Time with… Soji Apampa, Nigeria Country Manager
What do you do? How did you end up doing what you do?
Soji: I am one of the founders of The Convention on Business Integrity. What we do is find viable alternatives to corruption for our signatories that can give better access to markets, finance and know-how and this gives us an incentivised plan to stay away from corruption in an otherwise corrupt business environment. We took an immediate interest in BIF as it is one of those ways that demonstrate what business can do to leverage better outcomes for itself and parts of society at the same time. This alignment with our mission was very seductive and we took on the responsibility immediately the opportunity was presented.
What tend to be the main benefits that inclusive businesses deliver to low income people in Nigeria?
Soji: Economic empowerment and tangible improvements in their standard of living are the benefits we expect to roll off the initiatives we are working on in Nigeria right now. Thinking of it, these are perhaps the most sought after benefits by most people in Nigerian society.
What are the main challenges you encounter in the inclusive business projects you support?
Soji: The main challenge comes through the amount of learning many of our prospects need to go through to fully grasp the possibilities of inclusive business in Nigeria. This is related to the life cycle of the project in Nigeria as with some implementations completed, tangible examples make it easier to explain what inclusive business is all about and demonstrate in concrete terms ways in which they could also benefit if they would allow themselves the creative space for such. In order to target the right companies and roll out the implementation at a pace that could be supported by project structures and budgets, direct one-to-one selling and sometimes one to many (in a group setting) are used for communications and not broadcasting so it takes time to identify the more ideal candidates that others could learn from and emulate.
What do you see as the main challenges for businesses generally operating in Nigeria?
Soji: The main challenges for businesses in Nigeria revolve around access to finance, access to markets and access to know-how, inputs and technologies. Corruption, poor governance and private interest politics often restrict the access; choices and options open to many businesses. These interests also affect public policy choices resulting in poor government service delivery (especially around power, energy and finance) and poor infrastructural development in general.
What does inclusive business mean to you?
Soji: To me inclusive business is deliberately creating and adopting a sustainable business model that aligns commercial interests of a company driven from its core business activities with the needs of larger numbers of beneficiaries at the base of the pyramid (poor people) thus creating inclusive, sustainable and diverse social impacts.
How can donors best help businesses?
Soji: Through symbolic recognition of their efforts at sustainable IB and partnership brokering with other organizations that could help them go to scale with their models and ambitions. Provision of “safe labs” where they can try out ideas before putting in larger investment funds, especially in zones of weak governance where the business environment is typically very dynamic or even turbulent – this would be very welcome risk mitigation for them.
What do you recommend to other entrepreneurs who want to set up, develop, and implement an inclusive business idea in Nigeria?
Soji: The first recommendation is that they should study their value chains and understand the ecosystem around their businesses properly. They should understand the impacts they are making positive/negative and compare with impacts they desire, impacts they could be making and impacts that could seriously enhance their commercial returns (not always the same). Armed with a clear understanding of where they are and where they would like to be, some creative space or tension develops that allows them consider new possibilities such as sustainable IB models. When they are clear about this, they would be able to take great advantage of support that is offered through such programmes as IAP or BIF.
Do you see donor support to individual companies giving an unfair advantage or distorting the market?
Soji: No, not if the rules are clear and anyone can apply even though not every one will be selected since the donor is doing what many business development services do and some banks/financial institutions do but without charging a fee. By the same token, some may argue that it is unfair competition for the service providers but the donor intervention is available to them as well to help strengthen what they are doing so I still do not see it as distorting the market even if some may argue that way.
What conflict have you experienced or seen elsewhere between social and commercial objectives?
Soji: In larger companies where divisions or departments tend to work as independent ‘silos’ it takes a while to get them reading from the same script.
Should businesses in developing countries “expect” grant funding as a right to support their enterprises if they have some sort of pro-poor impact (e.g. buy from smallholders)?
Soji: No, not grants but some other incentive from government or elsewhere even if just by way of public recognition. Some even talk of tax breaks and such material incentives.
Why do you think the consulting element of BIF is a good approach as opposed to more traditional financial support and grants?
Soji: The consulting approach provides speedy, focused interventions, which by large yield tangible results, feedback, or lessons very quickly. It also makes very high quality skills available that businesses may otherwise consider out of their reach were they to handle the procurement directly. Also, knowing what to procure, from whom and from where is supported by this approach – generally it would tend to also improve the quality of outcomes, provide value for money and efficiency in procuring the support.