The Power of Business as a Force for Good

Rosalind Kainyah MBE on What It Really Takes to Build a Sustainable World

10 min readJul 8, 2021

For Rosalind Kainyah, the founder and managing director of Kina Advisory, sustainability means “doing the right thing”, which cannot be achieved without embracing the ‘inconvenient truth’ of our diverse world. Named by Forbes Afrique Magazine as one of the 100 most influential women on the African continent in 2016, she is a renowned advisor to global companies on responsible investment and partnerships in Africa, believing in the power of business as a vehicle for social change.

As a leading voice in The Room, Rosalind sheds light on how we can shape a sustainable (and profitable) future, why she dislikes the phrase ‘advancement of women’ and the impactful role of her greatest mentor, who has been a Pathfinder to her all her life.

You began your career as an environmental lawyer. What inspired that career choice and what caused you to broaden your scope of concern to corporate and socio-economic issues?

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to help those I felt were being treated unfairly. My favourite TV programme as a child in the mid to late 1960s in Ghana was Perry Mason, the series about a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who always saved the wrongly accused. I decided then, at the age of 8 or 9, that I wanted to become a lawyer and make sure wrongs were righted. I did become a lawyer and that desire to see wrongs righted was channeled into the environmental sector. However, I found that I wasn’t strictly focused on protecting the environment as an end in itself — as important as that is — but on righting the wrongs of the impacts on people. It was the concept of sustainability that motivated me, and I have expressed that principle in different ways as my career has progressed.

You state your mission as contributing to sustainable socio-economic development. How do you define sustainability and what about it have most people failed to understand?

I think the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development Brundtland Report definition of sustainability is as good a definition now as it was then — “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I recently delivered a Masterclass on sustainability to a group of SMEs in Ghana, and hearing that definition was a light bulb moment for them. They were companies from different sectors who were already, in various ways, thinking about the future as they work to be successful in the present. I think sometimes terms like ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ or in its shortened form, ‘ESG’, are made to sound so specialist. If you are an SME and you read through the International Finance Corporation’s Environmental & Social Performance Standards or hear about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Agreement Climate Change targets, you can justifiably feel a little overwhelmed and wonder, “What can I possibly do to contribute to achieving any of these?” But when you break it down to the 3 pillars of sustainability and ask the following questions, the way forward is so much clearer:

  • How well do I take care of my surroundings and the natural environment — for example, not overusing resources such as water; properly managing my waste so it doesn’t result in pollution; using energy efficiently; not causing soil erosion by over farming?
  • How well do I take care of the people impacted by my business — my employees, my customers, my suppliers, local communities and others in society as a whole?
  • How do I make sure that my leadership structure and decision-making processes ensure integrity, transparency and accountability throughout my business?

These are the issues the E, S and G are concerned with, respectively.

One may ask, “What about my shareholders, investors, banks and others who have lent money to the business and are expecting a return?” I believe that if a business owner or leader can answer each of these three questions positively, they will give their investors an optimal return on their investment, and I use the word ‘optimal’ intentionally. Businesses are not charities. By their very nature they are set up to provide goods or services and make a profit in doing so. You can make maximum profit by doing anything to reduce cost and increase revenue. But you can also make optimal profit by doing the right thing to reduce cost and increase revenue.

For me, sustainability means doing the right thing always — in relation to your natural surroundings, to the people you impact and the way you live your life personally and in business.

As I mentioned earlier, I never set off to ‘protect the environment’, I set off to protect people and help them achieve their full potential, and that inevitably does involve protecting the environment. At the same time, I believe in the transformative power of business for good. So in setting up Kina Advisory, the idea was to support businesses that want to use this transformative power to shape a sustainable present and future AND be successful.

For a decade now, the ‘Africa rising’ narrative has been under debate. What are your views on the state of the continent and the influence of the pandemic on Africa’s hopeful ascent?

I hate to generalise, and I cannot claim to know the state of each country on the continent. I do read a lot about many African countries, but I also know that what one reads is not a complete reflection of what is lived in each country. So while it is tempting for me to pontificate on the future, let’s keep our focus on making sure enough vaccines are made available to the people of each of the 54 countries of Africa. The last time I checked, less than 2 percent of the more than 3 billion doses administered worldwide have been in Africa. Once we have more clarity on our path to vaccination, then we can have an idea of when post-pandemic Africa will even begin. Think about it: the global pandemic isn’t over till Somalia, South Sudan, and all the fragile and conflict-affected states have vaccinated enough of their populations to achieve herd humanity. That’s what we need to sort out before we can begin to make any realistic predictions about the physical, health, social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on each of the countries on the continent.

But one fact that I always have in mind is that as a continent, we have all it takes to be wholly self-sufficient, with more to spare, and be a force for good on the global stage. Unfortunately, the reality for most on the ground does not reflect this. I hate that the image is of us as victims, always needing assistance because we can’t help ourselves. It hurts because I see our amazing natural environment and our amazing people and ask, “Why”? Why do we have it all and yet seem to have nothing? I hear it is about leadership; maybe, but I also wonder whether it is about me. What am I doing to change not just the narrative but the reality?

I think it is a pity that we need to ‘justify’ diversity by making a business case for it… Hopefully, the day will come when it is no longer a discussion but a fact as natural as it should be.

As an advocate for women empowerment, why do you think the business case for gender equality is yet to be fully appreciated? What will it take to shift mindsets about the advancement of women?

I think the business case for gender equality is fully appreciated, but the issue is that it is often an ‘inconvenient truth’. I wrote a piece in Actis’ Macro Forum Street View, which, along with others in the publication, clearly sets out the many aspects of the business case for diversity. The benefits of investing in women throughout all levels of business are wide-reaching: reduced costs associated with high turnover; improved productivity; new and improved access to markets; improved community relations; improved brand value; and access to capital.

I think it is a pity that we need to ‘justify’ diversity by making a business case for it. Diversity to me simply represents a description of our world — one of many facets where each one is needed to make a whole. We should not have to explain why half of the world needs a place at the table and to be represented wherever decisions are being made. Hopefully, the day will come when it is no longer a discussion but a fact as natural as it should be. In the meanwhile, we will use whatever legitimate means we need to get a place at the table — and if it means stating the obvious, so we shall.

About the “advancement of women”, I’m not sure I like that phrase. When have we not advanced? Disadvantaged and constrained, yes, but women have always advanced in spite of all the relative odds against us. So, I would say what we need is simply an acceptance and an embracing of the sometimes inconvenient truth.

You were awarded an MBE as an acknowledgement of the work you’ve done for the benefit of young people in Africa. Could you share some of the ways in which you have contributed to youth development and why it means so much to you?

Education has always been my passion. Opening up a young person’s mind, soul and spirit to opportunities beyond anything they can imagine or aspire to on their own is the most precious gift one can give. Whilst I was Vice President for External Affairs & CSR at Tullow Oil, I spearheaded a multimillion-dollar scholarship scheme for young people in countries that Tullow had operations, arranged scholarships for students at the African Leadership Academy and financial support to establish the Africa Science Academy. When I left Tullow and still had a bit of a voice, I encouraged the company to support scholarships at Ashesi University.

Of all these projects, my star passion is the African Science Academy (ASA) — a sixth form science academy for girls based in Accra. I have been involved in one way or another with the Academy from the beginning and am now a very proud trustee and fundraiser for the school. ASA is the brainchild of technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tom Ilube CBE, and was founded with the aim of developing gifted young women from low-income backgrounds into the scientists and engineers who will go on to transform the continent. The students are some of the most impressive young women I have come across and I believe they will go on to become Africa’s future STEM leaders.

Being a mentor is one of the most fulfilling roles I have, and I get so excited when I see my mentees thrive and become Pathfinders to others.

In The Room, we strongly believe in the role of Pathfinders to mentor, guide and open doors of opportunity for the leaders of tomorrow. Is there someone who has played the role of a Pathfinder for you?

My mother has been my Pathfinder all my life. She turned 92 this month and is my absolute heroine and role model. I must go off piste and tell you a bit about this amazing woman. She went back to school and took an A level in the History of Art when she was 65 years. She got a B, discovered her love of art and has continued to paint ever since. She is a member of the University of the Third Age, and until Covid stopped them in their tracks, was taking all sorts of courses — French, Music, Art and English Literature. She is an active member of The Friends of Guildford, travelling to visit historical sites and galleries. I could go on… because she does. In her spare time, she gets on the phone with almost everyone she knows — old and young (and she has a large cohort of young friends) — to make sure they are well or to dispense her wisdom to solve problems. She bakes cakes and paints beautiful pieces of art to demonstrate her love. She is an act to follow, and I try as hard as possible to keep up!

Personally, I love mentoring young African women. I started mentoring when I was 40. It is one of my most fulfilling roles, and I get so excited when I see my mentees thrive and become Pathfinders to others. At the moment, I am mentoring a young woman, Chi, who is studying for an MBA at University of Oxford’s Said Business School. She describes herself as a ‘farm-acist’ (pharmacist & farmer), and is running a social enterprise that utilises the production, processing and packaging of apicultural products (fancy word for products derived from bees) to combat food insecurity and empower women and youth through job opportunities. It has been a privilege mentoring her over the last 8 months. Her business is currently in Nigeria, and she hopes to expand across West Africa — so I put her in touch with a contact at one of the large agro enterprises in Ghana, and I’m pleased to say that they are beginning to work together. I just love her and what she is doing! She inspires me. And she isn’t just a taker; she is constantly asking how she can support me.

Finally, if you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change today?

The leaders of some countries…




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