Access Bank Sustainability: Driving Innovative Solutions to Societal Challenges
By Jeremiah Agada
Most companies have long practiced some form of corporate social and environmental responsibility with the broad goal, simply, of contributing to the well-being of the communities and society they affect and on which they depend. For more socially responsible organisations, the goal is that and much more; to align its social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values. If in doing so CSR activities mitigate risks, enhance reputation, and contribute to business results, that is all to the good.
For a corporate entity like Access Bank, a leading Nigerian multinational commercial bank owned by the Access Bank Group, the above holds true which is why sustainability is embedded in its corporate philosophy which is: ‘Setting standards for sustainable business practices that unleash the talent of our employees, deliver superior value to our customers and provide innovative solutions for the markets and communities we serve’.
Since its inception in 1989, the bank has been consistent in embarking on sustainable projects geared towards impacting lives, businesses and the environmentat large. From economic developmental efforts, job creation, maternal care, lifestyle, to innovation enhancement initiatives and economic empowerment, Access Bank has maintained its objective of empowering all individuals while streamlining its efforts to five major focal areas of Sports, Arts, Health, Education, and Environment.
For Omobolanle Victor Laniyan, Head, Sustainability Access Bank; sustainability involves “providing innovative solutions to support local and global efforts in addressing social, environmental and economic challenges”, she explains that “for us at Access Bank,sustainability cuts across everything that we do, and everyone we deal with, from employees to regulators and from customers to the community. Being a responsible business that understands issues around us, we address these issues through our business processes. We continually integrate responsible business practices into our corporate structures and decision making processes; while creating innovative and proactive solutions to societal and environmental challenges, as well as collaborating with both internal and external stakeholders to improve our performance”.
“We are irrevocably committed to engaging in sustainable development, that is, development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability is therefore Access Bank’s contribution to sustainable development. To this extent, the concept of our Sustainability is not limited to support for our focus areas of Arts, Education, Environment, Health and Sports, but goes beyond social welfare and community development to involve embedding responsible and ethical business practices in our overall strategy, processes and operations in order to ensure environmental protection, societal growth and economic development” Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan explains. Access Bank therefore continues to driveenvironmental, economic, and social responsibility at all times and in all activities, maintaining high standards of integrity in its methods and practices of doing business.
Bank Sustainability Structure
Although the bank has been carrying out its business and operations in an ethical and responsible manner since it commenced operations more than 29 years ago, it decided to be more strategic in 2008 when it set-up the CSR function within the Bank. As a core part of its operations, it put a solid structure in place to properly marshal its Sustainability operations. In that time, it formed a Sustainability Board Committee as the governing body that articulates the scope of Sustainability activities for the bank and ensured compliance with its sustainability Policy, overseeing projects or programmes on sustainability of the Bank. As will be more apparent, we will see how the bank’s operating framework is such that activities undertaken by the Bank include projects implemented directly by the Bank as well as in partnerships with various civil society organizations.
The bank also has in place, a transparent monitoring mechanism for sustainability activities through which the board reviews the progress of sustainability activities at least quarterly, and also has its comprehensive independent annual sustainability report developed in line with the Global Reporting Initiative Standards for disclosure of its sustainability activities and strides in line with local and international best practices to stakeholders.
In selecting the core focal areas of education, sports, art, health and environment for its sustainability efforts around community development, thebank was very strategic and intentional. This could be based on its understanding that sustainability is a life-time commitment.
As Omobolanle explained, “For us at Access Bank, Sustainability means more than finding new customers, or making profit. Our view on Sustainability encompasses wider social and environmental systems. We are in active pursuit of the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. We understand that the cost of action and inaction can be grave. Hence, we focus on making real change through social outcomes and creating a sustainable future for generations to come. Through our strategic investments in communities, Access Bank has in the last couple of years has invested over with N3.4billion in community development programmes, reaching over 853 communities, and over 358 Non-Governmental Organisations beneficiaries, with N1.4billion invested in capacity building programmes for female employees of the Bank”. We can appreciate the Bank’s impact and investment in communities through a review of its efforts across its focus areas over the years.
The healthcare system in Nigeria has always remained a sight for sore eyes as government for long, remained the dominant key player. However, social interventions from private entities like Access Bank is beginning to turn this trend around for good.
Most significant among the bank’s health initiativesis the launch of the strategic health investment initiative – the Malaria-to-Zero Initiative launched in 2016 in partnership with Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria and HACEY Health Initiative. This strategic initiative is aimed at pooling the private sector influence, assets and resources to scale-up efforts towards the achievement of Nigeria’s pre-elimination target by 2020.
This initiative till date has received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dangote Foundation, GBChealth, Huawei, and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa amongst others. The initiative aims to avert 1 million new malaria cases and empower 20 million Nigerians to take action to end malaria by 2020, while primarily targeting grassroots and underserved communities across Nigeria. Since inception,a record1,032,000 people have been sensitized on malaria.
In helping to boost maternal health, Access Bank launched the Maternal Health Service Support Scheme which is an initiative aimed at providing finance to help individuals complete their families. The Betta Mama BettaPikin initiative is also another initiative that provides an opportunity for mothers and their children to gain access to health insurance. Yet another initiative, the Hospital Facility Upgrade Support Scheme (HFUSS)was developed to address inadequate equipment/facilities as a barrier to quality healthcare. So far, there are over 30 hospital beneficiaries.
In the fight against cancer, the bank partnered with Care Organization Public Enlightenment (C.O.P E.) on an initiative aimed at creating awareness on breast cancer whilst providing periodic free breast cancer screening for women as a strategic intervention aimed at eliminating this disease. Over 10,000 women were screened and over a million women reached through sensitization efforts under this initiative.
The Bank also commemorates international days in an effort to join the global community to address sustainability challenges that plague the world. In 2017,Access Bank partnered with Nirvana Initiative, to commemorate World Heart Day through a strategic engagement focused on providing life-saving information to people living with heart conditions and Sickle Cell Anaemia across 10 different communities in Osun state, Nigeria. This initiative reached over 25,000 people across 10 communities through:- community outreaches and engagements, awareness creation through distribution of Information, Education and Communication materials, and free testing and counselling.
Furthermore, in 2017, Access Bank in partnership with the Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCCA) and HACEY Health Initiative commemorated World AIDS Day through strategic initiatives aimed at scaling up HIV prevention in Nigeria. This involved programs aimed at increasing access to testing service, awareness creation, whilst strengthening the capacity of over 1000 health workers to accelerate the impact of their interventions.
The bankhas continued to demonstrate its commitment towards the promotion of African Arts through the sponsorship of such initiatives as ARTX. ARTX is one of Nigeria’s most prominent art exhibitions, and an annual international exhibition that seeks to promote African Art.
In 2009, it launched the Mirror the Master Initiative, an initiative that celebrated the works of established art masters. The initiative has helped showcase 500 new talented artists in Nigeria. A remarkable testimonial is that of OmekeJohncross from Model Primary School, Nsukka who was a winner in the first phase of this scheme and currently has 2 of his paintings in the British Royal Collection.
Women Economic Empowerment
Access Bank is arguably one of Nigeria’s most female friendly banks because of its many initiatives geared towards the economic empowerment of women in the society. Besides the impactful Access Women’s Network whichsupports gender diversity/inclusion in the bank, Access Bank unveiled the “W” Initiative in July 2014, to accelerate a new and stronger wave of hitherto scanty female entrepreneurs in Nigeria. In addition to financial inclusion, the “W” Initiative is a one-stop centre for all of Access Bank’s women empowerment offerings.
Some of these include capacity building programmes exclusive to women, mentoring programmes, and maternal health services, all aimed at helping to build a bigger, stronger and more sustainable society. “W” is another impactful women empowerment initiative launched by Access Bank. However, “W” extends to female members of the public outside the Bank.
Also notable is the The WIMBIZ Capacity Building Initiative. This is a training aimed at developing the capacity of female entrepreneurs to lead and build sustainable businesses that will attract investments and contribute to economic development. Over 60 entrepreneurs were supported to identify business gaps, enhance leadership skills, provide strategies and set up sustainable business structures.
The Employee Volunteering Scheme
One of the most noticeable sustainability initiative from the bank is perhaps its Employee Volunteering Scheme. This is an innovative way for businesses to invest in their people and local communities. Omobolanle explains: “At the centre of our work, we have guiding principles we stand by and it is imbibed in every staff member. These principles are continuously ingrained and reflect in our work and relationship with stakeholders in communities. To this end, the concept of sustainability has influenced our corporate philosophy and is a critical part of our corporate DNA. Our values underpin our strategic approach to sustainability.”
Access Bank, being a leader in sustainability in the financial industry, and understanding the many benefits of giving back to the communities in which it operates, encourages its employees to do the same through the Employee Volunteering Scheme. In this scheme, the bank employees engage in community investment programmes/projects geared towards impacting the society.
Today, over 7,000 strong employees have contributed ideas, skills and resources to address social issues in this scheme, whilst gaining hands on experience and fulfillment as positive role models in the society. Through this scheme also, over 25,000 students in schools; 2,000 vulnerable children; 5,000 patients in hospitals; over 2,000 visually impaired persons; 3,500 persons in retirement homes, prisons and orphanages have been positively impacted.
Omobolanle explains that “through this initiative, 100% of our employees have volunteered a total of 2,017,620 hours, in over 160 strategic community initiatives across six geo-political zones reaching over 20,071,453 lives”
Apart from our various initiatives that focus on sports like walkathons, the Fifth Chukker Polo Tournament and the likes, in 2016, the bank entered a partnership with the Lagos State Government to successfully host the maiden edition of the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon. This partnership was aimed at providing strategic support in the area of sports, while promoting healthy and active living through fitness and exercise. It was the first ever full Marathon in Nigeria since 1985. This has become an annual sports event that seeks to draw athletes from different African countries and especially victims of human trafficking, abuse and addiction. Over the course of three years, the Marathon has received a Bronze label from the IAAF with a Gold label in view.
Besides this, the UNICEF Charity Shield Polo Tournament is another prominent sport initiative sponsored by Access Bank to drive development in the communities it serves. The UNICEF Charity Shield Polo tournament was designed to raise more awareness on the plight of vulnerable children and orphans especially the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) scattered across northern Nigeria. In 2018, about $2.2 million was raised in the form of pledges from key partners and customers towards improving the quality of education in Northern Nigeria over a five-year period.
On education, Omobolanle says, “since 2008, our burning passion for Nigeria and its potentials has led us to the develop and implement strategic initiatives aimed at driving quality education amongst the underserved segments”. In 2017, under the Employee Volunteering Scheme, theCorporate Communications Group partnered with Junior Achievement Nigeria on the Take Tomorrow Initiative aimed at training students in schools across Lagos on business education and entrepreneurship skills. Over 200 students were reached through this initiative.
Another of such initiatives is that of the conduct and compliance group, who under the Employee Volunteering Scheme renovated Obele Community High school in Surulere – with infrastructural challenges such asdilapidated classrooms, lavatories, staff rooms and classrooms which were upgraded into a fit-for-purpose facility for the school. Over 856 students benefitted from this initiative.
Furthermore, as part of the Bank’s financial inclusion efforts, the Bank’s Early Savers product provides opportunities for the financial education of children. One of such opportunities is the Advance for Schools Fees service, which takes into consideration the financial challenges of child education. Addressing these challenges, this product was developed toreduce the financial burden on parents by providing short-term financial support to enable them pay school fees, whilst providing seamless services for the remittance of school fees for their children/ward.
Similarly, the Education Savings Plan, another service of the Bank, under the Early Savers Product, was launched to assist parents save towards the educational needs of their children in a convenient manner over a specified period as defined by them. This service is available in both foreign and local currencies, and provides access to free education advisory, and allows discount with selected educational partners.
Having championed the drive for the reduction in carbon footprints in Nigeria by starting charity at home, the bank has been able toachieve an unprecedented 63.4% reduction in CO2 emissions from electricity, 28.8% reduction in CO2 emissions from diesel and 16.7% reduction in CO2 emissions from petrol, all across Nigeria.
Pioneering sustainable waste management, in July 2016, Access Bank pioneered the waste recycling project for proper disposal and management of paper, plastic, glass and aluminium can waste at its Head Office and Annexes, a first of its kind in the Nigerian Banking Industry. Today, it has achieved a 92.64% reduction in waste-to-landfill at all locations where the recycling initiative is being implemented.
Utilizing alternative energy as a tool for fighting climate change, Access Bank understands the negative environmental impacts of inefficient energy consumption. The Bank has over 268 solar-powered ATMs; itsOgunlana Drive branch is fully powered by solar energy with no connection to the national grid. It has four solar-powered branches and an unprecedented 311 branches powered by a hybrid of alternative energy sources, andLED Lightings in all its facilities nation-wide.
This has greatly impacted its carbon emission reduction and in turn minimized its impact on the environment, contributing to on-going global efforts on environmentally-friendly practices. Driving energy efficiency, in 2017, the expansion of the Bank’s early shutdown policy reviewed in June 2017 resulted in a further 24.9% reduction in diesel.
Through the Bank’s partnership/funding of Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation’s ‘Clean-up, Waste Management and Environmental Education Initiative’ was developed to clean up 20 selected communities, donating central waste bins to the communities as a way of enthroning proper waste disposal and management cultures. Over 2000 people in 20 communities benefitted from this initiative.
Also, under this partnership with ACT Foundation, the bank supported the Community Safe Water Initiative with HACEY Health Initiative, with a goal to increase access to safe drinking water for women and children in 15 underserved local communities in South West Nigeria. Over 2000 people benefitted from this initiative thus far.
The bank is committed to driving entrepreneurship in Nigeria and ultimately building a better economic future for the next generation. In 2015, the Bank partnered with Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN) to develop theNigeria Health Innovation Marketplace (NHIM)aimed at supporting social/health entrepreneurs in making healthcare accessible/affordable for citizens earning below minimum wage. Through this initiative, the Bank launched the Health Innovation Challenge (HIC) and unveiled the $1million fund to reward innovations that showed promise to save lives of Nigerian mothers and children. Over 300 applications were received and pitched before panel of judges, with the top 42 innovations being selected, and the top 15 innovators receiving detailed recommendations and grants to start-up and launch their innovative ideas.
Another notable program is the Code4Impact (C4i) initiative, a hands-on learning program that built digital literacy skills, especially coding and analytical skills in young girls and young women. The C4i trained and mentored young girls in secondary schools (aged 10-17) and young women in tertiary institutions (aged 18-25) to choose STEM careers. Since inception, the C4i program has directly trained over 300 young women in tertiary institutions on digital and life skills while mentoring over 3,000 young girls in secondary school to pursue careers in STEM. Today, some of these young girls have gone to build careers in analytics even without university degrees in the field.
Furthermore, through the Bank’s partnership/funding of Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation, the Bank supported the Tomorrow’s Leaders. Today. Initiative with Junior Achievement Nigeria, a supplementary economic and educational program in the area of financial literacy and entrepreneurship for senior secondary school students. Through this initiative, over 2,070 secondary school students in two states were engaged in entrepreneurship, financial literacy,mentoring and leadership activities. Also, through this partnership, the WIMBIZ Capacity building Initiative, aimed to develop the capacity of female entrepreneurs to lead and build sustainable businesses that will attract investments and contribute to economic development. Over 60 entrepreneurs were supported through this support.
Access Bank has demonstrated its commitment to Sustainability with its strong progress made through its leadership and participation in several local and international partnership/membership coalitions across board. In 2011, Access Bank initiated and championed the process that led to the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles – a set of nine principles that now guides the entire banking industry on how to embed sustainability in their business practices. This began with the launch of the Nigerian Sustainable Finance Week with featured internal and external capacity building sessions/workshops; and climaxed with CEO Roundtable where the Strategic Sustainability Working Group (SSWG) was constituted under the leadership of Access Bank with inputs from all banks, CBN and DFIs. The SSWG was mandated to develop the Sustainable Banking Principles, delievering on this in 2012 when the principles where launched in a mandate to all banks by the CBN. Today, Access Bank chairs the NSBP Steering Committee which has supported the industry in making progress on sustainable banking.
Beyond this, as pioneering Nigerian members of various organisations that promote Sustainability performance, Access Bank is deeply committed to the principles, values and shared commitments of partnerships towards achieving significant impact and sustainable development. Partnerships therefore vary across several local and global organisations evident in the Banks position as: Co-Chair, United Nations Global Compact Nigerian Local Network; Leadership Group Member, United Nations Women Empowerment Principles; Co-Chair, Corporate Alliance of Malaria in Africa; Chair, Steering Committee, Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles; Board Advisory Committee, Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria; Board Member, Nigerian Business Council on Sustainable Development; Co-Chair, Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS; Member, Private Sector Delegation to the Global Fund Board and Member, WeConnect National Advisory Board, Nigeria
Milestones, Recognitions and Awards
Having played in the business of sustainability for a very short while, the bank has been recognised and awarded serially nationally and internationally. In 2009, it published pioneering Sustainability Report in Nigeria. In the same year, it became Nigerian pioneering signatory to Equator Principles, LBG, BiTC, UNPRI and UNEPFI.
Over the course of the next few years, it was appoint into various boards some of which includes Leadership Group Member, United Nations Women Empowerment Principles, Member, Private Sector Delegation to the Global Fund Board, Board member, Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria; Chair, Steering Committee on Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles, co-Chair United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative, Africa & Middle East Task Force, and member Global Steering Committee; Member, WeConnect National Advisory Board, Nigeria; co-Chair United Nations Global Compact Local Network Steering Committee Board member, Nigerian Business Coalition on Sustainable Development and co-Chair Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS.
Among other awards and recognitions also, the bank is known to have developed robust Sustainability strategy themed, ‘Financing the Future’. In 2014, it emerged first in independent SUSTAINABILITY ranking on the 3C Index. Today, the Bank has emerged as the first African Bank to win the Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Award for ‘Outstanding business sustainability’ 3-times consecutively in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The Bank also emerged as an 8-time winner of the World Finance Award for ‘Most Sustainable Bank, Nigeria’ in 2018.
In recognition of the value-adding impact and astute leadership of Access Bank’s sustainability governance, Dr. Herbert Wigwe, GMD/CEO, Access Bank, emerged as the winner of the Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility Award (SERAs) for ‘Sustainability Champion of the Year’ in 2017, and became the pioneering winner of the first-everKarlsruhe Sustainable Finance Award for ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year, Africa’. Furthermore, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head, Sustainability, Access Bank also emerged as winner of the SERA award for Sustainability Practitioner of the Year in 2017. These awards and recognitions are a testament of the success of the Access Bank sustainability strategy in delivering innovative solutions that are effectively addressing social, economic and environmental challenges in line with the global sustainable development goals.
As the Bank marks a decade on its Sustainability journey and looks towards the next ten years of sustainability, the Bank remains committed to financing and creating a sustainable future for Nigeria and indeed Africa, with a goal of changing the world through finance. Omobolanle explains that “we will continue to utilize our resources and leverage our relationships with key stakeholders to form partnerships, develop strategies, and execute initiatives that will transform the world, ensuring social responsibility, creating economic value, and driving environmental impact.”