Why businesses must respond to the needs of ordinary Kenyans

Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela once said: ‘‘As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.’’

Unfortunately, these three iniquities continue to bedevil our society. Although the Kenya Economic Update shows that poverty index in Kenya has declined significantly from 43.6 percent in 2005/2006 to 35.6 percent in 2015/2016, the World Bank notes that poverty is unlikely to be eradicated by 2030.

As businesses, we cannot ignore the fact that we do not operate in isolation. We have a critical role to play in reducing or eliminating these inequalities. This, we can do through creation of sustainable livelihoods and support to businesses and families through our operations.

Each year for the past eight years, Safaricom has released the Sustainable Business Report. This year, we focused on reducing inequalities, guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG’s are not only influencing a more sustainable approach to business but also strengthening our commitment to ensuring that we leave no-one behind.

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It is a journey we would encourage each business to take. It forces a business to confront difficult truths, it challenges a business to look at what it can do better and set bolder targets.

Our world today faces a myriad of challenges, from human rights violations and extreme poverty, to poor governance and climate change.

According to Oxfam International, since the 2007/2008 Global Financial Crisis, the number of billionaires has almost doubled with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018.

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However, we still have almost half of humanity still living in extreme poverty.

We must recognise that the business of doing business is not just business any more, it is much more than that. We need to evolve the way we approach business. Our success as businesses is intertwined with the growth of communities in which we operate. We cannot succeed if the communities we serve are struggling.

As the private sector, we have the capacity to make things better, and to transform lives. We can drive positive change if we want to. We can reduce or end the number of people living in extreme poverty. And this should start from within us.

Let us not shy away from joining in the conversation and act towards reducing inequalities and promoting the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

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For Safaricom, reducing inequalities means building our network infrastructure to ensure that the benefits of telecommunication accrue to as much of our population as possible. It means developing products and services that are affordable, and that can ensure access to basic services such as health information, education content and clean and affordable energy.

Technology today, for all the good it has done, has also significantly widened the income gap between the world’s wealthiest and poorest, locking many people out of opportunities offered by access to, for example, the internet. Sustainable businesses must ensure inclusive business, drive economic growth, and respond to the needs of the ordinary Kenyan.