Category: Companies

The Lagos skyline is changing

If you make enough friends in Lagos, you’d have a couch to sleep on in every country around the world. That’s just a mental scale for the sheer volume of people Lagos attracts on a daily basis. The megacity of Nigeria often described as one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, has the fourth-highest GDP in Africa. It is home to one of the largest and busiest seaports on the continent.

Lagos may struggle with infrastructural problems, overpopulation and rising insecurity but its skyline is the tallest amongst emerging cities in West Africa. In more developed countries, the government has a heavy influence on the city skyline. This is evident in cities like Dubai, New York and Toronto. However, private individuals, private businesses and international companies, not the government, are responsible for the surge in high rise infrastructure in recent times.

Eko Atlantic, a planned city, is being developed on three and a half square miles of stretch of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, by South Energyx Nigeria Limited – a subsidiary of the Nigeria-based Chagoury Group of companies. According to David Adeleke, Head of Communications at Eko Atlantic City, this is one of the more obvious examples of how Lagos is urbanising through increased economic growth that is not necessarily influenced by government regulation, policy or investment.

Open City Lagos, a recent publication released by the Nsibidi Institute and Heinrich Böll, reports that Lagos has been taking a new path to urban planning by embracing model city approaches, seeking foreign investment and welcoming new technologies in the last 15 years. “A lot of these land areas are being created on water, out of nowhere,” David says.

Eko Atlantic promises sustainable and efficient power and infrastructure, as well as a boost for the economy. According to Business Year, the planned city “is expected to add at least $1 billion to Nigeria’s economy annually”. Ronald Chagoury, vice-chairman of Eko Atlantic who has been involved with its construction since the land reclamation began in 2008 is optimistic. He thinks investors from around the world should be running at the opportunity to own prime real estate in Eko Atlantic, before it’s too late.

“The country is growing quickly, and if they are scared about little bumps, this may not be the place for them” He says. “If, however, they seek long-term growth and success, this is the last frontier. There are always ways of correcting these issues. Solutions exist for any issue. Nigeria is business friendly, and once one learns how to navigate the hurdles, the benefits offset the challenges.”

It’s hard to dismiss where he’s coming from. Originally founded in 2003, Eko Atlantic is a product of innovative technology, years of data-backed research and billion dollar investments. Before this, it seemed that all hope was lost for Lagos in terms of urban infrastructural planning.

Kingsley Ighobor, a United Nations public information officer based in New York, wrote, “First-time visitors to Lagos about 10 years ago were warned, ‘This is Lagos.’ That meant that you should not expect help from anyone — but brace up for hard times ahead. Fast-forward to 2016 and the traffic congestion, high crime rate, clogged gutters and roads filled with garbage could soon become just a bad dream. These days Lagosians still regale each other with anecdotes of the dystopian city even as positive changes can be seen in Africa’s most populous city, with 21 million people.”

The factors driving these changes are unsubtle, even though they may not be immediately noticeable to all. Adeola Olatona, an architect in Lagos and former staff of Adeniyi Coker Consultants Limited (ACCL), believes that one of the major driving forces of high rise buildings in Lagos is the cost of land. Nigerians who bought lands in Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island based on land speculations, now sell their plots at high prices. High rises spring up in these locations intending to maximize their lands to accommodate more apartments or commercial spaces.

Due to the difficulty of securing mortgage loans and high cost of building materials, Lagos is witnessing this skyline change side by side, rising cost of rent, real estate ownership and the persistent demand for housing. Last year, Bloomberg reported the megacity has a housing deficit of over 2.5 million units. And there are no indicators, things may be changing for the better any time soon.

Using Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC) as a case study, Timothy Oladokun’s research paper titled “Public-Private Partnership In Housing Delivery In Lagos State, Nigeria” states that: “LSPDC contributed the highest no of units before 2005 with 322 1-2 bedroom flats, followed by the construction of 144 units of a block of flats and recorded the lowest by the production of 80 units of bungalows. . . the contribution of LSDPC has subsequently been dwindling until 2009 when the organizations developed 164 units of bungalows, 70 semi-detached houses, 51 detached houses and 43 terrace houses.” Nothing has really happened since then in the state housing development projects.

Understandably, the current target markets for high rise buildings are luxury living individuals and high net worth companies. Places like Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi are popular for their luxurious lifestyle and affluence. These are also unsurprisingly, the places with picturesque skyscraper buildings and spiked house prices. Biodun, a realtor in Victoria Island, accounts that in some high profiled high rise apartments, prices can range from ₦25 million to ₦40 million per year for rentals. Short-lets through services like AirBnB can cost between ₦15,000 to ₦80,000 per night, while buying a two or three-bedroom apartment in a skyscraper building can cost from $1 million dollars and above.

But where rapid urbanisation meets low-income megacity populations, opportunities for ingenious problem-solving also emerge. The entrance of localised new-tech in this landscape is serving the housing needs of young Nigerians, looking to work around the increasing cost of living outside their parent’s home. One particular problem they often face is the low supply of 1-bedroom apartments and studio flats.

Start-ups like Spleet, Muster and Fiber have set-up monthly payment schemes targeted at young professionals. Spleet CEO, Adesola Adesanmi told Stears Business “We have been able to convince homeowners that they can earn higher margins by breaking down their 3 or 4 bedroom spaces into rooms, allowing people to share, [and then house owners can] earn monthly, which inherently results in a higher return on investment.”

However, services like Spleet are only able to unburden Nigeria’s rising millennial middle class from the compulsory one or two year down payments and additional fees, that often chunk-out the bulk of their income. Monthly subscription fees are not cheaper over longer periods, or even affordable on a month to month basis. Fisayo Okare of Stears Business says, “The lowest rent fee on Spleet in a shared home is ₦110,000 per month in Lekki Ikate. And this is exclusive of other additional charges such as the ₦5,000 service charge (to cover light, cleaning and repairs), and the ₦60,000 to ₦100,000 refundable damage deposit”.

Unlike residential housing, office spaces in Nigeria have high vacancy rates, due to high rent costs. According to real estate investment solutions company, Northcourt, the cost of renting ‘Grade-A’ office spaces like Wings Building or Heritage Place in Victoria Island and Old Ikoyi respectively, range between $450psm and $700psm.

Businesses that can’t afford these Grade-A office buildings are opting for converted residential apartments. Northcourt’s Real Estate Outlook for 2020 reports, landlords are now open to possibilities of co-working spaces, as well as “payment term flexibility to include profit sharing”. There’s a spillover of this co-working trend in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, where the average cost of rent Grade-A buildings is ₦50,000/sqm. Northcourt reports “More service providers are creating products to meet the needs of corporates and start-ups who desire smaller spaces”.

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Over the past two decades, sentiments from influential persons or corporations who have authority over state affairs have also changed policies to their advantage through liaisons with foreign investors and the local bourgeois. In 2006, a tripartite agreement between the China-Africa Lekki Investment Ltd., Lagos State Government and Lekki Worldwide Investments Ltd led to the birth of Lekki Free Trade Zone. The project was initially launched as a way of strengthening the bilateral relationship between China and Nigeria through commerce. But that was nearly 14 years ago when the whole world was turning towards globalisation. These days, rising trade tensions between the U.S and China, the U.K’s exit from the European Union and the persisting hesitation of African countries to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area, makes Lekki Free Trade Zone a sort of dream real estate project.

The 30 km2 coastline area that is being developed as Lekki Free Trade Zone, is now one of the leading indexes for local and foreign direct investment in Lagos. In the first decade after the zone was established over ₦100 billion was invested in the area. A bulk of that investment came from Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who began the construction of his ambitious 650,000 barrels capacity refinery and fertilizer plant (projected to cost a total of $15 billion) in 2017.

However, investments by the Dangote Group have not been the only drivers of the development in the Lekki Free Trade Zone. 22 Free Zone Enterprises (FZEs) and 18 manufacturing firms are currently fully operational in the region. In the year following the start of structural construction for Dangote Refinery, the zone also recorded $735.8 million (about N264bn) in export of finished goods, earning the Nigerian Federal government N1.6 billion revenue in duties.

But while the increased rate of urbanisation can boost Lagos’ economic status, there are adverse effects. Monica Umunna and Ore Disu in Open City Lagos explain that the consequences of high rise buildings include improved infrastructure standards and new sectors of growth. They also speculate there would be higher exclusion and inequality in areas skewed against investment. “Gated communities created are for middle and high-income classes excluding the poor; low-income jobs and housing destroyed are to upgrade infrastructure; gigantic infrastructural projects destroy the fragile ecological systems along the lagoon and coast.”

Lagos skyline will provide gains for investors, the government and Nigeria, for many years to come, but places like Makoko, Tarkwa Bay and other low-income communities are likely to be affected. For instance, a part of the Lekki Peninsula was formerly known as Maroko, a slum in Lagos. It was destroyed by Raji Rasaki in July 1990 during the military regime in Nigeria. In recent times, Makoko has been posing a problem for real estate enthusiasts and the government. A 2016 article by the Guardian UK highlighted the impact of NGOs and private investors looking to urbanise the slum but also paints a grim future for such endeavours. “Though cut off from services and plagued by health problems, Makoko displays dynamic adaptive urbanism that could be threatened by its position on prime real estate.” the Guardian reported.

Earlier this year Quartz Africa’s Yinka Adegoke detailed how the changing Lagos’ skyline will impact local settlements along the coastline. “Since Dec. 2019 alone, at least two dozen slum and waterfront communities have faced eviction at the hands of government officials, says Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a legal campaign group that works with the communities”.

This follows a long history of forceful evictions in Lagos and across Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, over 2.3 million residents in Nigeria have been forcefully evicted from their homes by the government in the last twenty years. The most recent of such high-casualty evictions was the Lagos State government’s assault on Otodo Gbame. 30,000 residents were rendered homeless unannounced. At least 15 deaths were recorded during the inhumane raid.

As a fast-rising city, the future of the Lagos skyline will bring with it an increased rate of urbanisation and an economic boom for many generations to come. But amidst rising inequality and economic instability, considerations must be given to avoid compounding issues that are bound to arise from rapid development.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing Leilani Farha, told Bloomberg, the Nigerian government “Should prioritize improving informal settlements by giving people the right to live there and upgrading infrastructure. That way they would lose their fear of being evicted by police, who regularly raze slums, and invest in their communities”.

Global perception has placed the idea of high rise buildings to be a way of denoting a city’s growth and affluence. But real estate developers may need to consider other alternatives. Danfo Bistros and Dives, an upscale restaurant in Ikoyi, with an architecture designed around two shipping containers stacked on top of each other, is a shining example of the creative ways land areas can be maximised using affordable and recyclable resources. Innovative building concepts like these can also be useful in helping develop coastline communities.

Curbing high property costs aside, Lagos is evolving in real-time; from pre-colonial ancient Eko architecture of rectangular houses with central inner court-yards in well-planned areas to skyscrapers and development projects, capable of creating aesthetics and a mass of wealth for the city. City centres like Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi is now home to multinational companies like MTN, British American Tobacco (BAT) and The BBC. In a few years, that stretch of high-rise real estate may rival the commercial heft of traditional business districts like Broad Street, Marina where most renowned Nigerian corporations have been head-quartered for many decades.

Urbanisation also comes along with industrialisation, which means the adoption of new technologies providing revenue for vacant buildings and office spaces. Quartz Africa reported last year that Nigeria, via Lagos, was listed amongst the eight fastest-growing Airbnb markets in the world, signalling a different kind of growth in the hospitality sector. The continued popularity of e-commerce also means warehousing will become a business priority to meet timely delivery of consumer orders. These developments will bring Lagos a step closer towards its goal of becoming a smart city.

The positives of an urbanising Lagos may not seem like more than middle-class aspirations and wealth-class luxuries, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. And Lagos as a hub for West Africa’s cultural and economic activity will be no different. The Lagos state government projects more public-private partnerships and large-scale private investments areas like Lekki Free Trade Zone will play an even greater role in Lagos’ metropolitan becoming. All the city needs now, is for stakeholders to work towards the development of domestic infrastructure, so economic gains from the skylines can be felt by people on the ground.

How remote work stopped being the future

The coronavirus pandemic, amongst other factors, has caused drastic changes to popular work culture in Nigeria. The civil service structure of organisations, in which workers are at the office for 8 hours or more, Mondays to Fridays, suddenly became obsolete as the pandemic made proximity a threat. The response to this was, at first, the shutdown of offices, then the gradual reopening of organisations that could not afford to remain closed with new structures in place, like remote work. 

Before this period, remote work was a highly-criticised concept. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo ex-CEO said, “People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”1 Working from home is usually met with disdain because it suggests the idea of working away from supervision, breeding a lack of incentive, and these views are mirrored in Nigerian workspaces. 

The development of technology and commodification of the internet created some lapses to these views. Jobs like software development, design, content writing and digital marketing flooded the job market. By 2014, millennials, fresh out of university, started to criticise in-office culture. Commuting difficulties, entrepreneurship, freelancing were some reasons why working at an office became a mundane endeavour. With minimal guidance and strict deadlines, employees could meet their KPIs. Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work and by 2017, the percentage of LinkedIn members who said that flexible work arrangements were important when considering a job increased from 25% to 31%.

But this process cannot work for traditional companies with structures, procedures, several departments and staff. How would the sales team function? How would supervisors and managers keep their teams in check? Andela, a software engineering and outsourcing organisation with headquarters in the US, became popular amongst tech millennials in Nigeria because of a new culture it implemented. At a subsidised rate, staff could live in boarding apartments (campuses) with unlimited internet access. Removing transportation, housing and internet access constraints that traditional work structures face at a go.

RED | For Africa, a storytelling consulting company headquartered in Lagos, is also using a combination of technology and social engineering to adapt to the remote work age. Ayomikun Bamgboye, RED | For Africa’s lead consultant on digital strategy and sales, thinks digital transformation has become the antidote for the Coronavirus disruption. “But apart from switching to remote work and leveraging digital tools, effective digital transformation requires creating a completely new business model and work procedures, maximizing the use of modern information technology, and adjusting to organisational culture and behaviour,” he says. 

Bamgboye says RED | For Africa quickly reacted to the disruption caused by the pandemic with a complete implementation of a digital workforce strategy which included quick transition into a full-remote work environment without complexity or loss of value. “Digital transformation requires that companies place the customer at the centre of all corporate decisions and capitalizing on existing knowledge to change the essence of the organisation —  its culture, management strategy, technology mix, and operational setup,” he says. 

The world evolves when structures and habits are questioned and improved on. All around the world, organisations have come up with ways to remain afloat without risking the health of their staff in the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Arizona prevented a Coronavirus spread by testing wastewater from dorms once they were opened. In Nigeria, the obvious solution was remote work, and tech innovations were critical to the sustenance of institutions that imbued it. As physical meetings were impossible, video conference platforms like Zoom and Google Meet – cloud platforms for video, voice, content sharing, and chat across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems – filled the communication gap.4

For an organisation like the Department of Petroleum Resources, switching to remote work was not problematic, says Edosa, an employee. “The company already had all systems to implement remote work in place; the only issue was with the integration of third parties who didn’t possess our ICT infrastructure and competence.” The organisation uses virtual meetings, paperless correspondence and online work collaborations to keep activities running. In the future they plan to maximise the benefits of ICT as it has exposed the brand as more progressive than previously imagined. 

To keep the energy at CcHUB, an innovation/tech hub, they are investing in monthly virtual engagement activities, says Busayo Oladejo, a product manager at the hub. “There is little and sometimes no visibility on the work that different departments are doing, so a monthly town hall meeting to catch up and the documentation of all projects keeps everyone up-to-date.” 

McKinsey & Company is a management consulting firm that encourages their staff to work from home. Meetings are done via Zoom, informal team-bonding sessions are conducted via video calls and everyone has laptops and data connection so it is easy to implement. 

In the banking sector, operating remotely is more technical. Setting up remote connectivity for all non-essential staff: security tokens, VPNs, data allowances etc, are some of the tools in place for employees classified lower than 1 are not allowed into bank premises unless with HR approval and there is the rotation of remote work for essential staff and roles, says Victor, a data scientist at a bank in Lagos. Staff also use Digital Fitness, for continuous self-improvement as regards digital engagements and to keep abreast with tech trends and work.

Across most organisations, there are constraints to remote work implementation. Some departments that cannot afford to work remotely. At the Department of Petroleum, senior executives and technical staff and engineers have to resume in-office. A constant issue for employees is boundaries between work and personal life. Work hours seem to go longer. While remote work has blurred some of the boundaries between work and personal lives, they say they’re happier and often more productive than they’d been at traditional offices. While 71% of remote workers said that they are happy in their job, only 55% of on-site workers said that they are happy in their job.

There are advantages to the implementation of remote work that will solidify its place in work culture. It is environmentally friendly, increases productivity and is cost-effective. And companies are deciding to keep these new found structures until the end of 2020. In coming years, organisations like the Department of Petroleum will have developed ways to better implement ICT structures. Policies have to be created to protect the business and the employees from the shortcomings of remote work. By 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days in a month.

As technology sets the new rules for work and business operations, shifting demographics patterns is a factor that will impact the future of work.8 The Gen Z demographic (individuals born after 1995) has a lot in common with millennials, but they have new needs. In the short period they’ve been in the workforce, they are 3X more likely to change jobs that do not align with their values, and for them, flexibility is core.9,10Flexibility, in this case, refers to fluid office hours and workspaces. “The ability for employees to work remotely or shift their hours, used to be a distinctive perk. Today, it’s increasingly an expectation. You might not get special attention for offering flexibility, but you will probably stand out for not having it (and not in a good in a way).”

The chatbots are coming: How consumer experience is about to change everything

You have made use of one at some point. To handle requests that would normally have required a phone call, a physical visit or a web search. From functional services like banking and health, to sunnier activities like quizzes and gaming, the chatbot has come to play an interesting role in the internet experience.

A chatbot is a computer program or an artificial intelligence that conducts conversations through audio or texts. A bot can understand complex requests, personalize responses and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform.

In April 2016, RED’s client Facebook notably started allowing businesses deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content and interactive experiences through chatbots. United Bank for Africa (UBA) has Leo, Access Bank has Tamada. Custodian Investment introduced Max to the insurance world and Jumia’s answer is well the JumiaBot.

Still an emerging technology, the pivot to chatbots is powered by data. According to Business Insider, messaging apps have eclipsed social networks in monthly activities. This means that more people are using messenger apps than are using social networks. A Facebook Messenger bot for instance can converse with some of the 1.3 billion people who use Facebook Messenger- the third most used app in the world- every month. This reach is simply unbeatable.

It makes sense therefore that in order to build an online business – and everything is online these days – it is best to go where the people are interacting the most, the messenger apps. “Marketing messages shared by chatbots have an unbeatable open rate of 60–80% in the first 60–minutes alone; and a click-through rate of over 20%. No other marketing medium comes close,” writes John Orakwe, a chatbot designer and project manager at Future Software Resources.

The global chatbot market was valued at $17.17 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach USD 102.29 billion by 2025, according to US-based Mordor Intelligence. Gartner predicts that companies will power 85% of all customer service interactions with chatbots by the year 2020. 

It is easy to see why. Conversational interfaces can deliver convenience, personalization and decision support on the go.

“Leo is doing incredible things,” Facebook founder and CEO Marc Zuckerberg observed of the UBA chatbot at the tech giant’s F8 conference for developers. Launched in 2018, Leo has recorded over 1 million users across Africa with over 195 million transaction volume in its first year, prompting several imitators. UBA managing director Kennedy Uzoka noted at the Lagos unveiling of the chatbot, “The formulation is consistent with the bank’s customer-first philosophy, where we are doing things not the way we like, but focusing on what the customer wants, where they want it and in the exact platform they want it.” 

As more businesses pivot to remote work in a post-COVID-19 world, chatbots and other online assistants are bound to get even more influential. What will the future look like for brands and businesses? These are all the ways the chatbot will change everything.

1). Improved customer service

According to research by Gartner, customer service is the most important factor for the success of a business. Having a good customer service involves consumer satisfaction and this involves being on call at all times of the day. Customer support process can be improved with the help of chatbots. Bots can be programmed to give automated answers to repetitive questions immediately while requests that require escalation can be forwarded to a real person. This frees up human customer service representatives to save time and work on more important cases rather than time-consuming simple tasks. Chatbots also encourage speed and efficiency as organisations can handle more tasks at the same time reducing the waiting time.

This can allow businesses scale up their operations to newer markets without necessarily multiplying incoming requests.

2). Cost Savings

Deploying a functioning chatbot is a lot more sensible, not to mention cheaper than creating a cross platform app or hiring employees for each task. It is faster too and gets more work done in the long run. Chatbots are automated solutions, hence they allow organisations to handle many customers at once, and simultaneously. Instead of fearing that chatbots will put humans out of jobs, it is more sensible to look at them as services that complements human efforts.

Chatbots will in the long run help improve company bottom line as it saves on employee costs, gets more work done and avoids the little concern of human error when programmed properly. As UBA’s Leo launched on the Apple IOS platform, the bank’s managing director Kennedy Uzoka observed, “There are usually two approaches to doing this: it is either you go through man, or machine. Man will always have errors, but machines, in the past, of course, would have error, but with artificial intelligence (AI), the error rate is tending towards zero.”

Because customers can easily access chatbots within seconds and start interacting immediately, user acquisition is also associated with lower cost. Chatbots can be a great back up for employees for relatively basic and repetitive tasks with great speed, cost-effective, easy to implement, maintain and use. Attention must be paid though to the conversation capability or “personality” of your chatbot in order to increase or even retain brand perception and customers.

3). Ease of doing business

Chatbots provide assistance real-time similar to a sales person in a brick and mortar store. They offer an interactive communication experience that enables them ask questions to understand real problems. Along with voice and text, chatbots present customers with rich content in real time. These could come in the form of images, brochures, self-help tips, blog entries, or tutorial videos. Chatbots are also set up to respond to all kinds of queries along all aspects of the online experience. “It is still early days but personally, though, I’d invest in a chatbot service, as a business. Because it creates some layers of “personalisation” which is a key theme for doing business in the third revolution,” says Benjamin Dada, a journalist whose eponymous publication focuses on startups, founders and developers.

4). Proactive Customer Interaction

As a rule, businesses tend to favor the kind of consumer interaction that can best be described as passive. Responses are offered to customers only when businesses are contacted. This passive disposition may not be helpful in today’s world, especially with competitive businesses that have restless young people as primary consumers. Chatbots make for great conversation starters and can be available 24 hours a day. Consumers respond to this and tend to move towards businesses that make them feel like part of a family where even the slightest challenge can be taken care of at a moments notice. Like writers, chatbots can mirror the personality of their audience by writing in the style they speak. We recommend that businesses study the personality of their target audience deeply, learn about their life experiences, pop culture interests, and day-to-day habits so that the chatbot will be more likely to connect with customers.

The SimbiBot for example is an interactive learning assistant that helps students prepare for exams. It would be unfortunate for the bot to have the carriage and lingo of a 40-year old man.

5). Increased Customer Engagement

This is the age of information overload and so businesses must keep customers engaged with latest going ons. According to research published by Bain & Company, businesses that engage with their customers on social media have been able to increase customer spend by 20%. Social media can amplify, sure enough but chatbots can make these engagement more interactive. A sense of humour is recommended when building the programs. A conventional customer service interface usually provides more information than it receives from the users. However, chatbots, in contrast, give only a slice of information at any given moment. Because of this it is hard to complain that chatbots are boring or stuffed with irrelevant information. This keeps customers on the platform longer and the content flowing.

6). Monitoring consumer data

Businesses that make a habit of monitoring their bots will have a large dataset to study the latest trends and changes in consumer behaviour. Feedback generated through these seemingly simple questions can go a long way in helping businesses make improvements on your products thus improving consumer experience. For example websites can be optimized, traffic can be monitored, and pages that don’t connect well can be picked up on. Chatbots can be used to track purchasing patterns and consumer behaviours by monitoring user data. This could help provide businesses with evidence on what services or product may require a different direction in terms of marketing or advertising.

Businesses can track the commands and responses given by their users to the chatbot, predict the responses based on consumer language and direct the bot to suggest a different or a more convenient product or service to the users in addition to notifying sales and marketing departments for personalized services.

Looking ahead

Businesses that expect to standout are those that provide impeccable consumer experience. Digital communication is a huge part of this strategy. The smart chatbot improves communication with customers, speeds up daily operations and increases income. Chatbots are set up to resolve problems quickly and efficiently. They work non-stop and while relatively easy to set up, help companies save up on implementing human round-the-clock support. The future of work is creating constructive solutions and improving productivity. It wouldn’t be smart to be left out.

Let us explain why corporate sustainability isn’t just a buzz word

“Nature is healing. We are the virus.”

One of the small comforts of the lockdowns put in place by governments around the world to curtail the spread of the coronavirus was the viral memes satirizing the calming effects of lockdowns on the environment. From fishes returning to canals in Venice to the Himalayas being visible in northern India for the first time in decades, a trend of people posting photos of pollution clearing up over major cities was started. 

These posts were more often than not accompanied with the words in the opening paragraph, suggesting that all along, human beings have been the villains in the circle of life. Thanks to proper fact checking, most of these posts turned out to be untrue, not to mention naïve considering that simply slowing down the pace of living isn’t enough to make sustainable changes on the environment.

But the message behind the posts is crystal clear. In order to create a more sustainable world, businesses simply cannot go back to the way things used to be done. The pandemic is presenting the world with an opportunity to hit the brakes and re-strategize on sustainability while considering the impact of measures that are presently obtainable.

Corporate sustainability describes business practices built around ethical, environmental, social and economic considerations. Still an evolving corporate management practice,sustainability is an alternative to the traditional growth and profit-maximization model. Corporate sustainability recognizes that growth and profitability are necessary. But they do not exist in isolation. Also important are the pursuit of societal goals, specifically those relating to sustainable development — environmental protection, social justice, equity and economic development.

According to the World Council for Economic Development (WCED), sustainability is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In recent years, businesses have gradually embraced corporate sustainability. According to data, 180 organisations in Nigeria have spent about N50 billion in CSR and sustainability projects over the last 10 years, with highest investments coming from the oil and gas and telecoms sectors.

In 2015, Nigerian financial operators and regulators came together to discuss their role in sustainable development. Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, head of sustainability with our client Access Bank, is in charge of delivering on her institution’s mandate. She outlines the bank’s efforts so far, “Our resource conservation programmes, in water usage, energy consumption, and waste recycling, are helping to cut down CO2 emission. Also, through our lending and investment activities, coupled with our procurement practices, we have indirect environmental impacts. With the understanding that climate change will have a social and economic impact on our customers, we ensure that we properly manage risk while capturing new markets.”

A healthy community is a wealthy one. As COVID-19 continued to spread in communities, Unilever Nigeria demonstrated commitment to sustainability by donating its food and hygiene portfolio brands across the country to complement government’s palliative efforts. Soromidayo George, Director, Corporate Affairs & Sustainable Business, Ghana and Nigeria explained, “As a purpose driven organisation, we understand the need for proper hygiene during a crisis of this nature. We are also aware that the restriction of movement has affected the livelihood of many, that’s why we are sending food and hygiene products worth 200 million naira to Nigerians who need them.” 

Automobile giant Mitsubishi has with the “Drive your ambition’’ tagline, emphasized an on-going commitment to the values and aspirations that are important to young people. Partnering with both The Future Awards Africa (TFAA) and the “Under-40s CEO” television show, Mitsubishi has helped encourage youth by highlighting the success of young Nigerians breaking new grounds.

How to take corporate responsibility serious: Two Nigerian companies show the way.

recent study by Harvard and London Business Schools found that corporations that voluntarily adopt sustainability policies have better organizational processes. It follows then that they perform better when compared to their peers that stayed unbothered. 

Here are some of the ways sustainable practices can improve the overall health of a business.

1). Improves financial performance

When the thinking used to be that businesses could have either profits or sustainability, never both, it is clear which way the scales tilted. Now it has been proven repeatedly that financial benefits can come from sustainability-related operational efficiencies. Investors and stakeholders can track the high performers. These results can then be analyzed and many have shown better financial performance.

For example, several companies have instituted a work from home policy that has saved up on operations costs. According to Global Workplace Analytics, employers in the US can save over $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year, a significant figure considering that about 3.7 million employees currently work from home at least half the time. It is also a cost-saving option for small businesses who want to forgo on the hassle of renting office spaces, buying office supplies, and the overall maintenance that comes with acquiring a space. Data such as this informed RED’s pre-COVID-19 flexible work structure – which resulted in a steady spike on its proprietary ‘Employee Joy Index’ – and its recent decision to adopt an indefinite work from home policy post lockdown.

2). Promotes innovation

Investing in sustainability can drive innovation. One example is Access Bank which initiated and led the process that culminated in the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles. It issued the first certified corporate green bond in Africa, raising N15 billion (US$ 41 million) in the first quarter of 2019. Redesigning products to meet environmental standards or social needs also drives innovation and saves costs eventually. Access Bank utilizes LED lighting in all its facilities nationwide and has 311 branches powered by hybrid energy. Expanding the bank’s early closure policy has helped save energy consumption. Collectively, these approaches have helped reduce the bank’s CO2 emissions from electricity across Nigeria by 63.4 percent, and from diesel by 28.8 percent. 

3). Improves staff retention

Corporate sustainability initiatives can increase employee loyalty, efficiency, and productivity. Introduce these measures and watch HR statistics like recruitment, retention, and morale go up. Research has suggested that Gen- Y and Z employees focus more on organizational culture and work-life balance as opposed to salary packages and benefits. Companies that invest in sustainability initiatives tend to create sought-after work culture and engagement due to company strategy focusing more on providing value to society.  In addition, companies who embed sustainability in their core business strategy treat employees as critical stakeholders, just as important as shareholders. Employees are proud to work there and feel part of a broader effort. One study found that morale was 55% better in companies with strong sustainability programs, compared to those with poor ones, and employee loyalty was 38% better.  

4). Risk management

Climate change and poor labour conditions have been bad for business. In the largest study on climate change data and corporations involving 8,000 supplier companies, 72% reported that climate change presents risks that could significantly impact their operations, revenue, or expenditures. With this in mind, companies are adopting their practices to do better, greener business.

The Mitsubishi Corporation is one company working to address these potential impacts, while at the same time actively pursuing activities that facilitate the transition to a low-carbon society and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The company has also committed to stable, sustainable procurement and supply of resources, raw materials and other inputs in line with the needs of each country around the world including Nigeria.

Looking ahead

Thinking sustainably means thinking differently with an eye towards innovation and growth. This means companies can be more creative and intentional about products, services, processes and organizations. There is a whole world of opportunities out there for businesses willing to comply with the realities of a changing world.

Your next industry exposé may likely come from a drama channel, not the NYT

Remember a time when CEOs of multi-million dollar businesses were mythical figures, couched in their private lofts, separated from the millions of customers who used their products and provided the revenue and profits that kept their businesses afloat? Well, you might be a shrinking minority because everyone born after 2000 has grown up in a world where CEOs, founders, and upper management has not only been forced to abandon anonymity, but actively build personal brands where they interact with employees, fans, and customers.  

The internet by its very nature rewards its users for their ability to source and disseminate information. And information is at its most valuable when it is about people who already have influence or power. News about Jeff Bezos’ divorce broke the internet, as  did his acknowledgement and refusal to back down.A single tweet from Elon Musk  was enough to influence the US stock market and force the US government to indict him on corruption charges.  

Just because powerful people have become accessible to us, doesn’t mean they don’t have the tools to protect themselves and information about themselves. Our proximity to them doesn’t remove the swift consequences that come with publicly sharing information about them that they want to keep private. Famous people also feel trapped by their public personas and buck against their popularity by creating  pockets of anonymity  where they can be their ‘truest’ selves. 

Even in more equal online relationships, the internet’s eternal archive makes it harder for us to share sensitive information about ourselves and others without becoming permanently associated with said information and branded as a person that cannot be trusted with information, even when the choice to share is the right one. This has led to the internet culture of  ‘burner accounts’, anonymous accounts that are created for the sole purpose of truth-telling, and the sharing of anonymous tips with the many news and gossip accounts that have sprung up to monetize and weaponize this sensitive information.  

Nigerian media mogul Angelica Nwandu is one of many internet savants who have built multi-million dollar businesses from scouring the internet for information and ‘breaking’ this information to an audience rabid for news. Her business  The Shade Room is an Instagram first platform whose reach and engagement are eclipsed only by two other accounts out of the millions that exist on the platform. For enthusiasts in the beauty and fashion industries; three accounts reign supreme over this subgenre,  @Diet_Prada  and  @TheFashionLaw  cover news from the fashion industry revolving around theft of designs and intellectual property and fashion CEO’s and founders behaving badly and  @EsteeLaundry  replicates the model for the beauty industry.  On Youtube, accounts that participate in this form of information curation and dissemination are called ‘Drama channels’ and have cost many a company losses that rise to the millions.  

This is the perilous world in which CEOs, who were once revered, must do battle, growing personal brands that can be just as influential as the companies they run, and constantly teeter at the edge of ruin.  

How do ‘drama channels’ and ‘gossip accounts’ get so big?  

They get three things right about storytelling. They match the urgency of the social media age, they offer exclusive information and they reach the audience where it consumes that information. Nigerian gossip blogs like  Instablog9ja  (with 2.8 million followers) and  Gistlover  (with 350k followers) have both managed to amass millions of readers and followers by adopting anonymity to free them of any relationship based obligations, offer exclusive news and gossip and find a delivery style that separates them from the competition. Together, both blogs have ousted Linda Ikeji, who used to dominate the gossip scene only 5 years before.  

This is also why Angelica Nwandu refuses to move the bulk of her content from Instagram to her equally successful website. With  20 million active followers, and 1.5 billion weekly impressions, Nwandu is able to generate engagement and conversion values that a website could never manage. The functionality of Instagram (you simply scroll down your feed + its explore function which uses an AI to push performing stories to even more people) is infinitely more appealing than the many actions that must be taken to access an article on a website. The flexibility of Instagram (the option to post video or photos, and post text as a photo) allows her to share information as it is received, then update that information as the story develops. The ease of archiving a story also allows her to retract inaccurate information without the fuss of a website.   

‘Drama channels’ harness the algorithms of Youtube, are meticulous about presenting the information they have as an immersive multimedia show, with reveals and pullouts, bells and whistles.  Each scoop is presented with such flair, many die-hard fans of ‘drama channels’ enjoy the presentation almost as much as they love the drama.  

Most importantly, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram are free for the user and generate revenue for the creator, an incentive for both parties to create and consume. 

3 ways companies can restructure their brand storytelling to avoid the pitfalls of modern public identity.  

1. Understand the rules of the game 

Many public personalities fail at social media because they don’t appreciate the stakes involved in engaging on social media, and they don’t seek to understand the rules that govern online interactions. Soviet psychologist Lev Yvgotsky encapsulates this idea via his description of a fundamental but often overlooked tenet of interpersonal relationships: “Personality develops through encounters with the physical world and through relationships with other human beings which are mediated by language.” 

When interactions happen entirely on a virtual platform, the importance of language as a mediation tool becomes amplified. Every word choice becomes subject to multiple interpretations as there are no other cues by which we may be understood. To thrive, we must understand that the identity we assume on the internet is built by each interaction we have, and each interaction is treated like a promise that must be fulfilled and a claim that must be verified. It is vital that we do not say anything we do not mean, that we avoid all interactions that do not offer any immediate or long term benefits. To quote cultural commentator and essayist Jia Tolentino, “Identity is a series of claims and promises. On the internet, a highly functional person is one who can promise everything to an indefinitely increasing audience at all times.” 

The tools that allow users to curate their audiences (private accounts, blocking dissenting voices, muting hashtags) are all actions that are considered insidious from people with influence and outrightly illegal for some people with power (the US president is legally forbidden from blocking users or making his account private). Influential figures must somehow either, build a conservative persona guided by strict rules that must be adhered to at all times, or fully embrace the chaos of an unmoderated online persona, much like Elon Musk has done with his twitter account.  

2. Prioritize human to human interaction over brand achievements

The Humans of New York social project is a prime example of how human to human storytelling can elevate any project. Run by Brandon Stanton, the account’s modus operandi is to visit a city, collecting curated stories from its residents, each one distinguished by its uniqueness of events, the compelling nature of its subject and the distinct branding of Stanton’s storytelling. HONY has become one of the biggest anthropological projects in the world, covering stories across Africa and the rest of the world, contextualizing political and cultural events by filtering them through the experiences of everyday people. With 10.7 million involved followers, it is hard to argue with this brand of storytelling. 

3. Show your company is about people, not just structures

It is an idea that many corporate entities, including RED, have adopted in the storytelling narratives it shares of its employees, clients and process on social media. The premise is simple, its achievements are intricately tied to the quality of hires made and the number of team members retained. By treating each individual in the company as a person with a vast internal life worthy of careful exploration and curation, the idea is emphasized that the company values the employee beyond the quality of their work or their value to the company. They are celebrated for their individuality and how that individuality contributes to company success.  

Humans of RED  has been a resounding success and a passive recruitment tool and portfolio for RED when it seeks new employees. Its growth rate, the goodwill its co-founders enjoy in online and offline spaces and its happy and engaged staff suggest this model of human first storytelling and carefully curated execution is a model that others should actively consider in the era of misinformation.  

4. Hire a team to help craft and maintain your online persona 

Roqeebah Olanioye, Team Lead at Statecraft Inc. often has to build online personas for government officials or public parastatals. Her time in this volatile field has granted her and RED insights on how to build a brand that can appeal to a mass audience and unite them under a singular cause; i.e. a presidential campaign. In the course of her work, she has had to guide frontline presidential candidates who opted to leverage the power of Nigeria’s growing political niches on social media to advance their campaign on how best to establish and sustain an accessible but authoritative online persona.  

“For us, it’s important that the candidates’ people encountered aren’t just talking heads…  Each video, interview, and public appearance must be structured to feed into the persona we wanted online audiences to see and connect with, and we wanted to reiterate that the battle for a seat in the presidency would happen at the polls, not on our timelines.”  

The widespread impact achieved by political candidates and the viability of their online brand is a testament to how vital a carefully orchestrated storytelling campaign deployed on behalf of a public personality can inure them to malicious scrutiny, help them bypass the many road-blocks that plague other public personalities, and provide a sense of scale for the client, ensuring their correspondence is always calibrated to resonate with mass audiences, rather than offending them.  

Diversity is lacking in Nigeria’s meeting rooms, and it’s bad for business

Nigeria has a diversity problem. We see it on our streets, in our schools and in our interactions on social media. We create silos where only our perspectives matter in any conversation. This is a troubling phenomenon, especially when it spreads into our workspaces, corrupting relationships and weakening the overall power of the company to deliver lush, original work or acknowledge when the work of others inspires us to improve on ours. 

To tell a compelling story, companies must understand all the possible perspectives with which they are viewed by the intended audience. Even when it manufactures a product or offers a service to a specific demographic, there is often diversity within that demographic, and needs that must be met. A good example would be companies that produce sanitary products. While their broad demographic is women, in their products and messaging they must also consider the unique needs of women who have heavy flows or reproductive illnesses that make their periods erratic. They must consider Trans men who have periods and people who are dealing with illnesses that disrupt their reproductive cycles. Messaging that welcomes these many diverse experiences and perspectives can complete even the most straightforward brief. 

Many companies seek to solve the problem of connecting their products to an audience by outsourcing the hard work of diversity to third party companies. They commission studies, and gather focus groups, who do a relatively good job of pointing out obvious problems with a narrative. But studies and focus groups are not dynamic, they are static and the data they provide for business often only reflects the limited worldviews of the chosen participants and the period in which these studies are conducted. Rather than a static impression, companies are learning they must embrace a dynamic, ongoing conversation that starts from the point of ideation. And the only way that can be achieved is if companies are more diverse, from top to bottom.  

Companies in the past sought to hire homogenous teams, believing that the less friction there was between team members, the more successful the company would become. This was only partly true, a homogenous company would have less friction, but would also suffer from a paucity of ideas. Constructive dissent forces companies to weigh the integrity of, and motivations behind their decision-making and provides multiple points of view when they execute an idea or a project. It prevents stagnation and provides companies with contemporary perspectives of the evolving needs of diverse audiences.   

To underscore the importance of diversity and inclusion to employees, a  Glassdoor  study indicates that 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity. 

So, how do companies solve the problem of diversity? They need to first understand the problem. 

Beaming the searchlight on the challenges of workforce diversity in public sector management in Nigeria,  a study of 399 workers and public officials across eight different ministries  in the Ebonyi State Civil Service in 2017 revealed that many heads of organisations are not adequately trained on extra-compensatory measures which are subsumed to handle diversity that will foster unity and workforce integration. In many cases, civil servants are xenophobic to embrace workforce diversity due to fear and the perception of a possible value change.  

A separate study  on the Nigerian public service sector conducted a year later advanced the call for workplace diversity to increase employee morale and improve employees’ drive to work more effectively and efficiently. The study reflected that diversity in leadership will allow managers to bring in new skills and strategies for achieving unity within their teams and also boost creativity. 

A more  recent survey  of nine multinational companies (Coca-Cola, Guinness, MTN, Nestle, Julius Berger, Mobil Oil and Gas, Total Plc., Cadbury Plc., and Airtel Nigeria) show that the management of employees’ perception of marginalization, cultural diversity and conflict management can have significant positive influences on diversity management. The better employees’ perception of these issues are managed, the more effective the organisation’s diversity management, which would further improve teamwork and efficiency. More specifically, team building and group training were found to mediate between workforce diversity and organizational effectiveness. 

Institutional structures to facilitate effective diversity management are either weak or non-existing in Nigeria. While the concept of diversity and inclusion are yet to be embraced by HR practitioners and business leaders – even in private organisations – several forward-looking organisations are investing in creating an inclusive workplace. In a study focused on what experts called ‘The Chevron Way’, the global energy company’s diversity initiatives in Nigeria are clearly directed and coordinated by a full-time diversity consultant in the HR division, working with senior management sponsors, a diversity council, resource groups and diversity champions. The initiatives are mostly employee-driven, and everyone is fully encouraged to take an active part in fostering inclusion. 

Bukonla Adebakin, the chief operations officer at RED, and a veteran organizer for global non-profit organisations explain it this way: “A workplace that is not diverse will simply not have enough data points in their ideation process to come up with innovative products that either identify and solve the needs of a specific niche community or offer products to mass audiences with messaging that is calibrated to offend as few people as possible.” A diverse team will save managers the expensive costs of engaging outside help on each rung of the ideation to execution ladder and will enable quick pivots when an avoidable problem arises. 

According to  This Way, diversity in the workplace must “encompass acceptance, respect and teamwork despite differences in race, age, gender, native language, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation or communication.” This is a tall order for most Nigerian companies, for many reasons. The country is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country where successive conflicts across these lines have fostered distrust and outright hostility to people considered different or ‘other’. We see it in the conversations about women’s rights, the rights of minorities targeted for violent attacks, the rights of LGBT persons to live freely, in the treatment of people with disabilities or mental illness. A company must actively, almost aggressively seek to identify if it has a diversity problem within its ranks and work to correct it. 

Four ways organisations can implement an effective diversity management strategy 

1. Diversity has to be a top-down business necessity 

An AHRI research study conducted in 2014 focused on the views and opinions on diversity at the workplace among Australian business leaders showed that the middle management – and even the leadership – were not completely welcoming and supportive of a diverse work group. With no leadership buy-in, spending time and resources on training and sensitisation will become totally useless, and almost impossible. 

For example, through years of data iteration by RED – surveys, biannual reviews, and questionnaires – there is only one point where diversity can be improved in any company structure, and that is the hiring process. Every company’s hiring process reveals a lot about its motivations. 

2. Various elements of an inclusive workgroup should be clearly mapped for effective execution 

A truly inclusive organisation should contain a diverse cross-section of employees who interact with one another. Such companies have clear track metrics on hiring, promotion, and composition of their workforce. Just like Chevron, a work model has to be created and faithfully implemented, with the behaviour modelled to employees by the company’s management. 

Companies should conduct an assessment to determine their strengths and areas for improvements on diversity management. They should enhance mechanisms (e.g., discussion groups, staff meetings) for managers and employees to express their ideas and concerns on diversity and work environment issues. This provides an opportunity for consistent reviews through a monthly or bi-annual review system that asks all employees to review the founders and top management officers. Staff should also be encouraged to share personal requests with supervisors and allowed to speak up about any and every issue through a ‘radical transparency policy’. 

3. Sensitize the employees 

Employee’s mindset and perception – even on marginalization and discrimination – can only be changed with training, education and awareness. HR leaders have to encourage training and conversations with current managers, staff and partners to develop an inclusive mindset, including the attitude that should be demonstrated while working with those from different backgrounds.  

According to Olumide Makanjuola, human rights activist and director of programs, ISDAO: “Diversity at the workplace is understanding that every employee that walks into your workspace is not like the one you hired before and as such, we must inform and create a space that embraces and welcomes people as they are while fostering a more inclusive, creative and innovative workforce that is reflective of our human diversity”. 

All of this seems very progressive and risky, but the numbers show that their bold approach to diversity is yielding results.   

4. Identify and address possible barriers to advancement opportunities 

Former minister of finance, Professor Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has championed the idea that when bias is applied in favour of women in the workplace, it improves the chances of success for the entire organisation. “Investing in women is smart economics, and investing in girls, catching them upstream is even smarter economics”. The idea that diversity must be invested in with a clearly defined goal in mind, can be expanded to encompass a progressive response for all forms of diversity. 

Diversity mapping will never work effectively, neither will the workforce deliver effectively if there are perceived issues with how employees envision the company’s growth and their own advancement. The company diversity planning has to be a long-term vision, where every member of this diverse workforce knows they have a strategic role to play in all the business hierarchies.  

Three months ago, RED leveraged on the personal experiences of its Muslim team members and team members who had grown up immersed in the cultures of Nigeria’s Muslim North to lead a Maltina virtual activation during Ramadan, effectively positioning the brand as an ally of the faithful during the holy month. The campaign was impactful because the employees assigned to lead the project had personal motivations to ensure  it was successful, but also that it accurately reflected their religious beliefs and their oft-misunderstood culture.  

For the team members on that project, a diversity strategy was not simply a cosmetic cover, but an opportunity to show that economic viability was possible within the boundaries of respectful representation. They had something to prove, and the platform to do it. We must work to ensure that all companies come to this epiphany, that all-encompassing investment in diversity can truly impact present and future profit lines.