With CSR conference, we want to encourage, influence policy change, says Onuegbu

Eustace Onuegbu is the president, International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR), a non-governmental and non-profit organisation set up with the aim to connect with corporate human rights advocates, CSR practitioners and sustainability experts in Africa to research, advocate and consult on best practices in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) aimed at achieving Sustainable Development in the entire region. Onuegbu is a CSR expert with several years of experience in Europe and Africa. He is an avid advocate of instituting global best practices in CSR in Nigeria and Africa in general. In this interview with ADELOWO ADEBUMITI, he spoke on the upcoming third Africa Conference on Business and Human Rights, challenges of CSR in Africa, particularly Nigeria and how to enthrone CSR best practices in the region for sustainable development.

What is International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR)?
INCSR is a network of corporate human rights advocates, CSR consultants and sustainability experts working to promote or institute global best practices in corporate social responsibility in Africa.

What can you tell us about the upcoming conference? 
The upcoming conference is the third edition of international conferences on Business and Human Rights in Africa. We started in 2015 with the first conference held at the University of Lagos. The second one was held in Calabar. This one is going to hold with support from a Canadian Research Institute called Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Canada. What we hope to do is to bring all stakeholders together to discuss the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Africa. This is a Pan African Conference. We want to bring the business community, governments, NGOs, and the international community together to discuss CSR and its impact on sustainable development. There is a current United Nation (UN) agenda on sustainable development, which directly relates to the practice of corporate social responsibility, so if we are able to get all the experts and practitioners to discuss how best to practice and implement CSR policies within their organisations, both the private and public sectors will benefit from the initiative. And most importantly, get regulators, like the major stock exchange markets and the Central Banks to be part of this discussion, in order to introduce policies that will transform the practice of CSR in Africa. There was a bill on CSR in the National Assembly that did not succeed in the recent past. The late Senator Uche Chukwumerije who had a vision of making Nigeria a better place to live and work sponsored the bill in 2008. Till date, that bill may not have been properly reviewed.

 What you are saying in essence is that part of the focus of the conference is to revisit the CSR bill? 

Yes, the CSR bill is part of the focus of the conference, because we are discussing the entire concept of CSR. CSR in Africa is often practised as Corporate Philanthropy (CP), whereas the main components of CSR global practice are the Environment, Social and Economy. Therefore business has to be conscious of their impact on these three components. There is also ECG principles often used by stock markets and investors to evaluate corporate behaviour, which are Ecology, Social and Governance. These are the principles that need to come into play when you are introducing or implementing CSR/Sustainability policy for an organisation. Most of the organisations that practice in Africa, apart from South Africa that is a little bit different, introduced CSR policies as Corporate Philanthropy (CP). So when they go out to build a little road somewhere or healthcare facility, they would claim to be CSR compliant. A lot more needs to be done which includes the impact of your business activities on Environment, Social (which philanthropy is part of) and the economy.

In view of the foregoing, what do you hope to achieve with this conference? 
What we hope to achieve is to educate and share knowledge with all stakeholders. That is why we have experts from around the world coming for conference. We have people from the United Nations coming and we are expecting others from Universities outside the country. We also have experts coming from other African countries and within the country as well.

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