IN THE FABRIC OF SOCIETY

As the CEO of Nigeria’s largest ICT company, Michael Ikpoki has more than three times as many customers as all the country’s banks put together. That, of course, is a business opportunity, but it is also a huge responsibility for a company that by default has become part of the fabric of society.
Michael Ikpoki
Chief Executive Officer
MTN Nigeria Communications Limited
“To move sustainability and responsibility forward, we need the public and private sectors to proverbially shake hands and commit to working together for the good of the greater public.”
Michael Ikpoki

It was probably in 2013 that it really became clear to the top management. When they considered that their company, the MTN Group, one of the world’s largest ICT businesses, had 203 million customers in 22 countries – often in remote areas
otherwise not served by telecommunications – they realized that MTN had become much more than just another, albeit large, company.

They were engaged in defining the new corporate strategy, and where the existing strategy had been rather traditional – looking to become the leading ICT company in emerging markets – that just did not fit any more. The technology base and
markets had changed and the company had changed with it.

A fresh approach was needed, explains MTN Nigeria’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Ikpoki. “We had created a very extensive network in most of the countries we operate in. We had built our own transmission, our own data centres, etc.
It became clear to us that we were doing much more than just delivering the service of communication. We had established the infrastructure that will enable health services, education and financial inclusion. We had created the backbone to drive
growth in the digital economy.”

Of course, this was not done by accident. MTN has 60 million subscribers in Nigeria alone. “The country’s banks cannot muster a third of that amount,” he says. Any businessman can see the opportunities in that. But in the discussions on the new
corporate strategy, the senior management realized that the company had “by default”, as Ikpoki puts it, become a vital part of the economy in their markets.

“What we realized is that we are not just an ICT company. In Nigeria, we are now very intrinsic to the social fabric. At least a third of the population rely on us to make their daily living,” he says.

That brings opportunity. MTN can offer banking, insurance and support services for small and medium-sized businesses, with a customer reach that goes far beyond its 60 million direct customers. But this carries a huge responsibility.

“We have to remind ourselves every day that we are essential to millions of people’s lives. We play a very critical role in the economy and we need to ensure that we act with integrity,” says Ikpoki.

Integrity is, of course, seen in the daily operations. When people rely on MTN’s services for their daily lives, these services have to be efficient. But more importantly, he stresses, integrity has to be part of the company’s culture and ethics.

“We need to play a leadership role in good governance, in transparency, in anti-corruption, in all the areas on which the UN Global Compact also focuses. There can’t be any tolerance for unethical behaviour because it affects our ability to provide a service to people whose livelihoods really rely on us,” he says.

To do that, MTN Nigeria has stepped up its ethics management framework, as it is called. This is based on a core of internal sponsorship programmes and clearly communicated values. However, working within MTN is not enough. “MTN has to
play a leadership role in embedding good practices in Nigerian business,” he says. If not by default, then by sheer necessity.

“We are working with a lot of companies as subsidiaries, and to our customers they all represent MTN. In that sense, we have perhaps 500,000 people that we have to reach and influence. I think we’re finding that we need to work more on making sure these organizations mirror our principles for good corporate governance, corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability,” he says.

Being an ICT company does help, however. Social media and direct video feeds can help establish the necessary contact with the vast group of businesses involved in MTN Nigeria’s value chain. And the technology also helps in a quite different way. “It has created a transparency that helps make the case for businesses to behave ethically,” says Ikpoki.

“I think one of the strongest corporate sustainability developments in the past few years is that we have entered a time when global accountability and transparency are really critical to any large business. Everything is a lot more open, there’s really nothing that can stay hidden behind corporate boundaries anymore,” says Ikpoki.


WHAT’S NEXT?
COOPERATING FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

To move sustainability and responsibility forward, we need the public and private sectors to proverbially shake hands and commit to working together for the good of the greater public, says Michael Ikpoki.

“Good governance is a common objective, especially in countries that hope to attract foreign investment. If we do not curb the cancer of corruption and promote the rule of law, businesses won’t invest. However I am optimistic. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you see progressive thinking in some governments today,” says Ikpoki.