Touches Lives of Downtrodden

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The Airtel Touching Lives Seasons, which is in its fifth year, has raised hopes of the less privileged in the society, and motivated well-meaning Nigerians and corporate organisations to see the need for corporate social responsibility, writes Emma Okonji

For five consecutive years, Airtel Nigeria has maintained its philosophy of giving and catering for the downtrodden in the society in order to give them hope and a sense of happy living. At the grand ceremony of the season five premiere of ‘Airtel Touching Lives’, which held in Lagos, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, commended Airtel for its unswerving efforts in bringing millions of underprivileged Nigerians out of despair and being a beacon of hope through its Touching Lives initiative. He said: “I really want to laud the effort of the Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya and his team for touching so many lives and for doing so in the past five years without fanfare. Listening to the stories of the lives that have been touched, must be a reminder of so many others in despair who need our help and comfort.”

Osinbajo went on to expound the federal government’s continuous efforts in providing support for more Nigerians in dire need of help by creating social safety nets to the vulnerable, including improved access to healthcare, welfare, housing, among others. He noted that part of the safety net schemes is the feeding of over nine million pupils across 34 states.

He, however, stated that the efforts still have a long a way to go in providing succour to people in hard-to-reach communities.
Airtel Touching Lives is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative carried out by Airtel Nigeria, which was initiated by its current CEO, Ogunsanya, few years after he was appointed as CEO of Airtel Nigeria. The initiative, which was borne out of the philosophy of Ogunsanya, is designed to identify with the less privileged in the society and cater to their immediate needs.
Since its inception, it has touched lives of millions of Nigerians and communities who have benefitted directly and indirectly from the support from Airtel Nigeria.

The Season 5
In his keynote address at the season five premiere of ‘Airtel Touching Lives’, Osinbajo said: “What differentiates humans from others is the capacity to pull others out of their predicaments and offering services of hope to the downtrodden. I am proud of Airtel for touching so many lives and for doing so much in the past five years of Airtel Touching Lives Seasons.

“It is clear to us all that many people need our help and kindness towards them and we must show the love and give them a sense of belonging. The poor and the vulnerable people always need our support.”

According to him, in 2014, Mr. Wale Edun, Prof. Pat Utomi and himself met at the home of Utomi to write the manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and they all agreed that the fundamental pillar of the political party plans must be to create social safety measures for people of this country, because the government own a duty to the poor and weak in the society.
“Today government through its social investment programme, is feeding about 9.5 million children in 34 states of the federation across all public schools. We are taking care of about a million households in Nigeria as part of our cash transfer scheme and N2.2 million loan has been disbursed to petty traders whose inventories are no more than N5,000.

“We have also engaged about 500,000 young men and women who have been unemployed under our M-Power programme. But at these, we are still very far from touching the majority of those Nigerians who need help. To adequately address the needs of the poor, we need far more resources to invest in our initiatives to address the challenges of the poor,” Osinbajo said.

“It is for this reason that I commend Airtel for touching lives of the poor in the past five years and their role as a telecoms brand is so vital in bridging a huge gap between what government can do and what is left to be done,” Osinbajo added.

Vice President of Ghana, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, who was represented at the Airtel Touching Lives Season 5 edition by one of his Ministers, said: “Airtel’s philosophy that is built on supporting the weak and vulnerable, should be commended. I align and endorse the philosophy because it promotes inclusion, collaboration, self-sacrifice, progress, development and oneness in the society. I equally commend the federal government of Nigeria for her improvement on the World Bank rating index on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in Nigeria, which moved 15 places upward and has been tagged as one of the most improved economies in the world. Nigeria’s 15 place rise on the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Index, is a welcome development for Nigeria. Nigeria is now ranked 131 from the initial 146 last year, which has seen Nigeria rose 39 places upward since 2016, when the Enabling Business Environment Council was established in Nigeria.”

As the Head of Ghanaian Economic Management Team, my key objective is to ensure that I deliver real value to the people. Our vision as a country, align with the philosophy of Airtel to lift more people out of poverty, create more jobs and I am happy that we have achieve milestones in these areas,” Bawumia further said.

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in his address, said he was moved by the thousands of lives that Airtel Nigeria has touched since the inception of Airtel Touching Lives Seasons, five years ago. He promised to touch more lives during the 1,468 days of his administration in the first tenure of four years, out of which he has spent 242 days as at weekend.

According to Lagos State Governor, “We see Airtel as not just a reputable telecoms company, but also a company that is Partner in Progress with the Lagos State Government. We see Airtel as a true company that will we truly really need to partner with, because they have the aspirations of touching lives, just like the Lagos State Government.

“We want to thank Airtel and other corporate organisations that are touching lives in various ways. Airtel donated 200 lines to our security trust fund, for all our operatives in the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) without pressurising them to do so. That gesture for me, is critical and important because the lines, which will be used for communication, are important tools for our security outfit.

“Many corporate organisations have taken the way of Airtel in touching lives and we as government, are very appreciative of that. Government cannot do all by touching the lives of all Nigerians, hence we need many more corporate organisations to join Airtel in touching the lives of more people.

“The Lagos State government recently passed a huge budget in the history of Nigeria. We passed a budget of N1.1 trillion, but that figure is barely less than $3 billion, which is expected to cater for the state’s population of over 22 million people. Certainly that amount will not be able to take good care of the population of Lagos in the area of healthcare, road infrastructure, education, among others. So we see Airtel’s moves in touching lives of people as commendable because as government, we cannot touch the lives of all citizens, given the strength of our budget,” he said.

Sanwo-Olu, however, said the Lagos State government was not giving reason why it cannot serve the public better, but that government just wanted to identify with Airtel and to commend its management for the good work they are doing in touching people’s lives in a most positive way.

“We see Airtel as a true partner in alleviating the sufferings of the people. We have set up relief camp for those that were ravaged by fire in the state recently and we have made provisions for buses to take their children to their schools and return them to the camp after school hours,” Sanwo-Olu said.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, also said: “I am happy to have attended this event and I described it as highly motivational. Airtel has demonstrated a true sense of CSR, which in many nations, does not come under strict regulation, but voluntary practice by those who practice it.

“In the United States, CSR has always been a soft law and not a hard law that is enforced by government, although many nations are in discussions to make CSR enforceable by law. In Nigeria, CSR is still voluntary and observed by those who are moved to do so. So on that note, government commends Airtel for touching lives of Nigerians that are downtrodden.”
According to the minister, one of the beauties of having wealth, is to spend part of it in touching the lives of the less privileged in the society. No one becomes poor by giving charity to others, so it is good to touch the lives of the less privilege in the society, just like what Airtel is doing.

“For corporate organisations like Airtel, the CSR of giving will lead to brand recognition, it will boost brand reputation, and improves customer loyalty. I am highly motivated by what Airtel is doing in touching lives of people and I commend the telecoms company for that,” Pantami said.

Airtel’s vision

Speaking about the vision of Airtel Premiere of Touching Lives, the CEO of Airtel Nigeria said: “When I was appointed CEO of Airtel Nigeria seven years ago, I made it known to all that I would do everything within my power to deliver value to all stakeholders and shareholders alike, including employees, government, customers and the communities that we serve. I strongly believe that poverty and helplessness should never be permanent features of any community. The strong must support the weak and the rich must support the poor, to make life worth living. What makes a rich man or rich woman is not about how much money they have in their bank accounts, but how much help they render to the poor in the society.”

According to him, “When it comes to kindness, the size of the wallet doesn’t matter, and when it comes to giving, the size of the help is the only thing that matters. People like Mr. Femi Otedola who recently gave N5 billion to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, must be commended for the powerful kindness. Some days ago, I was in a conversation with a driver in our office and he told me that his happiest moment was when he used his December bonus to take care of the hospital bills of his nephew. It was a meagre bonus for him, based on his status as a driver, but he was able to sacrifice the bonus to giving, which goes to say that the size of the wallet does not matter in giving, but the kind gesture to give.”

The CSR initiative has touched millions of lives in the past five years, but in narrating the ordeals of key beneficiaries, Ogunsanya said the Aina family lost everything they had including their children to a fire incidence that ravaged their home some years ago. Airtel built a new house for the family to begin a new life, and furnished the house with household facilities. Recently the family was blessed with a set of twins. In another year, a man called David suffered in the hands of rebels in Sierra Leone who tortured him to the extent of cutting off his two wrists. We provided artificial wrists for him and set up an ICT Centre for him to earn a living.

A seven years old girl was diagnosed of tumor on her legs and the leg was amputated and as we were making arrangements to buy her artificial leg, the other leg was also affected by the tumor and we decided to take full responsibility of her treatment, but she later died.
Another eight years old girl had a hole in the heart and we took her to India, paid for her surgery and she survived and back in school.