By Sazini Mojapelo - Managing Executive: Corporate Citizenship and Community Investments

The recently launched UN Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 highlights the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the 2030 Agenda. In addition to the almost four million deaths due to the coronavirus, between 119-124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty for the first time since 1998, while globally, the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs were lost, the Report indicates.

While the pandemic has halted, or reversed years, or even decades of development progress, it has provided a catalyst for significant improvement. Most people want to see a fairer and more sustainable world post-COVID-19 and the coronavirus has changed the way we engage and associate with others. Social distancing has become the norm, and the pandemic is testing many of the assumptions of our highly interconnected, globalised world.

To continue to meet the expectations of our customers, Absa also had to adapt to the new normal, and we were inspired by the ingenuity we saw on the African continent, the adaptability of our people and the possibilities for growth and development. The first six months of the year saw us continue our work in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on our vulnerable communities and indeed proceed with great momentum in implementing our refreshed Role in Society strategy.

With the building blocks in place to deliver sustainable development in all our markets, we are well-positioned to drive multi-stakeholder partnerships, acting as an “enabler” and “convenor”; linking role players, ideas, and resources to tackle Africa’s challenges and use our influence on policy and policymakers in a responsible, transparent, and accountable manner.   

Supporting key economic sectors to drive sustainable growth in the region

Absa has the responsibility to stimulate the growth prospects of Africa, by making a measurable impact on people society and the planet.  Our business units play an integral role in supporting economic growth by providing relevant products and services to our customers and clients that enable national and regional growth.

In the first half of this year, we supported inclusive economic growth at a national, community and individual level, and some examples, among others, include:

  • Closed R1.1 billion multi-option trade facility to facilitate economic expansion in the region.
    Onboarded Zambia’s largest FMCG manufacturer and extended a finance facility of R107 million.
  • Supported a Ghana-based agri-business start-up, Green Gold Farms, to raise US$1.6 million.
  • Created a digital portal making our supply chain accessible to small and medium enterprises.
  • Reached and trained 15 018 people across out markets through financial education and tools to improve their long-term financial wellness.

A just transition to net-zero requires a collective effort

We have not only adhered to the Equator Principles since 2009 but became a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking (PRBs) in 2019 and published our first standalone Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Report in 2020.  This ensures that we put environmental and social sustainability at the heart of our culture and operations.

Absa supports the just transition to net-zero in Africa, with a firm commitment to financing or arranging more than R100 billion for environment, social and governance (ESG) projects by 2025.  

Our Interim Group CE Jason Quinn recently announced the launch of African Rainbow Energy together with African Rainbow Energy and Power (AREP) as an African-led, world-class, renewable energy investment platform. AREP now has approximately R6.5 billion of gross assets, covering 31 renewable assets, making it one of the largest and most diverse independently owned energy businesses in South Africa.

Some of the other ways we helped to mitigate climate change risk from January 2021 to date, include:

  • R1.5 billion towards financing one of South Africa's largest concentrated solar tower projects, with Absa acting as lead arranger.
  • A US$150 million certified green loan with the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
  • We financed 33 deals, or 46% of South Africa’s renewable energy projects to date, making us one of the leading financiers and the largest funder of renewable energy in South Africa by megawatts financed.
  • We sponsor the Daily Maverick’s “Our Burning Planet” project to stimulate public debate, and shift policy around Africa’s greatest environmental challenges.

Positively impacting the communities that we operate in

One of the key imperatives for the Group is to be an active force for good in the communities we serve. During the first half of this year, our social impact investment activities contributed R93.2 million in support of communities along with significant business investment to aid Africa's growth and sustainability.  

Education and continuous skills development are the means for increasing productivity, social participation, and inclusive growth and we are working with leading specialists to help prepare Africa’s youth for the workplace of the future.  

From January 2021 to date, we allocated R54.6 million towards education and skills development in the communities we operate.  This included, among others: 

  • The launch of the Absa Fellowship Programme focused on developing a cadre of authentic, accountable, and ethical future leaders with the potential to play a shaping role in their respective communities on the African continent. 
  • A cross-skilling initiative that will see up to 240 young people from the tourism and hospitality industry re-skilled after COVID-19-related job losses. This is being done in collaboration with various partners, including CIB clients in the sector.
  • Technical, vocational, and digital skills, and academic support to 1 992 unemployed youth.

In the same period, R15.3 million was directed towards promoting just and equitable societies across all our African markets. Of this, we pledged R10 million and provided leadership support towards the newly established Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund1.

Launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Fund seeks to bring together all sectors of society and serves as a vehicle to mobilise resources to support and enable scalable programmes, targeting both prevention and response to GBVF across South Africa.

We continue to provide support for colleagues, customers and communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a further R16 million provided in the first half of 2021 to protect lives and livelihoods.  We work with various partners such as Reel Life, Food Forward SA, and other grassroots organisations to supply food parcels to 3 800 households, and enabled three mobile rural food depots, as well as delivered 700 000 meals.

We also supported the Solidarity Fund and Pink Drive NPC awareness and vaccination campaigns to boost public health efforts. These relief measures were on the back of existing efforts which saw R9.8 billion in cash-flow relief delivered to 613 000 retail and business bank customers in 2020, and R500 million in pricing relief provided to individual customers in 2021.

And most recently, we have committed a further R12.5 million towards relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts to assist communities after recent spates of civil unrest wreaked havoc in parts of South Africa.

A commitment to putting our purpose into action

We believe in possibility - in the actions of people who always find a way to get things done.

We are creating opportunities for our customers and clients to make their possibility real, by supporting them every step of the way.

As our new post-COVID-19 world order grows more interconnected and even more complex, Absa will now, more so than ever before, play a key role in unlocking Africanacity - bringing our shared futures and Africa’s possibility to life.