The Real Meaning of Responsible Leadership

© Rachel Samren @ #MWC17, Accelerating universal financial access for benefits beyond financial inclusion 

Millicom's lead specialists regularly report on important new developments within their areas of expertise. Here, EVP Chief External Affairs Officer Rachel Samrén looks at how recent world stage events have served to advocate for greater Responsible Leadership.

Miami, March 2017: The Real Meaning of Responsible Leadership

In January I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos and last week I returned from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In Davos I was intrigued by all the renowned leaders from public and private sectors, not to mention the celebrities, who made space in their busy agendas to discuss how to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In Barcelona, the world’s leading technology CEOs and entrepreneurs took over the baton and advocated for the same.

Something that captured my attention throughout both conferences was the emphasis on Responsive and Responsible Leadership, which in fact in Davos culminated in a signed commitment of 100 leading businesses to develop a framework for Sustainable Long-Term Growth and Opportunity.

In a nutshell, this commitment will serve for companies and investors to better align their financial short-term goals with the long-term goals of economic prosperity and welfare of societies. This also provides a great opportunity to recalibrate collaboration between public and private sectors.

I’ll come back to this last point but first, what struck me the most about repeatedly hearing talk of Responsive and Responsible Leadership is that I’m part of a company that really walks the talk!

Millicom’s Social Investment and Corporate Responsibility Program directly addresses the wider impacts our business operations have. We focus on applying our technology expertise to address the development gaps of the societies where we operate. We’re growing responsibly and with purpose. Let me share three main examples that best describe what I mean.

© TIGO Child Online Protection workshops

Connecting and Protecting our Future Customers

Our markets are among those with the youngest population globally. With the rapid penetration of internet, we have found that children and their parents in emerging markets can be unprepared to understand the benefits and risks to young generations that come with the adoption of the internet.

Our partnership with UNICEF on child online protection (COP) is fundamental to empower children to navigate the digital world more safely and reap its many benefits for their education and making their voices heard on issues affecting them.

As a provider of internet access, Millicom can play a key role in igniting dialogue and supporting awareness among teachers, parents and children of safety and responsible behaviour online. Last year, through our Tigo operations, our COP training sessions reached 122,000 children, 14,800 teachers and 13,000 parents.

We have also held dedicated workshops in seven countries in LatAm and Africa with key decision makers and influencers – government and civil society representatives – to promote consistent legal frameworks to protect children online – in particular to be able to jointly fight cyber-bullying and child sexual abuse content and its distribution online.

This is what it means to Millicom to act responsibly as a leading telecom company: protecting those who may become vulnerable by virtue of our services, and contribute our part to solve bigger societal issues where we can.

© UNSDGs

Empowering Women for Advancement

You have heard me talk about the importance of improving our gender balance, about being a more inclusive company. These are business imperatives, not “nice to have’s”.

Worldwide, the GSMA estimates that 200 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone in low and middle income countries – a $170bm market opportunity. Many of the unconnected women are in our markets, so we’ve seen this challenge as an opportunity, not only for our growth, but to empower women through mobile connectivity. 

GSMA’s Connected Women Initiative seeks to understand the barriers that stop women from adopting mobile services and reducing the gender gap in the use of mobile internet and mobile money services. In February 2016 Tigo Rwanda was the first African operator to sign a Connected Women commitment and by July 2016 Millicom became the first operator to commit all its Africa operations to the initiative. More recently we have taken the initiative to Latin America by our own volition: Tigo Paraguay and Tigo El Salvador have already signed a commitment to reduce the gender gap in their mobile data customer base and soon more markets will follow.

Through these initiatives our operations are implementing innovative ways to address barriers and encourage more women to come online and become our customers. We are investing in women in our sales force to encourage women customers to try technology, organizing training for women specifically and introducing subsidy schemes for women.

But the concept of empowering women of course has to startat home. Study after study shows that organizations where women can thrive and make top positions are healthier and better performing companies – in terms of financial and employee performance. Diversity and Inclusion are particularly important for us as we are transforming away from traditional telecom, as D&I leads to new ways of working, keeps challenging our thought models and leads to innovation that can set us apart from our competitors. 

Since we began to pay attention to our internal gender balance in 2013, the number of women in senior positions has risen from 7% total to 26% in Africa, and from 24% to 31% in LatAm. 

Being inclusive means we recognize and respect the realities that make us all different. As an example, to offer concrete support to employees returning to work after maternity leave, we have promoted a shortened working week for breastfeeding mothers and established dedicated nursing rooms in most of our LatAm operations.

There is much more to do in this respect, and we have learned that thinking globally but acting locally, can go a long way in supporting women customers and employees.

© TIGO joins GSMA Women Connected Women Commitment Initiative

Partnering for Social Progress

I promised I would come back to this topic: there’s a great opportunity to recalibrate the collaboration between public and private sectors for the benefit of all.

For the telecommunications industry there’s no other way around it! Companies need to partner with local governments, with regulators and with NGOs in an attempt to democratize access to the internet, a major milestone for social progress.

Millicom, together with other technology companies of the region, joined a pledge last year, driven by the Organization of American States, “ICT Alliance for the Americas” to connect all schools in the region by joint action by 2030, providing not only connectivity, but educational programs to children and teachers on how to use the technology, and how to use it safely. By the end of 2016, we have already connected over 1,000 schools and public institutions.

Another area where we have several partnerships is around our mobile money services that have helped millions of unbanked people gain financial independence to transfer, save and pay electronically – to obtain a credit history to access loans and new opportunities.

One last excellent example of everyone contributing with their expertise is the MBirth program we helped launch in Tanzania: We partnered with UNICEF and the Tanzanian government to create a Mobile Birth Registration system, which works either with SMS or as an app, and allows the registration information on new-borns to be sent in real time to the central government database and issue an official certificate on the spot.

More than 800,000 children under five have received a birth certificate since our project began! So, we have played an important part in giving nearly a million children a permanent record of existence, protecting them from early marriage, helping to ensure preventative health care and access to education. Talk about concrete social impact! 

I could continue talking about all the great opportunities for Responsive and Responsible Leadership, but what’s important, is that at Millicom, we recognize that the success of our business goes hand-in-hand with the long-term sustainable growth of our communities… and every time we look at how we can build a better digital future for people, this Responsible way of thinking is what guides our decision-making.