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Can Corporate Sustainable Development accelerate equitable access to clean water in Ghana?

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Excerpt: A recent study conducted at the University of Oxford has revealed a shift from Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Sustainable Development for multinationals operating in Ghana. The interesting findings suggest that this shift is valuable and must be leveraged to achieve SDG 6.1 – universal access to safe drinking water. This has implications for safe water charities such as Project Maji, operating in the Ghanaian rural water context.

A child is pictured holding a glass of water, his hands are supported by an adult

Sustainable development is most commonly defined as “development that satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future”. For businesses and corporations, sustainability implies that they operate with a “triple-bottom-line” view of a company’s performance. Simply put, it means they take into account not only the financial success of the business but also its environmental and social impact. The goal of sustainability is ambitious and cannot be achieved in silos. Therefore, the UN sustainable development agenda calls for private sector engagement, public-private partnerships, inter-disciplinary knowledge production, and cross-sector co-operation to achieve it.

A smiling mother fills up a water jug while caring her daughter on her back

Project Maji aims to contribute to the sustainable development of water-poor communities, focusing on SDG 6.1, which calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. And the situation is dire. In Africa alone, the rural water supply failure amounts to 1.2 billion dollars lost in investments by governments, donor agencies, and NGOs. Also, goal 6.1 faces a sizeable finance gap estimated at over US$1 trillion. In line with the overarching SDG framework, the involvement of companies is deemed imperative to meet water access goals, not only to fill financing gaps but also to allow for an exchange of cross-sector expertise.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and water

From the perspective of corporations, responsible business practices to strike the balance between profitability and maintaining a neutral or positive social and environmental impact are labeled corporate social responsibility (CSR). Water is an area of importance and opportunity in the context of CSR. Therefore, water issues have triggered increased attention from the private sector over the last few years. Project Maji has partnered with various companies whose business ethos aligns with ours and aims to invest in clean drinking water. This ranges from mineral water companies who want to give back, to organisations operating in Sub-Saharan Africa providing access to clean water to the communities they work in. Investment in solar-powered water kiosks creates awareness for social engagement, and Project Maji is extremely grateful for corporate support. We work closely with CSR teams, exploring synergies and create pathways where everybody wins: People, the planet as well as economic progress.

CSR to Corporate Sustainable Development

An interesting paradigm shift has been observed. A recent study highlights that companies, in particular, multinationals operating in Ghana reflect a shift from CSR to Corporate Sustainable Development. The study suggests that this shift is valuable and must be leveraged to achieve SDG 6.1 for the West African country. The findings revealed:

  • Operating in a developing country with a serious water crisis, MNEs have in practice taken up a “net positive development” approach with a wider focus on improving the overall lives of communities.

  • Mainly owing to a greater pool of resources, multinationals are engaging in societal governance, particularly in the context of communities that have been labelled “hard to reach” by the local government

  • MNEs recognize the need for cross-sector knowledge sharing and integration to make substantial progress against target 6.1 in Ghana.

Implications for Safe Water Enterprises such as Project Maji

The strategy shift towards corporate sustainable development has the potential to pave the way to unlock equal access to drinking water in Ghana. It implies a high-level strategic corporate interest to advance social goals, including water access. Therefore, it can have positive implications for non-profit safe water enterprises (SWEs) such as Project Maji. It will open doors for SWEs to start a strategic dialogue from a policy, knowledge and implementation angle. Working with the public sector, in partnership, we can shoulder the responsibility of finding sustainable, long-term solutions to drinking water problems.

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