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Fidelity Bank: Redefining CSR with Social Investment

Lucky Fiakpa
As the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility catches on with more and more organizations across the country, many are now trying to lay emphasis in their area of strength and specialization, Lucky Fiakpa writes

Arnold
Arnold

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  is fast assuming a life of its own   within corporate Nigeria and most organization are approaching it the best way possible.

From mere corporate tokenism; donation of foodstuff, groceries and cash to orphanages and homes, Nigerians are increasingly becoming familiar with the true concept of CSR. Now more than ever before, corporate Nigeria is devoting so much time and resources to this time-tested business philosophy that almost every notable organization in the country now has a CSR focus, no matter how hazy in some cases .

The MTN Foundation has been remarkable in with its SchoolsConnect and UniversitiesConnect which has made inroads in the nation’s education system. The United Bank for Africa, UBA, Foundation has also shown that what the telecoms sector can do, could well be handled by a financial institution. Zenith Bank sets apart a percentage of its profit every year to take care of CRS activities.

Green Gardens and Parks
For Fidelity Bank, green gardens and parks as well as creative and visual arts appears to be its area of emphasis. This much could be seen in the number of green parks the bank nurtures and maintains across the country in partnership with the various state governments.

These gardens, in location and splendor, are a worthy tribute to what can be achieved in the pursuit of the restoration of the ecological balance by a determined society. Whether it is the combustible vibrancy of Falomo in Lagos or the scorching aridity of Gombe in Gombe State, Fidelity gardens stand out in floral ambience. They are small islands of peace and splendor that remind us that the earth was originally green.

The bank is also sealing arrangements with the ministries of culture of various state governments that will see it rescuing and resuscitating national monuments that lie in various stages of neglect and disuse across the country. This exercise in itself is a subtle reminder to the importance of value and that a nation without monuments is in danger of extinction.

The cost of setting up and maintaining the gardens is enormous. But the bank obviously thinks of the benefit of the gardens in terms of goodwill and has no real financial value. The bank’s partnership with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) was also forged with no less weighty motive. Over the years, Fidelity Bank has been one of the few Nigerian banks partnering NCF to draw attention to environmental issues.

Creative and Visual Arts
Beyond that, Fidelity’s foray into the world of creative and visual arts is a giant splash into a vast pool of long neglected talent. Fifteen years of military dictatorship had left the nation groping for values. People of talent, especially those with the gift of imagination had fled the country in droves, leaving behind, a huge gap between traditions and generations.

Fidelity’s International Creative Writing Workshop was designed to bridge the gap between Nigeria’s successive generations of world renowned story tellers and the young talents poised to succeed them.

The workshop pools together, young writers from different parts of the country to learn from a cast of accomplished writers from across the globe. The first two editions of the workshop were led by famous Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and drew lecturers from England, Kenya, USA and Antigua. The idea was to expose the young inheritors of Nigeria’s illustrious literary tradition to the best kept secrets of writing from diverse traditions.

The result was almost instantaneous as Tolu Ogunlesi and Uche Peter Umez, both alumni of this experiment have gone on to win more prestigious writing scholarships and fellowships abroad while many others Like Eghosa Imasuen, Jumoke Verissimo and Ifedigbo Sylva have all become published authors. The bank’s support to nation-wide activities organized by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) marking the 50th Anniversary of Things Fall Apart as well as the keenly contested logo design competition that produced the logo for its Helping Hands Programme among arts students of tertiary institutions are all documented efforts to lend critical support to the arts.

This particular effort has become an important item on the global literary calendar. Young and aspiring writers across Nigeria eagerly look forward to that time of the year when the opportunity to compare notes with their contemporaries presents itself.

There’s a great possibility that these youngsters may sustain a tradition that has earned the nation a lot of respect among nations. As it turned out, this effort has also been widely commended as an important step in national capacity building. As has been said, emulation is the best form of flattery. That some other institutions are looking in the direction of supporting this genre of the arts is a great tribute to the work Fidelity has done by calling attention to creative writing.

Helping Hands Project
However, in terms of uniqueness and conciseness, few CSR models would compete with Fidelity’s Helping Hands Project. The uniqueness of this project stems from the fact that every branch of the bank, regardless of location, is charged with making itself relevant to its host community by identifying the most pressing needs of the community the bank can invest in. Leaders of the bank’s branches are encouraged to interface with the leaders of their host communities and agree on what should command priority attention. This ensures that the people who are the supposed beneficiaries of the project are not only carried along but actually participate in deciding what projects should be built in their communities. This ensures that only meaningful projects are undertaken and that the host community is in active involvement in the entire process from conception to completion.

Another important aspect of the project is that staff and customers of the bank are encouraged to make input to these projects by dropping cash donations in the Helping Hands donation boxes which are prominently displayed in the banking halls of all outlets. These donations form a major part of the overall cost of executing selected projects. The effectiveness of the strategy rests on the fact that unlike most CSR initiatives, it is driven from the branches and not the Head Office.

However, there are certain social investment initiatives that are exclusively handled from the Head Office, like the support to the Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria (SCIAN). Fidelity has been a consistent pillar of support to members of this association in the last 20 years, providing mobility aids, computers and computer skills and helping to relocate the members from a temporary site to their permanent Center in Lagos.

Honour
As the saying goes, if a man makes the best mouse traps, the world makes a beaten path to his door. The world has taken note of Fidelity’s unique social offerings. That is evidently why in 2006, Lagos State Government presented a plaque of honour to the bank for its contributions to society. This was closely followed in July 2007 with another plaque of honour by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).

Two months after that, the bank became the runner up to the eventual winner of Africa’s best bank in CSR at the African Bankers Award in Washington DC. Fidelity returned to the same venue in 2008 to be crowned Africa’s Most Socially Responsible Bank by the African Banker at the Annual General Meeting of the IMF and World Bank. Earlier in the year, the bank had also won the Social Enterprise Report and Awards (SERA) as the Most Socially Responsible Company in Nigeria for the Promotion of Arts in 2008. Fidelity was also nominated for the best CSR bank in Africa by the Commonwealth Business Council. The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) also weighed in with an award that recognizes the bank’s contributions to the growth of the Nigerian letters.

In Nigeria, the deluge of infrastructural decay, mass poverty and social disorientation left behind by years of military dictatorship offers viable options for public conscious organizations to demonstrate their connectedness to the people.


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