By now you’re probably well aware that ABSA has gone through a rebranding. We’re not just talking about the company‘s split from Barclays or the new logo, but rather its shifting attitude towards its role as a leader for digital inclusion.

This goes beyond the catchy tagline of “Africanacity” as far as ABSA’s head of citizenship for Africa, Sazini Mojapelo, is concerned.

In her words the financial institution is looking beyond the usual model of corporate social responsibility and initiatives, with a greater focus on shared growth as she terms it. As such Mojapelo is tasked with shaping and driving the role that ABSA aims to play in society.

As one of the new strategic partners for SingularityU South Africa, which held its annual Summit in Johannesburg last week, we got the chance to sit down with Mojapelo, and find out what strides are being made in the name of digital inclusion by the company.

Hypertext: During your panel discussion here at SingularityU, you highlighted ABSA’s changing approach to corporate social responsiblity (CSR). What drove those conversations and what has it yielded to date?

Sazini Mojapelo: The conversations were driven by two things.

The first is that we’re spending significant amounts in trying to drive our social agenda, but we could not quite see how that contributes back to the bank. It was very dispersed, so a decision had to be made about how we consolidate those initiatives and get a better view of how we can make an impact.

The second was how do we grow our business in societies that are failing? We have a moral and ethical responsibility to be a corporate citizen in this country. So we need to be taking into consideration not only our communities and customers, but we also need to be looking at what we are doing as a corporate citizen.

That’s why citizenship became a big part of the agenda, and that’s how it moved from being a traditional CSR to what it is today.

That shift then lead us to look at identifying a strategy that allowed us to be citizens. In so doing we gravitated towards answering how do we create shared growth.

Hypertext: One of the interesting points you made on stage was the impending change from Barclays to ABSA in Africa. When that happens will the local initiatives spread to the rest of the continent?

SM: We have been one bank (ABSA) for a very long time. That change is primarily for the brand, but in terms of how we operate, we are one brand. So if the strategy is set in the centre, it is for the entire business from South Africa all the way to Uganda and Ghana.

Hypertext: We’re assuming a change in brand also offers the opportunity to highlight some of the important ABSA-led initiatives too?

SM: It certainly does. When we become visible as ABSA, it allows us the opportunity to engage with customers as they do not know us as ABSA yet. When we turn from blue to red, it offers opportunities for us to bring about change.

We often say that our role in society serves as our credentials.

Hypertext: You’ve also spoken about partnerships as being a key agent for growth. What kinds of partnerships are you working on currently?

SM: We’ve recognised that if we want to define our role in society, it is only through public-private partnerships.

It’s not our mandate to provide education, but as a corporate citizen it is our responsibility to help support and develop quality education. That’s why we work closely with the department of education, as well as many local universities and TVET colleges, to augment and support their programmes.

We are not looking for degrees, we are looking for skills. So we will support post-graduate diplomas or diplomas at academies, because we do not want qualifications that we do not need.

We also work with startups and fintechs, as those kinds of partnerships provide agency, along with along us to enter markets where our a size would normally make it difficult to do so.

Examples of these kinds of partnerships are Jumo, which has helped us with micro-financing in Zambia or the likes of M-Pesa.

It’s through partnerships that we bring scale and breadth to what we can do.

Hypertext: Lastly, you’re now a part of the SingularityU world. What does that partnership hold in terms of what ABSA hopes to achieve?

SM: I often say to people about our relationship with Singularity is that it’s a university. We work with universities, but they are different in their approach as they do not think about the now, as technology is evolving too quickly.

Instead they think about the future, and it’s those kinds of insights that we’re looking forward to hearing more about, especially when engaging with our other partners.

[Image – Photo by Captureson on Unsplash]