February 6, 2013

Didier Drogba joins the anti-malaria campaign as Africa mounts big drive

As the success of Malaria Safe shows, local private sector partnerships could be the missing link in development outreach

The final of the African Cup of Nations football tournament only days away, so the entire continent is watching. As unexpected as the elimination of Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea star, and his Ivorian teammates, so too is the sight of him tucking in an insecticide-treated mosquito net, and telling TV viewers “If you watch me, follow me.” This is part of the biggest, boldest TV campaign yet run by United Against Malaria, an alliance originally formed for the 2010 South Africa World Cup to utilise football’s popularity for malaria prevention.

“We have television public service announcements with Drogba, [Samuel] Eto’o and [Chris] Katongo before each game and at half time … different players depending on which country is being aired”, says David Kyne, campaign manager for United Against Malaria. “Most of that has been free airtime from media outlets, or subsidised airtime from corporate partners … engagement with the African private sector is what makes our campaign very valuable. We’re tapping into an audience that hasn’t typically been very engaged [before].”

The alliance started with three South African corporates – MTN Group,Nando’s and Standard Chartered Bank South Africa – but its partnerships have grown country-by-country to more than 100 African-owned corporations of various sizes. Kyne admits that football has been a useful “carrot”, but argues that “there’s a number of companies in-country where the link to football is not a big part of it at all. Malaria Safe is what engages companies.”

Malaria Safe is the alliance’s bespoke employee education programme. By working with private businesses, the campaign aims to reach more people than by working with communities alone. To do so successfully, Kyne says: “We approach companies from their perspective. Sometimes the traditional NGO approach is to say: ‘Here are all the things we think you should do in your company.’ Well, if that company doesn’t see it as a priority, or doesn’t have funding, then you need to come in with something else.”

Said Salim Bakhresa & Co, a Tanzanian flour mill employing 6,000 workers in Dar es Salaam, signed up because “Malaria was effecting almost 34-38% of our workers”, says Said Muhammad Said Abeid, general manager at SSB. Following the introduction of Malaria Safe, which provides two treated nets per worker and education workshops, sickness absence rates have fallen by 80%. “We have much better productivity”, says Abeid. When asked if other NGOs have approached him before or since he says no, but adds, “Our doors are open.”

The malaria campaign doesn’t ask in-country businesses for funds, preferring strategic partnerships and employee awareness programmes (most of its funds come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). But some NGOs are starting to find success with fundraising partnerships in-country too. Tim Hunter, deputy director of fundraising atUnicef explains: “We are seeing this in countries all over the world, sometimes from a direct funding relationship, and sometimes more for programme delivery. To give an example, a real estate company in Thailand called Sansiri PLC engaged with Unicef around the issues of iodine deficiency – very much a Thai solution to a Thai problem, no multinationals involved.”

Working in Mozambique, Naysan Sahba, head of advocacy, partnerships, and participation for Unicef Mozambique, says that local corporations “may not have the resources to invest, but we look at other partnership opportunities on the ground, raising the issues of child-focused CSR [corporate social reponsibility]”. He adds: “For example, we were able to establish a public-private partnership with a cotton company in the north of the country … to engage communities in dialogue, share information and where possible team up with local service providers to provide HIV and Aids counselling.”

Corporate social responsibility may be nascent in countries such as Mozambique, but it is there. Hunter also informs of a partnership formed in Mali with industry bodies called the “private sector platform for children”: “If that can start to take place in Mali, a country that is in the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment, it can start to take place in many countries”.

David Kyne has rarely had to push on closed doors when approaching African business leaders. Abeid at SSB was aware of the malaria problem in his workforce and already attempting a solution internally before UAM offered its help. Another partner, Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Uganda, had worked in a partnership called Netsforlife with Coca-Cola and the Church of Uganda since 2006. Both were ready and willing to take the next step of employee education programmes. “We thought that if we brought other organisations on board we could actually have a much wider reach, and that is exactly what has happened”, says Herbert Zake, head of corporate affairs, SCB Uganda. This in turn led the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda to set up a dedicated benevolent health fund in May last year.

Such private sector bodies and industry groups are valuable, says Sahba: “In Mozambique, we have a very visible presence at every major business trade fair … with a stall, workshop sessions at associated conferences, to promote CSR. That attracts a whole range of interest from businesses.”

David Kyne believes the local private sector has been the missing link in development outreach. “It’s also going to be crucial to where funding for issues like malaria is going to come from in the future. There isn’t going to be donor country funding forever. Getting into that more granular, grass roots, local company level – I don’t think there’s been too much of that, and there needs to be more of it.”

Click over to the Guardian to see the original article.