When Husameldin Elnasri approached a multinational firm operating in Sudan to suggest that they become involved in a small community project; little did he know that it would pick the interest of CSR initiatives in South Sudan.
His success has convinved him that development and profit can go hand-in-hand in Africa - something that he is now exploring through projects and classes on the Lancaster MBA.
Husam, 36, was born and raised in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city. He first got involved with community development projects while he was studying for a degree in Veterinary Science at the University of Khartoum.
Despite the persistence of conflict and insecurity, Husam saw a way for oil-fuelled economic growth to support improvements in infrastructure in Sudan. As an undergraduate, he worked as a Student Coordinator for the Sudan Village Concept Project which was aimed at initiating and monitoring community-based animal health networks as well as other rural development projects.
Livestock have great economic and cultural importance for a large proportion of Sudanese: a significant number live as nomads. “Cows and other livestock are very sacred in Sudan”, says Husam.
He approached White Nile Petroleum Operating Company in 2002 to engage in a local project focused on livestock but instead got hired as their Community Development Field officer to plan and implement community projects that would include women’s empowerment, educational training and infrastructure development.
Before Husam knew it, he was liaising with community leaders, government officials, international bodies like the UN Global Compact and even members of the armed forces and rebels!
By the time Husam left White Nile, what started as a small department with five employees had over 50 employees and had deployed over US$45 million (excluding administrative costs) into community projects!
His passion to see development take place in his home country and in the rest of Africa has led him to pursue an MBA at Lancaster University Management School.
Husam had no formal business training and wanted to make the most of his MBA experience so he chose to study at Lancaster because it offered three practical projects as pat of the programme. This would give him a chance to practice writing business plans and to consult with large corporates.
By the time BusinessBecause spoke with Husam, he’d already written two business plans and just completed a consulting project with an insulation company. He also mentioned that he was enjoying the not so subtle differences between life in Sudan and in Lancaster. For instance, in Sudan, employees had to be on the field before 7am. Additionally, the atmosphere in Lancaster is serene and free of rebel militia!
Being on the Lancaster MBA has been more than taking a break from the intensity of life is Sudan. Husam has kept busy by telling his MBA colleagues that despite what the media has us believe businesses are thriving in Sudan.
The basic lesson he’d taken out of his experience of living and working in Sudan was that CSR is a win-win for conflict-ridden societies. “Training the local community and hiring them means that businesses can work successfully even in areas where the government has limited control”, says Husam.
He recently gave a lecture titled "Business and Responsibility In Conflict Affected Areas: The Case of Sudan" to colleagues on the Global Society and Responsible Management module.
Husam adds, “I’ve seen villages go from the stereotypical media images of African villages we see in the West with no infrastructure or organization whatsoever to having more structure and working infrastructure. I’ve looked at NGOs but in themselves, NGOs have very limited resources and don’t usually evolve to create profits”.
When Husam graduates from the Lancaster MBA in September 2012, he plans to gain some international experience with a multinational interested in helping businesses grow in one or more of these African countries- Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa or Ghana. Not Nigeria, for the time being, because: “They have the same problem as Sudan”, he says, referring the specific oil "resource curse".
We ended the conversation with Husam drawing some words of wisdom from Kofi Annan, who noted that Africa profitability is one of the best kept business secrets.
Husam feels that people need to stop talking about Africa in passing and start going there to do business. He’s grateful for a chance to show his Lancaster MBA colleagues a new and positive side of life in Sudan and he’s hoping to rope one or two of them into a business venture in Sudan once their MBA is over.
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