The Head of Corporate Communications and Marketing of Union Bank, Mrs. Ogochukwu Ekezie-Ekaidem, in this interview speaks on the bank’s efforts to drive social impact through its corporate citizenship sustainability finance. Dike Onwuamaeze brings the excerpts:
What does it take for an organisation to make quality corporate social impact, especially in this COVID-19 pandemic environment?
Meaningful social impact can only happen through the collaboration of all stakeholders, namely the government, the private sector and even individuals. All of us have the responsibility to drive social impact, and our collective efforts have the potential to yield great results. I will say that there has been an obvious display of this collaborative spirit during this COVID-19 pandemic disease as key private sector players, including Union Bank, came together to support the government in the fight against COVID-19 on the platform of the Private Sector Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID). Therefore, our role as a large corporate institution is not only to integrate sustainable practices into our businesses as part of our core but to also engage with, and educate our host communities, on sustainability issues and their impact on our world and its future. True corporate citizenship happens when an organisation works to deliver on its social, cultural, and environmental obligations to its host communities. Businesses should also understand that they can make profit through corporate sustainably actions since sustainable practices and profitability are not mutually exclusive.
What drives Union Bank’s Citizenship Sustainability and Innovation strategy and how is it relevant to the bank’s wider corporate goals and business priorities?
We are very conscious of this important fact – we can only be as successful as the communities we serve. Statistics show that about 40 per cent of the Nigerian population live below the poverty line and are excluded from even the most basic financial services. The obvious implication is that for us as banks we need to bring these citizens into the financial system for the long-term sustainability of our industry. If we can proffer effective solutions that close the gap and pull more people out of poverty then we as a bank stand to benefit from that. This explains why Citizenship Sustainability and Innovation (CSI) are central to the Union Bank’s core business and our commitment to the triple bottom line of responsible financial, environmental, and socio-economic development. Also, we are conscious of the need to track our sustainability initiatives and be accountable for our value chain processes and contribution to social development. This knowledge has driven our dedication to report our activities in these areas in our annual CSI reports. We have a clear mission to play an active role in the development of our society while being more responsive to our stakeholders’ expectations of accountability, growth, and sustainability.
How does Union Bank identify areas in which to drive impact or are there specific focus areas that have been earmarked?
Our CSI efforts come under five priority areas, which align with the 14 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are areas that are critical for our environment and economy to flourish. They are environmental sustainability, innovation and economic growth, gender equality, stakeholder engagement and talent development. With these focus areas, our goals are to create an enabling environment for our communities and employees to thrive and continuously adopt environmentally friendly business practices. We support women empowerment, provide innovative solutions and drive financial inclusion towards the prosperity of the average Nigerian.
With the publication of Union Bank’s fourth CSI Report that chronicles the bank’s activities across these areas in 2019, what are the highlights of your CSI activities in 2019 and the first half of this year?
Our 2019 CSI report was prepared in line with the Nigerian Sustainability Business Principles (NSBPs) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. Assurance of the report was also conducted by an independent auditing firm, Deloitte, to demonstrate our focus on transparent reporting of our CSI efforts. I will highlight a few points from there. In 2018, we identified the education sector as an area we can support and drive impact. Based on this decision, we introduced Edu360, a robust platform designed to enable success for education stakeholders – educators, parents, government, and the children too. Last year, we held the second edition of our annual Edu360 conference that recorded 6,800 people in attendance over the three days. In addition, gender equality is another key focus area for us. We launched the αlpher, which is our dedicated proposition for women that reinforces our support for women and women-owned businesses. The αlpher is a platform to ‘enable success’ and empower women across all segments of the Nigerian society through capacity building opportunities, networking opportunities, scholarships and tailored financial services. In the same vein, we partnered with MamaMoni Empowerment Foundation to set up an Innovation Hub for low-income women and girls from underserved communities. The vocational training programme has been established to help these girls and women build sustainable means of livelihood. In January this year, we were proud to see the first batch of 60 women graduate from the programme, having acquired various vocational skills such as tailoring, make-up, and arts and craft making. The bank also awarded 40 scholarships to women entrepreneurs to build their capacity through the Enterprise and Leadership Programme (ELP) organised by China-Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in partnership with Leading Ladies Africa.
Highlighting our dedication to environmentally friendly business practices and operations, Union Bank has invested heavily in deploying alternative power solutions to our branch locations. In 2019, the number of solar-powered branches increased to 99 from 64 in 2018, and 61 of our ATMs now run on solar energy. We are pleased to see our efforts being acknowledged by the public and awarding bodies too. Last year, we received awards for the Best Company in Environmental Excellence and the SERAs Innovation Prize. We were named second the runner-up in the Most Responsible Company category at the Sustainability Enterprise and Responsibility Awards (SERAs).
What impact does Union Bank seek to have on its stakeholders through its CSI activities, and how does the Bank include these stakeholders in these activities?
We are focused on building strong relationships with our employees, customers, host communities, regulators and other stakeholders in an outlook that underpins our citizenship and sustainability efforts. Stakeholders’ engagement is constant and critical for our business growth. This position enables us to assess and manage our CSI impact collaboratively as we leverage partnerships with key stakeholders to amplify our efforts and support initiatives that promote Nigeria’s development. Our employees are also actively involved in our efforts, investing over 4,500 hours in voluntary activities to support students and communities in 2019. We held our first nationwide Employee Volunteer Day last year, where over 1,200 employees along with family members and friends, joined hands to clean major streets of Abuja, Anambra, Imo, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo. Stakeholder expectations are a major driver encouraging businesses to adopt sustainable practices and in recent years, we have seen an increase in the demand from stakeholders. At Union Bank, we always strive to keep abreast of these expectations by regularly engaging in robust dialogue with our stakeholders across our value chain. Our long-term approach to CSI enables us not only to recognise and acknowledge our growth but also helps us work to accomplish even greater strides. We are proud of the Union Bank heritage and of the family of incredible minds who has worked with us and support our journey as we continue to position Union Bank as a socially driven responsible institution.