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Honesty and Openness: CSI Energy Group’s Sustainability Values in Africa

Honesty and Openness: CSI Energy Group’s Sustainability Values in Africa

We spoke to CSI Energy Group about their recent rebranding and culture change, and how the company’s commitment to honesty and openness is driving its sustainable growth across Africa

In Africa, honesty and openness can be a particular challenge since most cultures instinctually prefer to think about now rather than tomorrow. As such, honesty and openness form the foundation of CSI Energy Group’s strategy for sustainability. As CEO Chris Glasson often states, “sustainability is not a technical choice but a moral one” – changing the culture of how we work and plan for the future is the only way forward in realising CSI’s mission to improve the lives it touches across Africa.

Growing African energy infrastructure developer CSI Energy Group (CEG) recognises that the industry is changing and the needs of its clients mean an increasing focus on people – empowering staff to perform in distributed, often isolated locations to a predetermined set of rules. Building a culture that encourages and fosters honest communication both internally and externally allows CSI Energy Group to understand the real situation on the ground for any project, from anywhere in the world.

Throughout the past few years, the company’s key effort has been to develop business values that reflect this more open culture to ensure staff can be accountable through honest, effective and open communication at every business level. This relies heavily on empowering local workforces in a continent where communicating in this way, which may involve challenging your seniors, goes against the cultural grain.

“Competencies like analytical thinking, planning and excellence in execution are hard to find here. We’re addressing this through our hiring philosophy, continuous training and development and our internship programme” - Tunu Kinabo, Director of Business Services, CSI Energy Group

An established business

It’s been a character defining journey for CEG, which originated as a steel company back in 1978 and has recently rebranded, bringing CSI Electrical Ltd and CSI Engineering in Tanzania under one roof. The company has undergone a significant culture change, working to promote diversity, inclusion and motivation, while retaining the key message at its core: providing sustainable solutions that support development and growth in Africa.

As a whole, CEG aims to improve lives though enhanced infrastructure and increased access to energy, and indeed over the past 25 years has enhanced the lives of over 50mn people. From remote rural locations to suburban streets, from the hearts of cities to the most challenging and isolated terrains, CEG shows a strong commitment to creating a better life for the communities it works in and the clients it serves.

From its group headquarters in Mauritius, CEG provides best-in-class energy infrastructure services in Sub-Saharan Africa, from transmission and distribution to power generation, EPC and mechanical engineering. With clients like

Mitsubishi, Siemens, ABB and GE, CEG is an expert in providing and using extensive local knowledge to develop key solutions for working in Africa. This comes from, and is enhanced by, the company’s experience of multiple African locations, including Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Zambia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia – with this selection set to increase as the company expands from East to West Africa.

Understanding Africa

A key unique selling point (USP) for CEG is its adaptability: the company excels in understanding the needs of its clients and realising their intentions no matter what environment a project takes place in. As Director of Business Development Peter Gathercole explains: “We’re an African company. We’ve built our reputation doing African projects in Africa. We take a very collaborative approach: you can’t come in and force your way, because very shortly you’ll be forced out.”

Director of Business Services Tunu Kinabo adds: “It’s 100% attitude. You need to be flexible and adaptable. You need to drive the standards and quality you want with the capabilities available here. It is possible.”

Many African states have ‘local content’ policies which give CEG a competitive advantage. “In the past, governments in Africa had little accountability on how they spent development funds. Giving work to international firms that brought in foreign workers in droves and procured even the simplest services and products overseas made these projects very expensive for Africa,” says Kinabo. “This has changed significantly with local content policies. Large international companies that bid for projects in Africa now need effective local partnership like never before – CEG can provide this.”

CEG works with suppliers and partners to localise its service wherever possible, while ensuring the company’s overall brand and values are maintained and enhanced. “What we are trying to take to new countries is our brand, culture of safety, and an ability to bridge the quality gap which international companies find difficult to do in Africa,” says Gathercole.

Local communities

Commitment to working with local communities is important in growing CEG as a business. Through a solid reputation of honesty and openness, the company has enjoyed significant success in leveraging these relationships for the effective delivery of the projects it embarks upon. In Africa, there is a critical shortage of skills as well as productivity and work ethic within the labour force, says Kinabo. “Competencies like analytical thinking, planning and excellence in execution are hard to find here,” she explains. “We’re addressing this through our hiring philosophy, continuous training and development and our internship programme.”

“You can’t come to Africa and be sustainable if you’re not using the African workforce,” adds Annette Kanora, Group Communications Officer. “Skills are not the most readily available at a world standard, but the mindset is to work with what you have and what’s available in the country, and impart the knowledge or quality you want.”

The CEG Foundation 

CEG leaves more than lasting infrastructure, enhanced skills and discipline where it completes its projects, thanks to a strong commitment to developing communities in Africa through corporate social responsibility (CSR). Most of this is done through the CEG Foundation, which received 5% of the company’s annual profit and works to improve life for Africa’s most vulnerable children and young people. For example, the Boabab Home in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, which houses and educated HIV impacted orphans, was recently supplied with 100 solar kits by the CEG Foundation. “We want them to be able to get power on a continuous basis – whenever we’re looking to provide solutions or support, we want it to be sustainable,” Kanora explains.

A change in values, vision and mission

From new recruits to old hands, getting people on board with the company’s culture change and rebranding has been paramount at all levels of CEG. Forming the group from existing parts has been no mean feat. “In Tanzania, we had two companies come together under the group, one with 20 years of its own culture and the other with 10,” explains Kanora.  

“We effected that integration through careful change management that sought feedback, involved all employees and communicated openly,” she adds. Prior to the changes, staff were interviewed about how they foresaw the change happening which allowed management to manage expectations and to focus on the issues that mattered to employees. “Now, we have regular meetings that continue to elaborate and get everyone to understand what we’re going to be as a company: our structure, how we operate and what we value.”

“Having to uproot deep held habits and beliefs has been a journey, and still is,” says Kinabo. “Tanzanians, and Africans in general, are very short-term in the way we look at things. We are therefore working to get people to think long-term which means being more structured. We overcome such challenges by being very clear in what we’re changing and why we’re changing.”

It’s about continuously enforcing the message of the new brand, according to Kanora. “We make sure the message is out there for all new people to understand from the get-go, as well as refresher communications for existing staff. It’s at the point now where it’s starting to stick.”

Embedding the CEG vision is vital as the business grows to manage even bigger projects in terms of value and manpower. Already CEG is finalising one of its biggest projects, the Kinyerezi II Combined-Cycle Power Plant (240 MW) in Dar es Salaam that had a headcount of over 2,000 employees and a value of $21mn.

According to Kinabo, supporting employees through a significant period of change means involving them as much as possible. “We make sure it’s simple, open and consistent,” she outlines. “We ask for their feedback and comments and most importantly, empower them to execute these changes.”

Each week, the senior leadership team (including Kinabo, Kanora and Gathercole) meets with one employee from any level. “We take time to learn about that individual, what they understand about the vision, mission and values, and how they incorporate those in their lives – not just at work but also at home.”

The company also works to reward anyone who exhibits its values. Celebrating and acknowledging how well staff have dealt with the change is a key element in motivation and job satisfaction at CEG. “We have employee activities celebrating the changes, too,” says Kinabo. “From lunches and theme days, to gift card rewards; this ensures people feel acknowledged and seen.”

Policies and people

A key part of CEG’s transformation has been, and will continue to be, the development of effective policies and procedures. Procedures are vital to CEG’s mission of operating anywhere, however remote, while maintaining the same mission and values. Processes are deliberately kept simple and adaptable to furnish people with the confidence to make decisions without the fear of failure – rather, encouraging them to embrace failure as an opportunity to improve.

Ensuring the right people are on board has been especially important in the rebranding of CSI Energy Group. Ensuring we have the right people has been especially important in the rebranding of CSI Energy Group. “We’ve been going through a number of significant changes and one of them is how we hire, retain and develop our people,” says Kinabo. “The key challenge is getting our people to have the right culture that is going to be sustainable for the business. This involves instilling our values of accountability, effectiveness, openness and honesty.

“In addition, it’s about building the habits of planning, budget management, having ambition and quality consciousness towards maintaining the standards we need. Therefore, we have changed the way we hire. We now focus more on attitude, how you’re going to fit in with our culture and vision.” she adds. 

Within its culture change, CEG has placed significant emphasis on implementing and promoting diversity and inclusion. This ensures a good mix of ideas, perspectives and competencies for an effective and more sustainable organization. A key drive is hiring more women in the project implementation side of the business, and area that is typically male dominated. For International Women’s Day this year, CEG took part in the worldwide Press for Progress theme by producing a video showcasing the women of CEG who are making waves in an industry not traditionally associated with them. “The industry is very male-dominated,” says Kinabo, “but CSI stands out in the number of women we have, from technical and implementation to the business services support side. We do this consciously.”

“We celebrated the women of CEG because we understood how challenging it is for our industry to have so many women.” adds Kanora. “The video also showcases the different levels at which women are excelling in this industry inside CEG and provides encouragement to girls all over the world.”

In addition, CEG has adopted a training and development policy which is adaptable to the location and timeframe of every project. “In ensuring that our teams are effective, we do understand that in some areas we have to bring in non-national expertise,” says Kanora, “but we ensure the skills we do import are transferred to the local team. Through our internship programme, we’re giving opportunities to young Nigerians, young Kenyans, Tanzanians etc. who otherwise find it difficult to get learning opportunities in this industry; to come and learn from our seasoned staff, both national and non-national.”

In allowing CEG to business sustainably, the company is also committed to working toward the UN’s Sustainability Goals. In 2016, CEG endorsed the UN Global Compact (UNGC) which is the largest CSR initiative in the world. Being a signatory means that CEG embraces the 10 universal principles centered around human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. These UNGC requirements have been embedded in CEG’s operations at every level from strategy, policies, standard operating procedures and best practice.

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Sustainable relationships

As a company that operates with a core team as well as subcontracts staff to bring in specific skills for the duration of projects, building strong relationships with reliable partners is a must. For example, CEG’s Kinyerezi 2 project involved over 2000 employees, just 71 of which were employed directly by CEG. Labour sub-contractors are therefore vital for every project, and it’s important these partners support CEG’s culture and values of safety, quality, openness and honesty. A key partner in mechanical engineering skills for Kinyerezi 2 is APG, a local Tanzanian organisation which provides workers of varying levels of skill and experience. For electrical skills, CEG works with Proper Electrical as a go-to partner in Tanzania; it’s a relationship that’s lasted for four years and counting thanks to Proper Electrical’s reliability, responsiveness and integrity.

 As an EPC contractor, it’s no surprise that effective procurement is a key focus for CEG. The company’s professional procurement division leverages the latest technology for this very purpose, namely SAP as its ERP system (enterprise resource planning system), to deliver the best possible quality maternal and tools for its clients. This system affords CEG an effective vendor list it can continuously evaluate and update. In addition, CEG’s priority vendor Tansales (London) Ltd provides the business with a one-stop solution for many of its produce needs – Tansales is an important partner as its service model really embraces the CEG values as part of their strong business relationship. “A strong supply chain with partners like Tansales, embracing CEG values and supporting its vision, enables CEG to continue to achieve its strategic goals,” comments Kinabo.

Looking to the future

From openness and honesty, to effective quality service on a localised scale, CSI Energy Group’s core values are timeless and the business looks forward to continuously focusing on these both internally and externally to achieve its long-term strategic targets. In creating a modern business culture through investing in its workforce and empowering staff to perform through solid and structured policy and process, CEG can grow sustainably on its journey of growth from East to West Africa.

Indeed, major projects such as the Kinyerezi 2 Power Plant ant Julius Nyerere international Airport Terminal 3, Tanzania, illiterate this commitment to quality and effective performance, as do the many more projects CEG has delivered for its clients in several new countries over the past year. None of this would be possible without the strong internal confidence the business shows to staff and process, as well as the support of a strong network of suppliers. Through this, CEG looks forward to an exciting future. Over the next five years, the business will continue to focus on international infrastructure projects with exciting developments planned in Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana specifically during the next year. The business will also leverage the skills, strengths and partnerships at its disposal to explore investment opportunities in both infrastructure and Independent Power Projects.

In order to achieve such lofty ambitions, CEG is keenly aware that a continuous focus on the needs of its staff, and enabling the personal development of all employees, is of paramount importance to its sustainability strategy. CEG will continue to further develop a workplace and work environment that leverages modern technology to enable staff independence and an ability to perform in their roles wherever and whenever they wish. Trusting in a competent and committed team which has been given the tools to work independently of supervision will be ever more essential to CEG’s regionally distributed business structure in the coming years.

CEG continues to evolve its culture based upon solid business and personal values of openness, honesty, effectiveness and accountability delivering on its vision and achieving its mission, of improving lives through enhanced infrastructure and increased access to energy.

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Honesty and Openness: CSI Energy Group’s Sustainability Values in Africa

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