Robert (Bob) Collymore, the CEO of Kenya’s largest mobile network company, Safaricom Ltd, was a guest speaker at the “6th International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action” held in the Swedish capital. The meeting reviewed the advances and setbacks of the 20 years since the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) that took place in Cairo, Egypt.
That summit led to ambitious development goals, and in the two decades since, a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, while human rights have been firmly placed on the development agenda. But much more remains to be done, particularly regarding reproductive health rights, and women’s advancement, according to the UN.
As a keynote speaker in Stockholm, where parliamentarians also discussed the post-2015 development agenda, Collymore gave an eye-opening presentation on how mobile technology is transforming lives. He stressed that corporations can help in the promotion and protection of human rights through community projects and in other areas. Safaricom, which started as a department of Kenya Posts and Telecommunications and launched operations in 1993, had revenues in 2013 of $1.42bn, and currently employs some 3,000 people.
It is 40% owned by the UK-based Vodafone plc. Along with M-Pesa, the world’s most developed mobile-phone-based money transfer and micro-financing service, the company has a programme that allows the transmission of health information to women and children, and it is pushing into social spheres in other innovative ways. Guyana-born, UK-raised Collymore, who has been the CEO since 2010, campaigns for corporate responsibility and official accountability, and along with his many supporters, he appears to have made a few enemies judging by the criticism on some social media sites.
In an interview after his presentation at the Stockholm conference, Collymore described his vision and concerns for Kenya and for Africa’s development as a whole.
NA: How do you see corporations helping with the issues of population, development and human rights?
BC: Firstly, the private sector needs to be brought into the conversation before decisions are made because the private sector has a massive role to play. The days of everyone trying to do things for themselves are gone, including in the private sector. As a mobile phone company, once upon a time we were able to do everything – we’d build our own base stations, etc. Now, in order to deliver some of our solutions, we have to work in partnership … with development partners, with NGOs, with governments, and we’re finding some interesting experiences. We’re getting some really good and useful solutions, but we’re also learning a lot.