CSR Development in Nigeria: Why so Slow in so Long?

Although the global practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has evolved from a mix of charity and philanthropy to a more strategic structure capable of yielding benefits to both the society and the business; yet, in Nigeria, research reveals that CSR is largely still in a fledging state. CSR it gained momentum about three (3) decades ago when disputes between prominent oil companies and their host communities exposed the importance of putting into consideration the impacts of business activities on the well-being of stakeholders.

Recently, there are indicators that Nigerian corporate establishments have begun to take CSR more seriously such as the reflection of CSR roles in corporate nomenclature, consistent investments in key sectors of the economy and a few case studies — which compel others to reckon with its importance to the success of their business activities. Nevertheless, the practice remains unstructured in the country.

Most corporate organisations still do not have specialised departments, individuals or a team to manage their CSR needs whilst many do not disclose their estimated spending on CSR. For those who engage in CSR, impact on their businesses, communities and the nation are almost invisible. Furthermore, deporting, disclosure and transparency are among the major issues challenging practice development in Nigeria especially when organisations do not engage professionals — through formal employment or consultancies — to manage the integration and implementation of CSR. These issues bring to light the need to examine the poky evolution and development of CSR in the country.

At ‘The State of CSR in Nigeria: 2016 Annual Review Presentation’ held in Lagos Nigeria on Friday, June 23, 2017, CSR and Sustainability experts identified four (4) major actors as responsible for the slow pace of CSR development in Nigeria:

Public Sector or Government

Due to the absence of local standards for regulation or best practices for compliance, especially those enforced by the public sector; the role of government in facilitating the CSR agenda is a major setback. Partnership opportunities are in very limited and supply of incentives that motivate private sector players to engage in CSR practices. Moreover at platforms, key industry events and other opportunities for stakeholder engagement; government officials are hardly key participants or promoters. In cases where private sector organisations host seminars and other engagement events, feedback from government officials is largely encouraging but laced with requests for more investments.

Lack of government endorsement and appreciation of CSR projects executed by private sector organisations is another factor negating the growth of the practice, so also is the perception that social investments equate usurping the role of government as the fundamental driver of development.

Therefore, it is only when the government begins to engender an enabling environment for businesses to operate and thrive and support/appreciate the efforts of the private sector that the practice of CSR will become easier to integrate into business dynamics.

Corporate/Private Sector

There is still a high rate of little or no serious commitment towards CSR by many organisations operating in Nigeria. For instance, a multilateral platform, coalition and institutional network such as the Nigerian version of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development was launched in 2013 starting off with a great vision to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world, through the creation of an avenue for businesses to deliver maximum positive impact for shareholders, the environment and societies. Unfortunately, the network was not upheld due to low commitment.

In addition, many private businesses allocate grossly insufficient resources especially finance and human capital for CSR implementation. This is because CSR is largely viewed as a form of philanthropy in most organisations which are mostly driven by the need to give back. Although, the financial impact and returns on CSR may not be visible in the short-term, the long-term impact and rewards are always guaranteed.

To further raise the bars of CSR in Nigeria, it should not be the preserve of large corporations and multinational organisations alone; small and medium scale businesses should also embrace the discipline. Moreover, it is important to align CSR initiatives with the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as National Goals, especially by forming partnerships that align with the business functions of organisations. Businesses should thereby imbibe the habit of consultation with stakeholders, targeting them with information about the rationale for social investments in order to secure a buy-in and build brand loyalty.

Finally, CSR should be strategy — driven and not CEO-driven. Since CEOs are mostly not CSR professionals, they should not be focal determinants of CSR focus areas in organisations but the professionals with CSR expertise and experience should be. In achieving success, the suggested focus area of a CEO should be considered but tested through tools such as Needs Assessments and Baseline Surveys before adoption.

CSR Professionals

The absence of a professional body for CSR practitioners is a major factor that has over the years limited the pace of CSR growth in Nigeria. In this regard, there is greater need for a Nigerian CSR professional organisational framework which will set standards and conditions of practice. The platform will provide opportunities for professional development of CSR practitioners, as in the case of ICAN and NBA and also domicile an annual convergence of practitioners through professional conferences and events. Such a professional body will also help to engage stakeholders and facilitate advocacy initiatives such as influencing CSR bills and other forms of legislative instruments at the national and state assemblies. Working in silos without alliances and collaborations as well as unhealthy competition amongst CSR practitioners have remained threats, thwarting the success of CSR in Nigeria. CSR professionals must work more in collaboration and partnership as the catalyst to move the practice and industry forward.

In professionalism, a CSR professional is expected to be capable of influencing the management teams of an organisation to adopt an initiative for impactful approach to CSR. To be able to make positive influence, a CSR professional must invest in professional development to advocate for best practices and negotiate outcomes from the position of strength. This will enable him/her provide counsel to the senior management teams or the CEO with clear business cases and verifiable data.

Moreover, CSR professionals should also think of ROI, and not lose sight of profit maximisation as a first social responsibility in order to continue to exist as a corporate entity. When this is achieved, organisations can pay staff for services provided and sustain operations.

Academia, Civil Society, and NGOs

The academia, Non-Profit Sectors and the civil society are other sectors that have failed in advocating for effective CSR practices in Nigeria. For CSR to attain the expected heights, it is the responsibility of NGOs, the academia, and the civil society to campaign for CSR causes beyond selfish interests. Many nonprofit advocacy campaigns are subjective, altruistic and only targeted at international organisations who can afford large sums of money and resources as fines for compensation. Community-based NGOs should ensure that small and medium-scale businesses are notified about campaigns as a strategy to educate more individuals about sustainability issues.

Within the civil society, it is pertinent that CSR debates are based on facts and not personal sentiments. In the same vein, academics have the fundamental role to influence CSR thinking in Nigeria through researches and thought leadership.

It therefore behooves every stakeholder; be it the public or private sectors, the non-governmental sectors, academia, or professionals, to relentlessly perform their responsibilities to ensure CSR and its benefits are visible on communities, businesses, and the entire nation. As every body part is indispensable to the proper functioning of the entire body system, so also are all CSR stakeholders important to the growth and sustainability of CSR in Nigeria.

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