is a prophetic ministry that helps people discover the move of God for the season so people can align themselves for God’s blessings. With Equip, he comes with an apostolic and prophetic unction as he takes his listeners to prophetic dimensions of the word with great testimonies.
BeatingCorona: RED launches COVID-19 web map with top 1,000 data points
BeatingCorona from RED recently launched its COVID-19 web map to help key stakeholders maintain focus and double down on efforts to halt the spread of the virus in Nigeria.
Leveraging the power of data analytics, the interactive platform spotlights flashpoints in the concerted fight against COVID-19 while highlighting possible intervention areas for individuals, government and donor agencies.
The map features over 1,000 major COVID-19 related events and efforts by stakeholders to flatten the curve in Nigeria, ranging from the index case announcement in Lagos to the phased lockdown of major cities across the country to contain the spread of the virus.
“Tracking the COVID-19 pandemic is important for government, private institutions, and non-profits to effectively plan and strategise on ways to bring down the rate of infection and deaths due to the pandemic,” said Adebola Williams, CEO of RED For Africa. “Therefore, in addition to providing comprehensive information on all the interventions being made, BeatingCorona will through the new web map, offer highlights and insights to help institutions tackle the virus head-on and cushion its effect on individuals, businesses, and communities.
“With COVID-19 cases rising to over 45,000, it is imperative that we actively document its footprint and map out people-centred solutions towards halting its spread.”
Created by The Future Project, in partnership with Y! Africa and Culture Intelligence from RED, BeatingCorona is an innovative platform gathering data on all COVID-19 interventions in Africa. It holds the most comprehensive and accessible information database on what organisations, brands, groups, corporations, and individuals are doing to assist in the fight against COVID-19.
Flour Mills appoints former 9Mobile MD as Chief Operating Officer
Mr. Omoboyede Oyebolanle Olusanya has been appointed the chief operating officer of Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, Nigeria’s leading integrated food business and agro-allied group.
Prior to this recent engagement, Olusanya had served as the chief business transformation officer at the Dangote Group. Between July 2017 and October 2018, he was the MD/CEO of Emerging Market Telecommunications Service, otherwise known as 9Mobile. He equally serves on the board of directors of Axxela, Starsight and OVH Energy.
Olusanya is an engineering graduate of the University of Lagos and also has two master’s degrees in environmental engineering and computer science from the universities of Liverpool and Manchester. He joined Flour Mills as the group chief operating officer in January 2020.
Commenting on the significance of his appointment, John Coumantaros, chairman of the board, Flour Mills Plc, said the organisation would benefit from Olusanya’s vast experience.
“We are most exited to welcome Olusanya to our board of directors. He is a seasoned business leader, whose expertise and vas experience in areas of telecommunications, financial services, energy and manufacturing are mission-critical to our future operations and strategy and will help FMN further its purpose of ‘Feeding the Nation, Every Day’”, Coumantaros said.