Africa’s corporates, regardless of their size or sector, have a transformative role to play in shaping the continent’s sustainable future and, despite the undeniable tragedies of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing signs of this potential. There is no doubt that many African companies have been or will be hit hard by the coronavirus, and many may not recover. However, there are beacons of hope and there is a growing opportunity for Africa’s home-grown corporates to step up, scale up and scale out sustainably both during and after the pandemic.
Over the last couple of months, we have seen African companies step up and prove their ability to innovate and provide for their countries and neighbouring countries. These companies have seized the opportunity to fill the gap left by a reduction in imports — particularly medical supplies from China. Whether they be Kenyan companies using 3D printers to print personal protective equipment; Senegalese innovators producing much needed, and much cheaper, ventilators; or factories in Ghana producing sanitizers, protective clothing, automated liquid dispensers and solar powered hand-wash stations, Africans have responded. The speed with which these businesses have set up or retrofitted operations illustrates the ability of African companies to adapt quickly and strategically. Without the usual default fallback on imports, Africans have demonstrated the extent and capability of local production — a trend that must be continued once the pandemic is brought under control.
After this crisis subsides, there is hope that African companies will maintain this momentum and seize the opportunity to contribute to making their countries and the continent more self-sufficient and better prepared to weather future storms.
I have been reflecting on “What it will take for African companies to achieve this goal?” I believe that they will need to invest in scaling up and improving the standards of their operations. But in addition to the usual technical, commercial and financial requirements expected of any successful business, they must embrace Sustainability (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles and practices as an integral part of their core business objectives, strategies and operations. At the very minimum, this will be an undisputed requirement of would-be financiers of those businesses.
Sustainability practices and principles will enable African companies to create long-term value for their businesses and their stakeholders — investors, customers, employees, governments, impacted communities and society, broadly. I believe the African companies that stand the test of time will be those who embrace Sustainability as they plan for their long-term success.