Research in Progress: Examining CSR efforts of mobile telecommunications companies in Ghana

June 13, 2017

Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed, Anli Xiao and Erica Hilton

By Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed, Anli Xiao and Erica Hilton, PhD students at Penn State

In Ghana and many other African countries, popular notions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have focused on donations while ignoring issues of sustainability that should characterize CSR projects. Most CSR projects are short-term and only scratch the surface of social issues instead of contributing to positive systemic change. This approach to CSR does little to contribute to the development of the communities that corporations purport to support. It is against this background that we take on the project of examining the CSR work of mobile telecommunications companies in Ghana.

Mobile telecommunications companies have gradually become not only major income generators but also formal business organizations with one of the highest penetration rates in the country; from providing mobile phone products and services to Ghanaians in urban and rural communities to the much talked about ever-growing mobile banking industry that ICT4D researchers have taken on.

Aside from putting their CSR values on their websites, telecommunications companies rarely articulate what CSR means to their companies, how CSR is practiced and implemented in the organization, and what the impacts of their CSR efforts are. Therefore, it is imperative to understand how CSR is understood and implemented by multinational companies in a developing country like Ghana.

In our study, we aim to examine the contributions of the corporate sector to educational, economic and social development in the Northern Region, one of the most underdeveloped regions of the country. By critically examining CSR in the telecommunications sector in Ghana, the authors seek to understand how the definition, implementation and motivations for CSR practice are connected to the socio-economic development of the country.

Investigating CSR in Ghana can shed light on how corporations in postcolonial African countries may exert positive impacts on marginalized areas where people are in most desperate need of help. More importantly, this study may explicate how CSR, a concept that usually focuses on corporations only, is also intertwined with political institutions. This study presents theoretical implications in that it focuses on the definitions and meanings of CSR in a distinctive area. Our project also contributes to industry by critically examining and evaluating how CSR is practiced by ultimately proffering recommendations to improve CSR efforts in Ghana.

In-depth interviews will be conducted in five of the oldest currently operating mobile telecommunications companies in the Northern Region. The Northern Region is selected as the focus of this study because the regional capital, Tamale, has always been touted as the fastest growing city in West Africa drawing businesses from sectors in education, transportation, telecommunications, banking and hospitality. According to the 2010 national population census, of the 10 regions in Ghana, the Northern Region had the 4th largest economically active population (Ghana Statistical Service, 2012). Therefore, this area could be considered as one of the major recipients of telecommunications companies’ CSR efforts.

With the support of the Arthur W. Page Center, our project will contribute to ethical research not just in academia but also in industry. The findings and recommendations from this study will be useful for the work of telecommunications companies in the communities that they serve. By presenting the findings and recommendations from the study to telecommunications companies, we hope to demystify academic research and bridge the gap between industry and academia.
It is our anticipation that if the companies implement these recommendations they will contribute to improving the lives of marginalized communities not only through business but more importantly through their corporate social responsibility projects and practices.