Promoting Sustainable Development Buoyed by Love

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Beyond the usual hullabaloo that surrounds every February 14, Sahara Group has over the years continuously advocated for the entire month to be an opportunity to focus on a cause that promotes sustainable development either by championing climate change or girls in science, tackling substance abuse, increasing cancer awareness and taking global action against COVID-19. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports

Love tickles and tingles every February, especially on the 14th. Grand plans are made to mark the day, usually with high hopes of cementing the bond of love – that elusive and intriguing four-letter word that elicits tears and heart-breaks in equal measure. Beyond the conventional way Valentines Day is celebrated globally, energy conglomerate, Sahara Group happens to have spun a new love ballad that enjoins people across the globe to share love beyond the 14th – to make every February an opportunity to focus on a cause that promotes sustainable development.

Since 2018, Sahara Group has given traction to several themes in this regard, driving the rebirth of love beyond a day across its locations in Africa, Asia Europe and the Middle East. Since then, the
corporate initiative has been geared towards devoting the month of February every year to a cause that promotes global well-being.

The initiative began with the “GreenLove” campaign in February 2018. The focus then was on safeguarding the well-being of the planet earth that is home to almost eight billion people. In 2019, the energy conglomerate celebrated #PinkLove to increase cancer awareness. The focus for 2020 was #CleanLoveFeb” where Sahara shed light on the dangers of substance abuse, with an overarching zero-tolerance narrative to make living and staying clean a way of life for everyone and in 2021, global action against COVID-19.

Green Valentine for Climate Change
As part of the themes, the group in 2018 marked the ‘Green Valentine’ as part of its advocacy towards climate change. In lending their voice to the climate change conversation, the international energy and infrastructure giant put an eco-conscious spin on the globally celebrated day of lovers by asking its workforce across 15 countries to #GoGreenforValentine.

According to Bethel Obioma, Head of Corporate Communications, “At Sahara, we believe our love for the planet comes first and foremost. Our planet is the source of all life and livelihoods, so we thought we’d use our people to highlight the subject of climate change this year.

“The internal communications campaign was hugely successful which was very gratifying to the team which incubated the idea. Staffers relished the autonomy of coming to work on a Wednesday in whichever dress code they chose, albeit with at least a touch of green. The result was a variety of shades and expressions of green, all for the love of the planet we call home.

“Whilst staffers were treated to the usual Valentines customs of sweet confections and heart shaped motifs, there were tree planting activities, talks on climate action and the special appearance of a green painted acrobat on stilts, clad in a an eco-friendly t-shirt at the company’s Ikoyi, Lagos office. “My Love for earth is evergreen,” was the big message emblazoned on the t-shirt.

“Everything glistened in green from the icing on the cakes to the balloons that filled the front rooms of the company’s many offices. It wasn’t all games and gaiety on the day. Underpinning #GoGreenforValentine is Sahara Group’s commitment to the UN-led mandate to deliver on Climate Action, SDG No. 13 by 2030. Climate action essentially requires activating the forces that are needed to combat climate change. It is a clarion call to the public & private sectors as well as civic society to play a palpable, constructive role in keeping the planet clean and healthy.”

“Initiating and sustaining conversations on climate change is crucial to the realisation of the mandate which is why Sahara Group has leveraged on its presence in fifteen countries across four continents to amplify the need for consciousness and activism in our natural environment.

“At least two of the countries in which we operate are in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) top twenty list of the world’s most environmentally friendly countries. Singapore and Switzerland are at numbers 14 and 16 respectively. But we cannot ignore the fact that there is a need to push for climate action in all the territories in which we operate. All of the SDG mandates are very personal to us. We feel we have duty of care, and a need to reinforce these messages through all available platforms consistently,“ Obioma stated.

On the sideline, he noted that made the campaign all the more remarkable was not just the bold and striking colour of the day but the enthusiasm with which people embraced the cause itself. “It is quite possible that many in the organisation are beginning to view their natural environments via a green tinted lens”

Seyi Williams, a member of the Strategy Department said “Living in a fast moving city like Lagos, it’s difficult to actually take time to think about what one can do to better the environment. Apparently there’s so much I can do in my little sphere of influence. I will certainly be walking to the office a lot more frequently instead of taking my car.”

Across the pond in Geneva, office manager Alina Spada, who was responsible for organising all activities in the build up to the event said “We got so excited and I discovered that so many of my colleagues are closet eco-warriors. I’m a vegan and it was so refreshing to discover others who shared my belief that veganism is good for the planet. It contributes towards reduction in water usage and carbon emissions.”

Additionally, Obioma said the #GoGreenforValentine campaign was a good opportunity to break down the ‘hows?’ and ‘whys?’ to those who might be sceptical about such theories. ”

In the spirit of consistency, the group scaled its efforts to bring attention to the subject of climate change with a photography contest titled #TheGreenestLoveofAll- an Instagram based competition via which Sahara’s strong social media following were encouraged to submit photos which capture the most striking images of their natural environment with mobile phones.

Obioma continued by saying “Again it’s all about sustaining the conversation. Why stop on Valentine’s day or wait till Earth Day in April? Climate action should be important to all of us every waking day. #TheGreenestLoveof All is designed to help achieve this.”

The organisation is currently negotiating a number of renewable energy projects which should lessen the dependency on fossil fuels and the many polluting effects that result from its continued use throughout the world.

A closing statement from the group’s communication team read: “The ‘Green’ themes we introduced early in February have been some of our most rewarding so far. It is an affirmation of our commitment as strategic partners for the realization of the SDGs. It has been immensely gratifying to see the enthusiasm with which these campaigns were greeted by all our staff across the globe. We fully intend to sustain the momentum.”

At the end of the photography campaign, the
winner and first runner up of Sahara Group’s #TheGreenestLoveofAll Instagram based mobile photo contest emerged amid fresh commitment by the leading African energy and infrastructure conglomerate to sustain conversations around environmental protection.

The winner, Irene Ishengoma, a teacher at St Anne Marie Academy in Dar-Es-.Salaam, Tanzania submitted a compelling piece about community led reforestation aptly titled “Together We Can Overcome Environmental Destruction” while
Temitope Otubusin a resident of Lagos, Nigeria came in second with an emotive submission titled “The Butterfly & The Eco-System”.

Ishengoma the winner who teaches at St Anne Marie Academy in Da-Es-Salaam enthused: “I am so excited. I really want to thank the Sahara Group for giving me this creative experience. I feel more connected to matters concerning my natural environment than I ever have before. I’m also looking forward to using my brand new phone to keep the conversation on climate action alive!”

Otubusin, on the other hand, said the competition had inspired her to seek ways of championing the climate action cause through photography and advocacy. “I would like to commend Sahara Group for this initiative and believe that more private sector players, the government and civil society should also be part of this campaign. That is the only way we can deliver a sustainable and healthy environment to generations unborn,” she said.

During that campaign, Sahara Group harvested over 330 photos which were eventually shortlisted by top photographers to 10 of what were considered to be the most creative and thematically compelling entries. The top two pictures were selected after they garnered the most number of likes on @iamsaharagroup – Sahara Group’s Instagram platform – following a Vote by Liking contest which was open to members of the public. The top 10 entries accumulated a combination of over 8,500 in likes and comments on the Sahara’s Instagram handle.

Bethel Obioma, Head of Corporate Communications said: “We could never have anticipated the level of enthusiasm that greeted the competition. We received entries from different countries and the independent assessors commended the quality of the entries and the depth of the messages in the captions. Sahara Group is already exploring various initiatives to sustain global awareness and action.”

Obioma expressed delight at the unprecedented level of reach and engagement, which included a solidarity message from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDGF). “Our partner Sahara Group is bringing attention to #SDG13 on Climate Action across Africa with a photo contest. You can put your creativity at the service of the #2030Agenda. You are invited to join the campaign,” the organisation tweeted from its handle, @SDGFund.

“We intend to continue pulling all available levers which can help us broaden the climate change conversation and widen the audience of the people we engage. There is an urgent need for global sustainable collaboration towards saving the planet. The time to act is now,” Obioma added.

Combating Cancer
In 2019, the group in conjunction with Dorcas Foundation unveiled “How Pink is your Love’s campaign to combat cancer. The duo joined forces to increase awareness of the cancer scourge in a bid to reinforce the role early detection plays in preventing avoidable morbidity and mortality from the disease which claimed the lives of 9.6 million people in 2018.

Statistics sourced from the World Cancer Day website indicate that at least a third of common cancers are preventable and up to 3.7 million lives could be saved each year through implementing appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment.

Tagged ‘How Pink Is Your Love’, the project took
advantage of the euphoria surrounding the 2019 Valentine’s Day celebration to shore up awareness and early detection campaigns through youth engagement talks in schools, health walks, media interactions and donations to select cancer based non-governmental organisations. The campaign was implemented across the energy conglomerate’s locations across Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Dr. Adedayo Joseph, Clinical Radiation Oncologist and Executive Director of The Dorcas Cancer Foundation provided lead technical support for the campaign through her organisation which is widely regarded for its leading role in stamping out cancer.

“Last year, Sahara Group added more fillip to the issue of climate change on Valentine’s Day. Our ‘Greenest Love of All’ campaign was well-received and generated remarkable awareness and commitment to galvanising action towards protecting our environment. This year, we are delighted to work with the reputable Dorcas Cancer Foundation to stem the tide of cancer, a deadly disease which can be tackled by awareness, early detection, accurate diagnosis, as well as prompt and proper treatment,” Obioma explained then.

According to Obioma, cancer; which claims 17 lives every minute all over the world requires sustained global attention and collaboration to stem the tide of its adverse impact. “Our campaign is actually a passionate appeal to extract more commitment from everyone to spread the word about cancer, get checked, encourage others to get checked in order to increase the chances of saving more lives through early detection.

“There is also a high level of myths, misinformation and stigma that fuels the spread of the disease. So, at Sahara Group, we are asking, how pink is your love this valentine, as we take the fight to cancer.”

Speaking on the partnership with Sahara Group, Dr. Joseph said, “Not too long from now, every person living will know someone affected by cancer. We owe it to ourselves, and to the people we love to get involved. This fight cannot be left for the oncologists, the doctors, healthcare professionals and non-profits. Every individual has a duty and an obligation to society, to do their part for cancer control.”

According to her, the Dorcas Cancer Foundation has backed cancer research; published and distributed free of charge, a first of its kind childhood cancer handbook in West Africa, funded diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for several children; partnered with community leaders and influencers to raise awareness; and trained hundreds of health care professionals on early detection and referral paths.

“But it is all only a drop in the bucket until everyone gets involved. I have devoted my career to changing the cancer narrative in Africa, and I invite every individual, every organisation; to join in their own way. This season, as everyone celebrates love and relationships, I believe we need to take a moment to think about those for whom life seems to be hanging in the balance; those whose priorities are vastly re-arranged by the diagnosis they face. Take a moment to show love to someone who desperately needs it,” she added.

Oluseyi Ojurongbe, Manager, Sahara Foundation said the organisation remains resolute in its commitment to partnering with various stakeholders to “take cancer down”. He said the total annual economic cost of cancer which is estimated at 1.16 trillion dollars makes it imperative for various stakeholders across the globe to support sustainable awareness and prevention projects.

“At Sahara, we have over the years supported several cancer programmes to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with the disease. Some of our cancer interventions include donation towards the acquisition of a Mobile Cancer Center by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy; sponsorship of prostate cancer surgeries in Lagos; cancer screening and awareness programmes for staff members and cancer screening for over 5000 rural women across Nigeria. The Sahara Group subsidiary in Geneva recently partnered with English Speaking Cancer Association (ESCA) alongside other organisations to carry out awareness programme themed Paddle for cancer dragon boat festival.”

“The war to defeat cancer should be concerted requiring the efforts of individuals, corporations and government. Sahara Group is excited to draw attention to the cancer menace as the world celebrates the concept of love. We believe the greatest form of love this valentine is to raise awareness and do everything possible to enhance the cause of early detection by promoting voluntary and sponsored medical intervention,” he added.

Tackling Substance Abuse
In 2019, the group dedicated the month of February to tackling substance abuse with the #CLEANLOVEFEB campaign. The campaign against substance abuse which claims the lives of 11.8 million each year, that is more than the number of deaths from all cancers.

Tagged #CleanLoveFeb, the focus of the campaign was to sensitise the public, particularly young people, to the dangers of substance abuse. The campaign involved various activities across Sahara Group’s locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The group engaged Dr. Tunde Fadipe, a psychiatrist, to engage various stakeholders on the campaign and undertake school activations such as open conversations, essay and chess competitions. Other activities included awareness walks, press and radio interviews as well as visits to rehabilitation centers. “For us at Sahara Group, the #CleanLoveFeb campaign also represents a critical vehicle for beaming the searchlight on mental health issues that often emerge from substance abuse. We invite everyone to join us in promoting this noble cause by sharing our posts on the social media to ensure that the #CleanLove message gets to much more people, especially, young and impressionable individuals,” he added.

Speaking on the partnership with Sahara Group, Fadipe described Sahara’s global campaign against substance abuse as “timely and exemplary, seeing that we are all affected as relatives, friends, colleagues, teachers, or neighbour and the scourge is a major health concern all over the world.”

Noting that the impact of psychoactive substance abuse on young people had become a growing source of concern for mental health practitioners, Fadipe canvassed the declaration of a state of emergency to address the menace. “What we have in our hands is a monster with huge forensic and socioeconomic implications. Seeing that prevention will always be better than cure, we need more sustained awareness initiatives like Sahara Group’s #CleanLoveFeb campaign. All hands need to be on deck to tackle this menace and I am excited to be a part of this commendable campaign,” he declared.

Fadipe said statistics sourced from the United Nations office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) show that up to 270 million people, aged 15 – 64 years use psychoactive substances in a year and up to 13 percent of these people abuse them globally. “Substance abuse does not discriminate as it affects people irrespective of age, gender, culture or socioeconomic status. It is linked with untoward effects on both the individual and society with corrosive effects on health, safety, wellbeing and productivity,” he stated.

A seasoned psychiatrist, Dr. Fadipe is currently a consultant psychiatrist (addiction, consultation-liaison services) at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital where he is involved in rendering clinical service, teaching and research. In the last few years, his practice and research have focused on general adult psychiatry, addiction, psychosocial issues among underserved populations, and mental health advocacy.

COVID-19 Global Action

Also as part of the love conversation, Sahara Group keyed into the global action against COVID-19 pandemic. According to Chief Operating Officer, Sahara Energy Resources DMCC Dubai, Andrew Laven, the 2021 Valentine’s Day celebration called for collective action from all citizens of the world to reach out and make life better for others as we combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking while unveiling ‘#ReachoutThisValentine’ as Sahara Group’s focus for the 2021 Valentine celebration, Laven said cushioning the impact of the pandemic and ultimately defeating the virus required intervention by a “global coalition of responders”.

“What we are witnessing across the globe is unprecedented in terms of the scale of grief and loss on account of the pandemic. When you add to this the fact that simultaneously, the world also must combat hunger, other diseases, and huge human development index gaps, it becomes clear that we must all support of one another. At Sahara Group, we believe that this year’s Valentine celebration presents the perfect platform for us to reach out and give others a reason to smile,” he stated.

The ‘#Reachoutthisvalentine’ campaign was celebrated across Sahara Group’s locations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and it included employee volunteer activities in the areas of education, health, environment, capacity building, and sundry donations to reinforce the fight against the pandemic.

Noting that Sahara Group was delighted to promote this campaign, he urged for global participation, “ultimately hoping that reaching out to others will be a way of life for individuals, businesses and nations across the globe”.

Furthermore, the group supported the local communities and organisations who are focused on those in greatest need. Coordinated by

The #Reachoutthisvalentine campaign was coordinated by Sahara Foundation, the corporate responsibility vehicle for Sahara Group. The Sahara Foundation has over the years implemented and supported many projects with over 2,000,000 beneficiaries and operates as a global promoter of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Global updates show that COVID-19 cases currently stand at over 106,000,000 while more than 2,000,000 people have lost their lives tonthe pandemic. Thus, Sahara Group’s contribution to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic includes donation of personal protective equipment (PPE), driving COVID-19 awareness and education in sub-Saharan Africa through educational literature in indigenous languages across various countries and leading the delivery of the 300-bed THISDAY Dome Isolation and Treatment Centre in Nigeria and donation of medical equipment, including fully equipped world-class Intensive Care Units, to the centre and other medical facilities.

Promoting Girls in Science Initiative
Not done, Asharami Synergy keyed into promoting Girls in Science Initiative in Kenya. Asharami Synergy Limited Kenya (‘Asharami Synergy’), a Sahara Group Oil and Marketing Company in Kenya has said it is committed to promoting gender parity initiatives in the nation, especially around encouraging more girls to seek careers in science.

Country Manager, Asharami Synergy, Debola Adesanya said getting more African youths involved in science remained one of the continent’s “surest platform to achieving accelerated growth and development.

“Science is at the foundation of what Africa needs to take advantage of the huge potential it has in its robust youth population and abundant resources. Asharami Synergy is delighted to take this all-important step of creating awareness and supporting initiatives that will give more Kenyan boys and girls access into the world of science”.

According to the African Development Bank, less than 25 per cent of African higher education students are in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) fields, with majority of students studying social sciences and humanities. The has led to a dearth in domestic STEM workforce and consequently, outsourcing of STEM jobs in Africa to other countries, including the U.S., China, and India.

Given that February 11 annually is set aside for celebrating the achievement and encouraging the participation of women and girls in science, and the day is also used to create awareness and dispel stereotypes that hinder and discourage girls from seeking STEM careers, in its commemoration of the day, Asharami Synergy took its awareness campaign to the Alliance Girls High School in Kenya.

Speaking during a session with the students, Jecinta Ndugire, Trader at Asharami Synergy Limited said the company was delighted at the commitment of the teaching staff and the interest of the girls in exploring the world of science. “It was heartwarming to see the girls exuding so much joy and confidence in their career paths as future scientists and Asharami Synergy will continue to promote more involvement of Kenyan boys and girls in science,” she said.

Alliance Girls High School Principal, Mrs. Virginia Gitonga said the institution had continued to witness more interest from the girls and would continue to support their dreams of becoming great scientists from Africa. “We are grateful to Asharami Synergy for spearheading this initiative of promoting more participation of girls in science. With the support of Asharami Synergy and more stakeholders, the future definitely looks bright for Kenyan youths.”

The students who received corporate souvenirs from Asharami Synergy said they were delighted with the choices they had made and looked forward to becoming inventors and renowned scientists with global acclaim.

Branice Kazira Otiende said, “The beauty of science is that it unites people despite their race, religion, and ethnicity as they come together to solve problems facing our society. A great example is the COVID 19 pandemic. That’s why is important to encourage young people especially girls to embrace science by rising against the social stereotypes.”

According to Cherise Otieno, “My perspective of science can be different from your perspective of science. What fascinates me the most about science is that even the slightest of ideas is relevant and counts. Science is immortal and it becomes more interesting as time goes by.”

For Winnie Nduta, “the world of science is arguably the most remarkable discovery of man. Female participation in the world of science is awe-inspiring and it does melt my heart. The fact that science has created room for us to improve our abilities makes me attach great value to it.”

Shirley Munene said, “Girls often shy away from science thinking it’s only for boys or having the mentality that it is hard or complex. We live in a gender equal society where knowledge is open and free for all.”

Kigona Precious said, “Science makes me curious. It pushes me to explore the natural world. I love it as it answers the ‘why’ questions in basically every imaginable question in a mind joggling manner. Through science, many more discoveries will be made, and the world will be a better place for the future generations.”

Lilan Michelle who derives her inspiration from Thomas Edison said, “Millions of women have impacted so many lives through their inventions and innovations, this means that women are very much capable of soaring to greater heights in terms of science. Thus, girls our future in science starts today.”