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CSR and Sustainability

As the sustainability ‘industry’ fragments, the real action is all in emerging markets

Ghana: Where responsible business can have a real impact

As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re seeing some genuinely interesting collaboration today as big companies realise they have to play the major role in driving progressive change around global environmental, social and yes, even governance issues.

As they do so, we’re seeing increasingly specialised roles in companies as they tackle what often turn out to be technical issues once the policy is written and the targets committed to.

This is as it should be. The sustainability generalist is the boss, the team below are much more technical and specialist.

In what used to be called emerging markets it’s often a different story, so far.

(Emerging markets is seen as a bit misleading/patronising, given Europe’s woes. I like the term “lean’ markets although lots of people use the term “frontier”, which has its own challenges)

Terminology aside, these faster-growing and accelerating countries are where corporate sustainability matters most. This is not a new idea, of course. The Western CSR agenda was driven mostly by supply chain concerns about emerging markets and working or environmental and governance conditions.

But now things in lean/frontier markets are getting interesting. The Indian Government’s misguided CSR tax is one example.

Ghana’s current national CSR framework development is another, as is what is happening in Indonesia with Asia Pulp & Paper and a number of other companies.

I’m here in Accra, about to help run five days of executive/government training for very senior politicians, their top advisors, very senior company execs and NGOs on corporate responsibility strategy.

Imagine having this level of access in Europe or the U.S. today? Unimaginable.

I’m also helping with the national CSR Framework here in Ghana. It should be an interesting process.

After I worked with the current UK Prime Minister on CSR policy from 2006-9, some of the end results were not taken quite as seriously as I would have liked by the current UK coalition government. For various reasons that is understandable.

I have a feeling what we come up with for Ghana may end up mattering a whole lot more. Fingers crossed.

I’m looking forward to an interesting week of training, meeting ministers and CEOs. I’ll report back as I can on this blog in a few days.

(For readers interested in London-based training on Stakeholder Engagement in Frontier/Emerging Markets, take a look at this programme scheduled for 16-17 June)


  1. "But now things in lean/frontier markets are getting interesting."

    Actually, things in emerging markets have always been quite interesting, for a whole lot of reasons. At least to those of us who live in them.

    So, I'm wondering. Are emerging markets getting interesting because advisors from developed nations suspect they might have something to learn?

    Or is it that emerging markets require and have been exploring the kind of scaled solutions that have barely cracked the agenda in more developed countries? (Think of mobile finance, education and health, for instance.)

    Or is it simply because emerging markets are where the growth is (read: advisory contracts)?

    I'd love to think the first reason is valid. And the second. And that emerging markets are not facing a deluge of first world advisors, simply intent on bringing the gospel according to their own experience.

    Are first world advisors interested enough to seek out and learn from local people who've been grappling with some of the "interesting" dynamics over the past decade or two?

    So far, the precedent on this story has not been encouraging.

  2. Hi Nicola, OK so I should have said 'more interesting'.

    You'll know that this blog, and Ethical Corporation, has focused hugely on emerging / frontier / lean markets for years. 8 years on the blog, 13 years in Ethical Corporation.

    I mentioned that these issues are not new in the post, so your selective quoting is not particularly accurate.

    I think things are getting MORE interesting for all the reasons you mention.

    I don't blog for 'advisory contracts' – that's not really what I do. Only when it's genuinely interesting. I'd rather shoot myself than do the low end report crap that most 'consultants' actually end up doing, whilst pretending it is 'strategy'.

    And anyone who is any good will know you don't transplant your own experience alone to make that work. You engage and work with everyone you can, to bring global and local together.

    I would have thought I had made my agreement with that notion rather clear on the blog since 2005.

    Perhaps your annoyance with 'first world' consultants is best aimed elsewhere. If you are good at what you do, they should be no threat to you. I can't see why anyone would hire the people you characterise. But then given I am not really a consultant (I do a bit of advisory, but mostly speaking and training, and produce products) I am not really an expert.

    Anyhow, why should someone from South Africa be better qualified than say, a Brit, to work in Ghana? I can't see how they would be. Being born on the continent of Africa doesn't give you an automatic advantage, given its size.