In May 2001, Charities Aid Foundation organized the first ever Round Table Conference on Corporate-NGO Partnerships for Community Development on the theme of Good Corporate Citizenship in a Developing Economy.
It seemed a good opportunity for the private sector, traditional authorities and the non-profit sector to together devise a new understanding of corporate citizenship in Ghana at a time when no legislative instruments existed to stimulate private sector involvement in community development and poverty reduction.
Among those present were the Managing Director and Chair of Barclays Bank Ghana; Osagyefuo, Board Chairman of CAF West Africa and a traditional leader; the Deputy Commissioner of the British High Commission; the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana, who facilitated the dialogue; and two Ministers of State.
Meeting responsibilities or self-preservation?
For Osagyefuo, as a traditional leader, good corporate citizenship must be based on ethically, socially and environmentally responsible behaviour by business towards the community from which it draws its resources. Giving back to the community develops that community and at the same time advances the work and objectives of the corporate entity. Support for health facilities, for example, ensures a healthier, more confident community from which to draw human resources.
For the year in which the conference took place, Barclays announced a total of £1 million for Barclays Africa’s community support programmes. As their CEO pointed out, the natural inclination of everybody, individual or corporation, is self-preservation, and this involves being well regarded, even though the notion of ‘service above self’ is implicit in community development.
In general, though, representatives of the corporates were keener to state their needs than to say what they could offer the community. They argued that investors demand a healthy, educated and law-abiding people with reasonable purchasing power and good infrastructure (eg ports and airports, roads, and efficient and reliable transport and communication). They further listed public goods and services that constitute the enabling environment that all businesses need to pursue their economic interest: good governance with effective means of enforcing laws and regulation, social harmony, and respect for property rights.
But some social return is expected, argued the government ministers. Such public goods and services are provided at great cost to the larger community, and responsible corporate citizenship is seen by government and the community as a due owed by corporations in recognition of this.
Four years on
The debate continues, but the conference has not helped to produce the hoped-for cross-sector consensus. Corporates want to strike a balance between the bottom line and social responsibility, but in doing so they have often erred towards their own interest. They have found a handy get-out in stressing that whatever service or product they deliver must be value for money; that putting their specialized skills at the disposal of the community is purely voluntary; and that they are in any case paying taxes and fulfilling the mandatory obligations laid on them – even though these are often simply to fund the infrastructural developments put in place for their benefit.
Four years on, Ghana is managing within its HIPC means to ensure the kind of enabling environment the corporates insist on. Yet there is still no harmonized strategy for effective corporate involvement in community development.
However, there is increased understanding of current corporate attitudes and practices in relation to CSR and corporate giving. There is increased dialogue and new thinking about the role of companies in the community, leading to increased corporate intervention in the field. Examples include the HIV/AIDS intervention in the mine fields of Ashanti; the Shell Ghana intervention for fishermen and fishmongers along the coastal belt of Accra; the Barclays Braille support to blind students at the University of Ghana. CDP’s work is increasingly facilitating new partnerships between companies, NGOs and the community. The bi-annual Beyond Aid – International Conference on Partnerships for Community Development and the NGO-Corporate Dialogue series are mainly funded by corporates.
Kofi Awity is Director of the Centre for Development Partnerships. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kofi Awity is currently coordinating the EU-funded €1.5 million PAOSC programme, providing technical assistance in restructuring the civil society sector and building the capacity of civil society actors in Togo, towards their effective participation in sustainable development through decentralized participation processes.
1 The Charities Aid Foundation West Africa has recently become the Centre for Development Partnerships (CDP) – see opposite.
2 The conference came soon after the government’s new 5 per cent Development Levy on corporates. The Ministers for Economic Planning and Regional Integration and the Minister for Manpower Development and Employment attended to defend the Levy if need be.
3 Highly Indebted Poor Country.