Last week, Sahara Group premiered â€˜Hanatuâ€™ a short film which the leading African energy conglomerate believes would elicit a renewed drive and commitment to pursuing sustainable development across the globe â€“ with governments, private sector, multilateral institutions and other stakeholders working together. The Executive Director and Co-Founder of Sahara Group, Mr. Tonye Cole in this interview with Peter Uzoho, spoke about Hanatu and the achievements of Sahara Foundation
What does Hanatu represent?
We sought to use the medium of story-telling to capture a core aspect of Sahara, which is our commitment to sustainability, responsibility and extrapreneurship activities. The film brings a message of hope through the story of how a young corps member named Preye helps a little girl (Hanatu) in a village rediscover her confidence and hope for a bright future when he helps her secure a prosthetic leg following a dastardly accident which claimed her fatherâ€™s life. At Sahara, we see Hanatu as an expression of who we are and what we do â€“ constantly striving to provide platforms for people, especially the less-privileged to live their dreams. We commissioned the project in collaboration with the award-winning Kunle Afolayan to create a gold standard for corporate citizenship and a resolve to keep pushing global boundaries with other partners in the pursuit of sustainable development. So, Hanatu is more than a movie, it is a movement that challenges governments, the private sector and multilateral institutions across the globe to remain resolute in the quest for spreading the impact of the SDGs until all the goals are achieved and surpassed. Hanatu embodies hope; a commitment to defy the impossible and a testimony to how far-reaching success can be recorded in developmental projects when we have all stakeholders working together without recourse to race, gender or creed.
What message comes to mind for Sahara whenever you think about the Hanatu project?
The Hanatu project is very dear to our hearts as it resonates with our convictions when it comes to changing lives and empowering people. Our motivation comes from seeing people who were previously challenged rise up and dream again. We have had the privilege â€“ yes, we consider it a huge privilege â€“ to serve and impact the lives of beneficiaries across the globe. Nothing compares with the feeling one getsÂ from providing sustainable interventions that enable individuals and communities find the desire to pursue and realise their aspirations. In fact, at the heart of Saharaâ€™s business objectives, lies an unflinching commitment to promoting good corporate citizenship across the globe. This is achieved through Sahara Foundation â€“ the vehicle for the Groupâ€™s Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility (PCSR) initiatives. The â€œpersonalâ€ refers to a corporate policy that makes all staff members of the Group active participants in our interventions through a robust volunteering policy. So being there for others is an attribute that is enshrined in our everyday life as Sahara staff and we will stop at nothing to ensure we continue to empower individuals and communities where we operate and beyond, in a sustainable, transparent and efficient manner.
How much did it cost to produce Hanatu?
I believe it would be taking the focus off the message when we begin to dwell on the cost. What we wanted was to use the medium of story-telling to pass a timeless and priceless message to the whole world. We got in touch with Kunle Afolayan who is one of the best on the continent and understands our commitment to sustainable development from our previous collaboration with him. The brief was simple â€“ a story that would inspire hope and engender more collaboration the world over towards the successful realisation of the 17 SDGs.
What are the focus areas for Sahara and list some of your interventions in these areas?
Sahara Foundation has adopted the extrapreneurship strategy to drive integrated economic empowerment programmes through strategic partnerships as well as the provision of support for innovative and scalable business ventures.Â The main objective of this is to provide young extrapreneurs in emerging markets a platform to create and sustain wealth. Prior to 2016, Sahara Foundation implemented its Personal and Corporate Social Responsibilities (PCSR) initiatives in the areas of Health, Education and Capacity Building, Environment and Sustainable Development. Through this approach, we have implemented various projects that have impacted the lives of over two million beneficiaries within and outside the shores of Nigeria. Some of the initiatives include eye care programmes, scholarships, literacy development programmes, career guidance programmes, water and sanitation programmes.
Capacity building is a key requirement for development. What has your experience been with interventions in this area?
Sahara invests hugely in education and capacity building. Sahara Foundation is involved in skills training programmes to equip individuals in various vocations and empower them to become masters of skills, make them become financially independent and eventually start businesses of their own. The areas of learning vary, depending on the environment where the people operate. Regardless of the area of expertise, our focus is to adequately empower beneficiaries. Upon successful completion of an intensive training programme, the selected students are awarded start-up grants to kick-start their businesses with constant monitoring and evaluation to ensure the success of the business. The participants are also introduced into a network of successful businesses and trained to develop the entrepreneurship skills, which they require for their businesses to grow
Sahara believes so much in supporting youth development and entrepreneurship. Can you share some of achievements with us?
Sahara has supported over 200,000 youths in the pursuit of self- reliance through our various youth development and entrepreneurship initiatives. Our interventions include upgrade and establishment of vocational skills centres, skills acquisition programmes, training of trainersâ€™ programmes and financial literacy programmes. This effort is aimed at equipping beneficiaries (in- school and out-of-school youth) and empowering them to become masters of skills, makes them become financially independent and eventually start businesses of their own. Â Over the next four years (2017- 2021), Sahara Foundation plans to directly impact 12,000,000 Nigerian youths and also create value through the identification, development and maintenance of relevant stakeholders through which beneficiaries can grow and sustain businesses. This will be achieved through skills acquisition training, mentoring and access to a network of committed stakeholders.
We know Sahara partners with the leading youth organisation Enactus to give platforms to young students. How far has your partnership with Enactus come and what are your plans for the future?
Saharaâ€™s partnership with Enactus dates back to 2012. Through the Enactus platform, students are given the opportunity to come up with solutions to social problems within their immediate environment. Going forward, the Sahara/Enactus partnership will focus on integrated developmental programmes structured to inspire the Enactus network in Nigeria to identify and implement community outreach projects that address the Sustainable Development Goals. The programmes are designed primarily to incubate, showcase, support and develop project ideas generated by our Enactus students and teams around the country whilst also identifying and improving the efficiency of extrapreneurs, increase productivity; create social value and capital; and ensure the sustainability.
Sahara Foundation partnered with Jimmy Carter Foundation (The Carter Centre) to help end the guinea worm menace. How was this achieved?
Sahara provided over 600 boreholes across Nigeria and Ghana in our effort to eradicate guinea worm across West Africa. Due to cultural beliefs, most rural people drank contaminated water prior to our intervention and this often led to various diseases and sometimes premature death. These water systems were donated to provide the people with access to potable drinking water in a bid to eradicate the plague of water borne diseases. The partnership did not only focus on providing potable water, but also undertook a lot of mindset reorientation programmes for the beneficiaries especially in the rural areas. Due to our partnership with The Carter Centre, Nigeria is now certified Guinea worm free with Ghana almost attaining the same status. It is also important to point out that this was the first major CSR project embarked upon by Sahara.
Sahara Foundation also has interventions aimed at combating cancer. How is the campaign against Buruli Ulcer in Ghana going?Â
Sahara Foundation is engaged in cancer awareness, screening and treatment programmes in Nigeria, Ghana and Switzerland. The main objective of this initiative is to reduce illness and death resulting from breast and cervical cancer through organised screening to detect cases of unsuspected breast and cervical cancer in women of these communities, thus enabling early intervention. This programme is implemented through awareness walks, educative sessions, free screening and provision of treatment for positive cases. Since its inception, this programme has directly touched the lives of over 50,000 women. Similarly, in a bid to reduce the number of casualties caused by Buruli Ulcer in Ghana, Sahara Foundation is committed to funding surgeries and also creating awareness to bring about reduced cases of the disease. Buruli Ulcer has been reported in over 30 countries and mostly affected people are children under 15 years of age who live in poor rural communities. Since 2013, 25 individuals have benefitted from free surgeries funded by Sahara.
Avoidable cases of blindness are common in Africa. Does Sahara Foundation have any projects targeted at helping the visually impaired?
In an attempt to reach the visually impaired, Sahara has been involved in eye care programmes in our various countries of operation.Â Due to the predominantly rural lifestyles of our target population, these people often resort to the use of traditional treatment techniques which tend to further damage their eyes whenever such medication is applied. Some people become permanently blind in the process while others are lucky enough to get their sights restored after simple surgeries which are often too expensive for them to afford.Â As part of our interventions, several free eye care programmes have taken place over the last five years within and outside of our host communities. Interventions include screenings and surgeries for glaucoma, cataract and trachoma. The main objectives of the eye care initiatives are: to raise public awareness on the importance of regular eye examination and good eye-sight management in order to eliminate preventable blindness and other eye diseases; to provide free eye care services for the rural poor; to encourage and support the economically disadvantaged with vision deficiencies and to screen community members for eye defects and provide required medical intervention at no cost to the beneficiaries.
The environment must be important to Sahara as a leading African energy conglomerate. What interventions have you supported in the quest to protect the environment?
Due to the nature of the industry in which we operate, Sahara is committed to carrying out business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. As a responsible organisation, we are involved in the production, provision and promotion of alternative sources of energy in order to protect the environment and the welfare of the people.
We believe that a healthy environment guarantees a healthy community. For this reason, we are committed to reducing the impact of our activities on the environment while also promoting campaigns and initiatives that will create a sense of responsibility towards the protection of our planet earth. Initiatives under this pillar include: promotion of Green Energy Initiatives and Green Energy Campaign and Environmental protection campaign in host communities
You recently introduced the concept of extrapreneurship as your new focus. Can you give us an update on this?Â
The core of the extrapreneurship framework is to produce a platform that finds, creates and connects young extrapreneurs in emerging markets. This will be achieved by leveraging on Sahara Foundationâ€™s key strength of bringing together various committed stakeholders and promoting cross-sectoral collaboration. Since the adoption of the extrapreneurship concept about a year ago, Sahara Foundation has implemented projects across Nigeria that have directly impacted over 100,000 beneficiaries. Working with the Presidency, through the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, we have achievedÂ the establishment of theÂ Private Sector Advisory Group, Nigeria- a gathering of private business leaders of major companies from various industries in Nigeria to better align public-private partnerships for sustainable development. Sahara Foundation has set up the Sahara Hub – a technology powered convergence of youth andÂ young adults to inspire innovation. We also have the Grooming Film Extrapreneurs competition with Kunle Afolayan, an initiative that seeks to promote a hub of enterprise that connects budding film makers with stakeholders that can help hone their skills to enhance productivity, excellence and sustainability. We also have the Food Africa Project – a collaborative initiative between Sahara Group, United Nations- Sustainable Development Goal Fund and the Kaduna State Government, directed at alleviating poverty through food security. Then there is the Sahara Extrapreneurship Challenge in partnership with Enactus- designed to create a platform that identifies, supports and rewards young people with business interests whilst improving their efficiency to ensure growth and sustainability.