An eminent businessman from Kenya has challenged Filipino businessmen to create a corruption-free industry environment, saying it is doable—and urgent. He offered his own efforts in East Africa as a template and promised to support any company “anywhere in the world” that will rise to the challenge.
Nizar Juma, chair of over 70 boards in the sprawling Aga Khan Development Network including the giant Jubilee Holdings Ltd. and its subsidiaries, is not fazed by skepticism, the usual response to that challenge, given his own country’s situation. “Yes, there is extreme corruption in Kenya. I get that a lot,” he told the Inquirer recently.
Two years ago, aligning with the United Nations Global Compact—a voluntary initiative that brings together businesses, UN agencies, labor groups and civil societies within an anticorruption framework—he created his “Blue Company Project” (BCP).
Juma introduced it earlier this month in Manila during the 67th “Future of Power” (FOP), which was attended by local thought leaders from the government and private sector.
This is how BCP works: Corporations sworn to ethical standards and best sustainable practices in daily operations apply for a “Blue Company” stamp. Once certified, they encourage their suppliers and service providers to “go Blue” as well.
“This builds business relationships based on shared values, respect and trust,” Juma said. “BCP’s successes in Kenya have, for example, discouraged solicitation of bribes from and among member companies, ultimately reducing the cost of doing business. The result is a level playing field that rewards merit.”
Juma said 450 companies were now on board. First to sign up were a media house, a group of manufacturers and an association of hotels.
“These early responders were already disposed toward eliminating corruption within their ranks,” he said. “Seeing that BCP had UN backing made it easier for them to join. Soon enough, they also realized that BCP was not out to take anything from them, least of all their money.”
The latest to get the stamp, and biggest on the roster at the moment, is Kenya Commercial Bank, which owns the largest banking network within the country and has some 1,000 branches across East Africa.
Juma computed 450 to be “about 16 to 18 percent” of the total number of local businesses. “That is good enough for me and for this otherwise untested idea,” he said.
“If there are 3,000 companies out there, my goal is to get a little over 50 percent. Right now, 100 percent would be difficult to oversee. It is essential to this movement that we maintain a certain caliber (of) and authenticity in the membership.” To this end, BCP certification is reevaluated annually. None have been dropped from the current roster, Juma said. ‘Soft’ power
BCP expects to cross the 1,000-member mark in the next three months. It is an exciting prospect, even for this 75-year-old industrialist who has seen it all.
He explained: “BCP is a fruit of ‘Future of Power,’ a series of dialogues that encourages participants to raise the bar of responsibility in their professions and individual environments. During one of these dialogues in India, I met the CEO of Tata Group (one of India’s largest conglomerates, with a reported net worth of US$1billion), who said that when 1,000 companies in Kenya had gone Blue, he would start BCP in India.” Another CEO friend from South America and a third from Australia promised as much.
Juma hosts every FOP dialogue as founder and chief advisor, with the India-based Brahma Kumaris Foundation as partner. Outside of India, the program has traveled to Nepal, Australia and the United States since its launch in 2009.
The Manila gathering was the first in Asia. It is in the context of FOP’s “soft (values-based) power” campaign that BCP is presented in every dialogue.
Juma is certain that BCP could work in the Philippines. “It doesn’t matter what business takes the lead,” he said. “Corruption is everywhere but the same principles are put to work to alter the landscape. People are naturally afraid of change. Many fear that if they don’t bribe their way up, as they have always done, their enterprises will die. BCP is proving this wrong. The top 25 corporations in Kenya are certified Blue. I will help anyone who wishes to start it in his or her country.” He has set a return trip to Manila in December to sit down with an interested party.
It has helped, Juma said, that Blue Companies have turned their attention from the receivers to the givers. “The one who offers the bribe is the one who should be stopped.”
It has also helped, he said, that the Kenyan government is now in anticorruption mode. “The private sector leads the charge, confident of government backup.”
Getting something like BCP off the ground takes little more than vision and resolve, he stressed, “plus a handful of firm believers.” Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a torchbearer like himself.
Juma studied law, economics and accountancy at the University of Wales-Cardiff. The first “job” he remembers is manufacturing sports equipment (in his early 20s) under his own label. Today he is best known as manufacturer of Adidas sports equipment in 49 African countries.
He was awarded the Silver Star of Kenya in 1982 for “outstanding service to the nation.” In 2014, he received the Bharat Gaurav—Lifetime Achievement Award at the House of Commons in London from the British minister for energy and environment.
He regularly interacts, socially and officially, with heads of state and CEOs like himself. “It’s an advantage,” he admitted. “I have known many of them for years. They know that when I start something, I see it through. But in BCP’s case, if I were taken out of the equation, it’s the idea whose time has come, as they say, that would bring about desired results.”
One of these big-name influencers and long-time friends is the Aga Khan IV, Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini—famous philanthropist, spiritual leader of 15 million Ismailis (within Shia Islam), and ranked among the 10 richest royals by Forbes. The Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world’s largest private charities, operates mostly in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa. There is an Aga Khan Museum of Islamic arts in Marawi City.
They met as teens in Nairobi, where they both grew up. Until now, they call each other by their first names, Juma said. “But I say ‘Your Highness’ when there are other people.” They meet periodically in the Aga Khan’s chateau in Aiglemont, 40 km north of Paris and, sporadically, anywhere in Europe that they both happen to be. Or in Kenya.
“I am not his employee,” Juma clarified. “I work for nothing. Why? First, few among the world’s richest can equal his work. Big parts of his for-profit businesses income are also poured into his charities. We are not even business partners; he just asked me to chair his companies so I can keep an eye on them. And second, I don’t need any more money. Neither does he.”
Keeping an eye on 70 companies is not a small thing by any measure. Juma reads this as trust. “He gives me full authority. In turn, he supports my advocacies—small ones compared to his—including FOP and BCP.”
He shared the Aga Khan’s “golden rules” of business: “Avoid corruption. Pay all your taxes.”
Working for values
Juma has three children, all in the financial sector —one in London, another in San Francisco, a third one in Sydney. “They don’t need whatever I have,” he said, half-jokingly. He has six grandchildren whom he enjoys spending time with, plus a seventh on the way.
He need not do FOP or BCP. However, once he stopped working for net worth, Juma said he started working in earnest for “real value, from moral values.”
Thirty years ago, he met Brahma Kumaris administrative head Dadi Janki and started a meditation practice. He kept a lid on it at first, unsure of how colleagues would react. His cover was blown, he narrated, laughing, when a national daily published a feature on how famous people relaxed.
He has no other agenda at this point, he said. “Sometimes, when we get so high up in society, we forget the basics. We need to keep fine-tuning and help others do the same according to our capacity, not theirs. FOP and BCP are net givers because, personally, that’s where I’m at.”