Onari Duke is the Country Director for Empretec Nigeria Foundation which is a United Nations Conference for Trade and Development Programme on Entrepreneurship across thirty-six countries. She is also the Chairman of the Child Survival and Development Organisation of Nigeria. She takes a deep dive into the concept of Business Sustainability, and how entrepreneurs can run their businesses, make profit, yet still make impact.
In 1999, the National Agency for the control of AIDS, NACA, judged Cross River State, my state, as the state with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. Because of my firm belief in the fact that mass awareness is the best approach to health education and intervention, I put together a couple of women and we went across the states, educating the people and the populace about this scourge. The efforts that we made paid off, because within 18 months, the prevalence of the rates of HIV AIDS dropped from 12.5% to 6%.
We received recommendation from the World Health Organization and also attracted a grant from the World Bank. I was asked to have a project across three states in the country for orphaned and vulnerable children. This experience opened my vision deeper, and I was able to appreciate in an extremely high dimension, the co-dependency that we all have towards each other, and indeed our environment.
As a result, I registered three, non-profit organisations on the same day. 20 years down the line, interestingly, all three are very successful and of international standards. That brought me to the realisation that to be successful in a sustainable manner, whether the business is for profit or not-for-profit, certain key components are necessary. The most important is sustainability. Any business that is not founded on these sustainability principles, will, with time, not survive.
Understanding Business Sustainability
I believe that sustainability is the fulcrum on which everything we do rests. I approach almost everything I do from that lens. Come to think of it, by the beginning of creation, we were created on planet Earth. By the very nature of man, we congregate to live together. It is that essence of living together, of identifying the needs that each other has, and trying to meet those needs, that developed into businesses.
To run a sustainable business as an entrepreneur, it is important for your stakeholders, your customers and the business environment where you’re operating to see you as a business that solves a social problem or an environmental problem.
It is important also for the sincerity and integrity to be obvious in your value statement. The sense of justice that you bring to your business is also key. You do not want your customers to doubt you, lose their confidence in you or to be suspicious of your intentions. There are certain things that enhance customer retention. Seeing yourself as being personally responsible for your business is very important and serving the common good for everyone.
As an entrepreneur that practices business sustainability, you always seek to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising on the future generation to also meet their needs. Today, we therefore find that sustainability practice and initiatives, without doubt, improves on the financial performances of businesses and it fosters public support.
The Triple ‘P’ Perspective
I have emphasised the necessity for every business that wants to be sustainable to approach it from the triple P perspective – People, Profit and Planeet. In my experience, I try to balance it on that lever. I know that it is important while running a particular business that I carry along all of my stakeholders as well as employees. So one key quality I had to quickly cultivate over the years is resilience. I had to also ensure that there was trust and integrity, while ensuring that I kept the business going.
For instance, as a sustainable business, performance is no longer seen from the scope of measuring profitability only from how much money or how much return you have on your investment. So it is compelling you to look at your business from a different approach. For me, that meant that I had to carry along some of the investors around me to ensure that they were comfortable, and could also buy into the vision that we were moving towards.
From running three non-profit organisations, one thing I have learned is that the social impact made on the communities that they’re operating out of is very important. But, beyond that, profits matter too. Except a business is sustainable, in a short while, everything would crumble and the business would go under. That’s why sustainability is so key.
Therefore, for entrepreneurs, in order to ensure the sustainability of your business, please continue to remember that inventing, reinventing, imaging, and re-branding the image of your product is very key. You cannot overemphasise the need for you to continue to innovate your business, if you are to continue and stay in business.
You must remember that sustainable business operation is not a destination, it’s a journey; it is continuous. Perhaps the easy way to start is to start today and to do it incrementally. That means, to reinvent, and to innovate constantly. It may not be big improvements; there could just be slight improvements. However, what is important is that for whatever product or service you’re offering, you are constantly improving on it. That mindset is vital for you as an entrepreneur.
Your Role As An Entrepreneur
You must have that personal commitment to ensure that your business plays its part. By the time we all come together, we will be able to see the impact that we’ll have on our continent and indeed, the world around us. Therefore, the mindset I’d want to encourage you to have is to never underestimate the power of your organisation. It may be small, but truly, if you ask all the big companies how many times they failed, or how small they started, you’ll be surprised. Also, do not underestimate your capability. Just stay focused, believe in sustainability and develop sustainability practices.
To doubly assure the sustainability of your business, it is key that you pay close attention to your supply chain process. This is because irrespective of how careful your internal processes might be, if there is a challenge or a shortcoming in the supply of your raw materials, from your suppliers’ end, that could tarnish the quality of your end product.
I would also advise that you take your Corporate Governance operations very seriously as well. Corporate Governance failure is a huge weakness in lots of organisations, particularly smaller ones, because they’re owner managers, and they’re running things as themselves. So the need to put a corporate structure or a governance structure in place must not be underestimated.
In conclusion, I believe the future would be brighter for business sustainability, because there’s a lot more awareness now about the need for companies and organisations to run the affairs and to operate in a sustainable manner. A lot of awareness has come into play, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. This has made many organisations, both big and small, know that they have to be more environmentally conscious, and to anticipate any change in the market.
Onari Duke is the Country Director for Empretec Nigeria Foundation which is a United Nations Conference for Trade and Development Programme on Entrepreneurship across thirty-six countries. She is also the Chairman of the Child Survival and Development Organisation of Nigeria.