In this high-level interview series, we speak to a handful of corporate leaders to probe how they plan and execute CSR programs and how they are utilizing their core business skills and resources to impact individuals and communities.
1. How do you think your CSR policies reflect the principles and values of your brand?
The NRS International group slogan is ‘combining strengths, improving lives’, which sums up very well our approach to CSR. Our company exists to serve our employees and a number of the world’s most vulnerable populations. At the same time, we operate in the private sector and so fulfilling this mandate is of course linked to our financial health and sustainability, which in turn derive from our competitiveness.
In recognition of this, our owners place equal emphasis on all three pillars of CSR – the social, economic and environmental – otherwise known as the Triple Bottom Line. We use the Global Reporting Initiative indicators as our in-house accounting tool, in order to ensure that our CSR is data-driven rather than mere façade. This enables us to identify what we do well, but – more importantly – where we need to improve. We therefore avoid falling into the trap of ‘CSR as PR’.
Above all else, we are a family-owned company and this means that for us progress starts at home – at our headquarters in Dubai and our factory site in Lahore, where we employ some 7000 people.
2. Do you see a real future for private sector involvement in international development beyond CSR and, if so, what does that future look like in the SDG era?
Private sector innovation – in collaboration with international, national and not-for-profit actors – is key to international development. Whether we consider malaria vaccinations, microfinance initiatives or new agricultural techniques, the private sector is absolutely crucial to international development. This is quite different to CSR, which is about making those activities financially, environmentally and socially sustainable.
So yes, the private sector will be at the very heart of international development. As for what this will look like in the SDG era, here at NRS International we have been working on innovations to help tackle malaria while circumventing insecticide resistance among mosquitoes. So watch this space closely over the coming months and years. Elsewhere, we can expect innovations in agriculture in order to enable food supplies to keep up with burgeoning demand – ever important given that the world population is slated to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 according to the United Nations. NRS International’s sister companies, Minha Farms and Minha Oils, will also play a part here.
More generally, we can expect international development suppliers to become greener, more efficient and more equitable in the SDG era. This means moving away from non-renewable energy sources, embracing lean manufacturing and empowering women in the workplace. Here at NRS International we are trying to do all of these things, while using GRI indicators to measure our progress.
3. How has thinking about impact changed your approach to business?
Impact is the number one driver of innovation at NRS International. We only bring products to market where we see a very large potential for improving lives. This is our company ethos and it’s also the only one that makes business sense. Take malaria for example: according to the latest World Malaria Report, there were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, up from 211 million cases in 2015. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 445 000 in 2016 – almost identical to the previous year (446,000). The potential for impact is therefore astronomical – especially in the face of the insecticide resistance challenge – and this drives us to constantly look for new innovations. If you stand still in our sector, people lose their lives or livelihoods. We refuse to let this happen.
4. What are some obstacles the private sector faces when trying to become a leader in development and how do you see your company breaking down these barriers?
To refer back to the SDGs, transitioning to clean energy is a challenge for manufacturers, especially those based in developing countries. This cannot take place overnight. However, we are embracing the challenge and are currently studying how to bring biogas into our energy mix. We know that our operations can only be sustainable in the long-term if we aspire to transition away from fossil fuels. The same can be said for the sustainability of our planet!
Clean energy aside, innovation best thrives where regulatory and policy setting environments facilitate creativity and new markets. Clearly policymakers have a duty to ensure that new products are in the public interest and adhere to the highest of standards. However, a rigid bureaucracy can be counterproductive when it is not capable of assessing solutions that are novel by nature. This is a challenge that will need to be carefully navigated if the SDGs are to be realised.
About the interviewee:
TANA Netting Director Rune Bosselmann was born and raised in Denmark, and has since broadened his horizons by working in diverse locations such as Germany, Holland, France, Burkina Faso, and most recently in the United Arab Emirates.
His academic background is firmly centered on business with a key focus on innovation and IPR strategy. After having completed an MSc in International Marketing and Management at the Copenhagen Business School, Bosselmann co-founded Plusdent, Dental Media and Vegro – technical startups which continue to develop medical and dental equipment to this day. He also authored related academic articles and successfully filed a number of patents.
He is currently the Director of TANA Netting, a subsidiary of NRS International that manufactures and supplies DawaPlus® long-lasting insecticidal nets. Transforming this product from once near-obscurity to the market-leader that it is today, is one of the highlights of his career. The company has grown to market leadership in four years, with a production of 60+ million pieces per year and a workforce of 3200 employees.
Building on the success of the widely used DawaPlus® 2.0 LLINs, subsequent innovation has resulted in the new generation of DawaPlus® 3.0 and 4.0 nets, which ensured the growth of the product line by 300%. Designed specifically for regions in which mosquitoes have developed resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, the synergist nets target the resistance mechanism, allowing the insecticide to be fully effective.
Bosselmann: “The impressive achievements that we have witnessed on this journey are directly attributable to the colleagues I am honored to work alongside at our manufacturing company in Lahore – H. Sheikh Noor-ud-Din & Sons (HSNDS). Of these achievements I would like to highlight; starting from nothing, we have built up our production operation to one that now employs three thousand staff and manufactures 62 million nets per year. We have implemented a rigorous performance and quality management system and a second-to-none laboratory facility that together ensure high speed and continuous production at all times. Outside our factory walls, we have built a robust supply chain that operates on an efficient just-in-time basis and bring more than 150 40’ containers through our factory doors each day from all over the world.”