Serving the community

(Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not going to solve the world’s problems. Meanwhile in the modern world the concept catch economic players and replaces companies’ commercials or advertisement by investment on social contribution. That said, CSR is a way for companies to benefit themselves while also benefiting society.

Globally institutions carry-out what is commonly known as CSR through the provision of various benefits to surrounding communities and the public. They seem to understand providing such benefits and promoting those efforts to the larger public is as good as advertising their products and services since it increases their acceptance in the public eye.

Companies, particularly in other countries, carry out CSR through the provision of various benefits to the surrounding communities and the public in general. This culture is also adopted by local companies where efforts are being made to responsibly dedicate their resources to the community. It has become common to observe schools, roads, and water pipeline built by local as well as international companies.

Though not as one expects, institutions in Ethiopia are also performing social functions, but with a number of problems. Companies are not seen employing strategic or long term plans. Instead, they rely on short term plan leading to investments in inappropriate projects. Practitioners also have little know-how on how to conduct CSR functions.

Even though the growing private sector in Ethiopia is now understanding the concept and playing big role to improve the living standard of the general public in different approaches particularly in direct and indirect donation and support. However their role does not get adequate recognition due to several reasons including lack of communication and know how.

One of them is Sisay Shekour, an investor engaged in different businesses including an industry Apex plc, a pioneer and the only environmentally friendly pencil factory in Ethiopia.

However Sisay’s environmentally friendly pencil factory, Dot Pencil, creates significant job opportunity mainly for women, his company role did not get the required attention. Capital talked to Sisay about his factory and its other activities in the area, Gelan, 28km south east of Addis Ababa in Oromia region. Excerpts;

Capital: Let us start from the factory?

Sisay: The company that started as a climate friendly manufacturing industry about 17 years ago at Gelan, an industry town. As far as my knowledge we are the only pencil factory in the country. Currently from the total of 180 employees, 97 percent are women.

Capital: Your company is stated as environmentally friendly, what does it mean?

Sisay: Our pencil factory is also a pioneer by introducing unique pencil product that is well accepted by customers. What it makes environmentally friendly is that we are not using forest products for our production; rather our major input is waste papers and used newspapers than using the traditional stick to make pencil. On this scheme youths in different part of the country are collecting used papers and wastes that they supply for us for recycling on the pencil production process. Really we are very satisfied for our contribution to keep environment and not contributing for deforestation. Besides that it has also created several jobs for others, who collect the papers and sell to our factory.

Capital: During our visit to the industry town of Gelan we have learnt that you are involved on CSR, can you explain it?

Sisay: Currently Gelan is one of the major industry hubs in the country. When we started our factory about two decades ago we are one of the two or three private businesses in the area and the town was also very small. When we commence activities we learnt that there are some social challenges like lack of jobs for women and they go very far to fetch water from a pond. Other wise to get safe tap water they have to go back to Akaki or go up to Bishoftu town, which is very far and need extra expense that is unaffordable for the society. So we decided to share their burden by providing job for women and supplying clean water for the society for free.

Capital: When and how do you start the water supply and how does it operate?     

Sisay: We drilled 207 meter deep water well that produces 3 liter per second by hiring an Indian contractor. It started 17 years ago and the water production capacity is the same through all these period. We are pumping the water throughout the day, while it is very expensive due to the power interruption which is frequent and that forced us to use diesel generator to continue the supply without interruption. For this service we have different costs like the expense for regular maintenance and permanent employees to look after for the service all the time.

Capital: Who use the water and how?

Sisay: It is available at the gate of the factory, which is located on the main road from Addis Ababa to Bishoftu. So without interruption anyone can fetch water 24 hours a day. Residents, hotels and other businesses or any institution or others who want to get the water can fetch from the facility. Even farmers from the surrounding rural area come with their donkey cart to access the safe water. For instance youths are fetching the water to sell it to businesses around the town. It means that it has become a source of income for the community in the town besides drink.

Capital: Why do you do this and what is your principle for CSR?

Sisay: I feel that I have to share my opportunity for others who need it. I myself have been contributing several supports in different locations and in different social projects. For instance I was engaged in different social works like school development in Gurage zone and other areas, providing different regular support for different communities, constructing different social service centers and this will continue. Creating jobs for young women or sharing their burden by providing water nearby may not big contribution but it creates a satisfaction for me and it is also my responsibility as part of the society.

Capital: Do you get recognition for these initiatives?

Sisay: The biggest recognition we get and that we are satisfied is the feedback of the community, who are really a family of the factory. Secondly as a pioneer we have become a lesson for other industries to engage on CSR in the area. While we received different recognition certificate from the local government and the town and zonal administrations have good feedback for our activity.

(Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

Capital: Regarding CSR what is your future plan? 

Sisay: There are rural communities in the surroundings of Gelan town that are fetching water from our facility. Now we have a plan to work tirelessly to drill more wells in that surrounding and make it easy for our community in the rural area to access the safe drinking water. We also have different initiative in different forms for the specific area and other places.