Message from our outgoing CEO

As many of you know, this has been my second stint as CEO of Safaricom. The sad and sudden passing of my dear friend, Bob Collymore, required the Board to ask me to step back into the role. My return made sense from a business continuity perspective. As the founding CEO and the current Chairperson of the M-PESA Foundation, I am already familiar with the company and the senior management team. I have remained close to the business in many respects. In fact, Bob and I spent a good deal of time together during the previous two years, while he was being treated in hospital. We spoke at length about the special company we both felt privileged to lead. I had also advocated for Bob to succeed me in 2010. I felt that he genuinely understood the DNA of Safaricom and the importance of being a company with purpose.

Bob Collymore did more than understand our DNA. He enhanced it. He embedded within the company an even deeper appreciation for acting with purpose. He inspired us to recognise the importance of seeing the business through the lens of sustainability and as an interconnected part of the society within which it operates. He excelled at cultivating relationships and consensus. Not only did he strengthen the sustainability agenda within Safaricom, he propagated it and brought other companies and business leaders on board. My closeness to the company and Bob helped make a difficult transition easier.

Remaining committed to our purpose

Safaricom is a purpose-led company. We started this company 20 years ago with the explicit intention to transform people’s lives for the better. This was not merely altruistic sentiment. We believed that a company that genuinely improved the quality of people’s lives would be rewarded by those people with their custom and loyalty. This was our core belief. When we launched M-PESA, for instance, we knew that our target customers’ – Kenyans in the middle and bottom of the economic foundation – had to trust us and understand how the service would improve their lives. We were proved right and that conviction is as true and necessary now as it was in October 2000. Perhaps it is even more so, given how success can breed complacency.

Most people focus on our financial success, but it is the role we have played in the Kenyan society that has made us who we are. It is our DNA. It is not possible to overestimate the importance of the position of the company in Kenyan society. We continue to make a significant contribution to the fabric of Kenyan society. We continue to create opportunities for people to empower and uplift themselves and transform their lives. This remains our purpose.

“Most people focus on our financial success, but it is the role we have played in Kenyan society that has made us who we are. It is our DNA.”

Michael Joseph, Chief Executive Officer (outgoing), Safaricom PLC

Economically sustainable innovation

Our purpose informs our approach to sustainability. We have never confused sustainability with corporate social investment. For us, sustainability means finding and devising commercially feasible solutions to the social challenges our society faces. Our partnerships and investments are economically viable and that is what makes them genuinely empowering and sustainable. It is an extension of the way we do business. It also reflects an attitude we have nurtured within the company. Our people are encouraged to view our business through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to identify ways in which we can help society, and to participate in the solutions they devise directly. This is another reason why our purpose has infused the DNA of the company.

Several of our notable recent partnerships and investments illustrate our approach perfectly. DigiFarm capacitates smallholding farmers through access to micro-finance, discounted farm inputs and to information regarding best practices and markets. It is a virtuous circle as the success of the farmers drives the growth of the platform. Likewise, with M-Tiba, our micro-insurance healthcare product for low-income households.

The same sustainable, shared value approach underpins our new M-GAS partnership as well. Launched during the year, the M-GAS solution enables low-income households to purchase gas on a pre-paid basis, using micropayments through M-PESA to pay for what they need. We estimate that a family can cook three meals a day for less than KSh 70 and eliminate the respiratory infection and global warming risks associated with charcoal and kerosene pollution at the same time.

Mobilising in response to crises

Our sense of purpose also mobilises us to step towards a crisis when we see it. We read about the tragedy of a young girl who committed suicide because she lacked sanitary pads and was sent home from school for menstruating. We discovered the scale of the problem and how many young female scholars miss their final year national examinations for this reason. In response, we started the Keeping Girls in School initiative through the M-PESA Foundation and have distributed three months’ supply of sanitary towels and underwear and information on menstrual hygiene to around 800 000 girls.

We have taken the same approach with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to donating KSh 200 million of food to those in need, and thermal cameras worth KSh 10 million to the Ministry of Health, we have zero rated transaction fees on M-PESA transactions below KSh 1000, and charges for hospitals and dispensaries, and doubled the bandwidth available to our home fibre customers for free. We have set up a toll-free, 24/7 Coronavirus information and support hotline (719) through our call centre and allowed customers to use Bonga points to buy food and necessities as well.

Refocusing on customer trust

We launched our ‘For You’ campaign in October 2019 to rebuild customer trust and win back market share. An expression of our commitment to be simple, transparent and honest with our customers, the campaign included voice and data bundles with no expiry dates and simplified tariffs. The campaign has been a success, especially the data bundles, and we intend to build on this in the near future.

Resilience through transitions

It has been a year bookended by difficult transitions: the loss of Bob in July 2019 and the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Yet we have proved to be resilient because our foundations remain strong. Our resilience is a testament to our strong sense of purpose. Our strength is drawn from our commitment to fulfilling our responsibilities as part of the fabric of life in Kenya. Safaricom is a special company and, having spent time with Peter Ndegwa, I am confident that he appreciates this and also understands our DNA. On behalf of the team, I would like to welcome Peter to the team and offer him our ongoing support.

Michael Joseph, Chief Executive Officer (outgoing), Safaricom PLC