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The African experience: Business models and Sustainable Development Goals

Elisa Moscolin, Sustainability and CSR Manager, Santander UK discusses how, as part of our Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business, she explored theories of how to embed sustainability within business practice, concluding that a set of common themes helped facilitate companies’ success in this area.

The African experience: Business models and Sustainable Development Goals

Elisa Moscolin, Sustainability and CSR Manager, Santander UK

23 January 2017


The practical integration of sustainability within business strategy and operations is a key component of my role. As part of my CISL Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business, I explored theories of how to embed sustainability within business practice, concluding that a set of common themes helped facilitate companies’ success in this area.

These themes included engagement at management level and understanding the need for wider workforce participation. An inclusive process of development and ownership ensured outcomes aligned with business priorities and key performance indicators.

I was seconded by Vodafone to Safaricom, a leading telecommunication provider to 23 million customers in Africa and part of the Vodafone Group, to assist in the development of a programme to integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within their business framework. The SDGs are an ambitious 15-year programme with 17 main goals, inclusive of the private sector, which aim to end global poverty, promote prosperity and people’s wellbeing and protect the environment

The relevance of SDGs

At first glance the relevance of these goals for businesses might not be self-evident. Sustainability can offer innovative solutions to address business challenges so rather than ask, “how can businesses contribute to the advancement of the SDGs?” the question should be, “how the SDGs can contribute to the success of businesses?”

By examining Safaricom’s mission, of ‘transforming lives’, through the SDGs lens we were able to unlock the potential sustainability had to enhance business performance. It was central to the success of the initial programme that we were able to engage in meaningful conversations with the various internal business divisions, including the Senior Leadership Team and Sustainability Champions.

The key features of the approach were to:

  • engage with all layers of the company in parallel
  • explore business objectives and improvement areas and then examine how the SDGs element could enhance performance and help overcome challenges
  • explore untapped business opportunities offered by the SDGs
  • maintain a flexible approach and allow freedom within the framework to encourage teams to articulate the SDGs in a way that resonated with the business model.

When we spoke to Safaricom’s Customer Operations Division, which manages customer relations and retail operations, we discussed how Goal Eight (Decent Work and Economic Growth) could help provide a better working environment for call centre staff thus enhancing employees’ wellness, productiveness and decreasing turnover rates. We also discussed how recruiting a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive working environment (Goal 10, Reducing Inequalities) could spark innovation, help attract and retain talent and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.

Strategic priority and SDG alignment

Each division rephrased the SDGs in line with their strategic priorities. For example, the Financial Services Division, responsible for the M-Pesa platform, a mobile-based money transfer service with 25 million subscribers, committed to: "drive innovation and financial inclusion (Goal Nine) by developing relevant products and exploring the health and energy space (Goal Three and Seven) and spur economic growth (Goal Eight)".

Our journey was not free from challenges, as our Case Study illustrates. For many of the divisions, it took several discussions to agree on how to best articulate the SDGs in a way that was relevant and added value to the business. 

We continued this work by bringing the SDGs to life through company-wide cascades, awareness campaigns and incorporating the SDGs commitments into employees’ key performance indicators. The aim: to ensure that the values that drive sustainability are part and parcel of Safaricom’s business practice.


Accredited by the University of Cambridge, the part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB) helps professionals integrate sustainability thinking into business actions. Submit your application before the end of March.

About the author

Elisa Moscolin is a Sustainability and CSR Manager at Santander UK and previously worked as a sustainability and CSR professional for Vodafone. Elisa completed our Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business and spent several years designing and implementing sustainability strategies and programmes. Elisa is one of our Network Ambassadors.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.