Why the SDGs Are Key to Africa's Future


Michael Thang’a

Michael Thang’a,
East Africa Head, Sales, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi

Dimitrios Raptis

Dimitrios Raptis,
EMEA Head, Public Sector Sales, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi

The United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enshrine priorities that are extremely relevant to the region. Africa is the second driest continent in the world and around 340 million Africans have no access to safe drinking water; climate change will exacerbate the situation further; 40% of the 1.4 billion people without access to energy are in sub- Saharan Africa;1 while up to 95 million unbanked sub-Saharan Africans in the agricultural sector receive cash payments for their produce. 2

For organizations active in Africa, the SDGs are therefore increasingly important. Many firms are incorporating specific SDG targets into their business plans or adopting broader environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles; these efforts should ensure that future operational developments are aligned with sustainable development that benefits the environment, communities, and civil society.

Multinationals, leading domestic corporates and the public sector, including governments, central banks, non-governmental organizations and development banks, need support to implement policies that help them achieve their sustainability targets. For instance, African central banks are increasingly exploring ways to manage their reserves in line with ESG principles so that potential investments are screened to eliminate exposure to companies that engage in unsustainable practices.

Corporates and the public sector also need support and guidance to ensure they optimize sustainability and development benefits on the ground and target the most pressing issues when implementing SDG-related projects. Citi’s capabilities in the region and global product suite — combined with innovative technology developed in Africa and some creative development finance initiatives — can do much to help clients achieve their sustainability goals and SDG agenda.

Using payments to further financial inclusion

Financial inclusion is positioned prominently as an enabler of many SDGs and is featured as a target in eight of the 17 goals, including SDG 1 on eradicating poverty; SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and economic empowerment of women; SDG 8 on promoting economic growth and jobs; SDG 9 on supporting industry, innovation, and infrastructure; and SDG 10 on reducing inequality. Financial inclusivity is therefore a key objective for many corporates and public sector entities active in Africa.

Citi has used its payment and finance capabilities to help a number of organizations to reach specific demographics as part of their SDG objectives. For instance, Citi and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KDTA) have worked together to offer quicker, more reliable payments to 600,000 small-scale tea farmers. In the past, KDTA used a multi-bank payment process, which took days to get funds to farmers. Citi has integrated and automated the process allowing KTDA to pay its farmers at the click of a button within minutes. In addition, through an inclusive finance program, Citi provides finance to KTDA’s fully-owned microfinance institution to expand access to affordable financial services directly to smallholder farmers. Such initiatives aim to improve financial stability and economic opportunity for Kenyan tea farmers.

A similar Citi project involves the One Acre Fund, a non-profit social enterprise, which provides an estimated 925,000 smallholder farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa with the financing and training they need to succeed. Working with One Acre Fund, Citi created customized mobile banking services with fast and secure payments and access to credit to buy seeds and fertilizer. Loans can be repaid in small amounts on a daily basis using M-Pesa mobile money, improving convenience for farmers. Citi integrated mobile wallet payments into the One Acre Fund’s enterprise resource planning system, streamlining its payments activity. Most recently, Citi has structured inclusive finance solutions to One Acre Fund to enable it to import inputs such as fertilizer in bulk for their farmers. One Acre Fund’s results are impressive: it typically increases farmer’s income by more than 50%; and 97% of loans are fully repaid.3

Citi is currently working with Zambia’s regulator to assist with the introduction of its new National Financial Switch, which will provide more comprehensive payment interoperability between banks and mobile wallets. As part of the launch of this new payment capability, all existing mobile and digital wallets are required to be integrated. This will open up new opportunities for Zambians to access finance, and spur economic growth through entrepreneurship — especially in the agricultural sector. It will also improve the efficiency of existing businesses by lowering costs and offering interoperability across Zambia’s many mobile and digital payment methods, increasing B2B, B2C and P2P flows.

Re-imagining supplier finance to drive sustainability

Citi is developing new solutions, as well as re-aligning existing solutions, to support clients and help them meet their SDG targets or broader ESG goals. Sustainable supply chain management has become an increasing area of focus for large multinationals as they address global pressures arising from new environmental regulations, rising energy costs, workplace standards, and consumer demand for sustainably sourced goods and services.

As a result, many corporates are embedding ESG standards into contractual relationships with suppliers to progress on strategic sustainability objectives as well as reduce environmental and social risks for both buyers and their suppliers. Sustainable and inclusive supply chain finance offers global buyers a unique way to incentivize suppliers into adopting sustainable behaviors by providing access to credit at favourable interest rates. Liquidity in many African countries is often difficult to access or is prohibitively expensive, and relatively low-cost finance from supplier finance programs can be a lifeline to growing businesses; Citi can tier suppliers’ interest costs based on criteria agreed with the buyer. As well as helping corporates to achieve their SDG goals, sustainable supplier finance increases security of supply and strengthens relationships with suppliers.

In one recent example, Citi partnered with Kenyan mobile network operator Safaricom to extend sustainable supplier finance to empower women through Safaricom’s Women in Business Platform. Safaricom’s sustainable supplier finance program helps the company to meet its commitment to SDG 5 on gender equality, which among other goals, aims to give women equal rights to economic resources. In this instance, Citi not only on-boarded the suppliers using its digital platform but, at the request of Safaricom, provided a series of seminars to teach female entrepreneurs about financial services.


Africa’s success in addressing its development challenges will be a major determinant of its economic progress and social stability in the coming decades. Despite being one of the lowest overall contributors to global carbon emissions, Africa will be among the first to suffer the consequences of climate change; action is essential. The median age in Africa is 19.7 years4 old, making it the world’s youngest population. If the continent’s hundreds of millions of young people are to gain the opportunity to put their talents to work, Africa’s industry must flourish, access to basic services expanded, agriculture modernized and capacity for innovation harnessed.

The UN 2030 SDGs are a valuable framework for Africa to assess its response and for corporates and public sector entities to tailor their strategies. Citi welcomes the growing importance of ESG issues in Africa and is committed to put its expertise, experience and capabilities to work to enable its clients achieve their SDG targets and make a real difference to sustainable development on the continent.

1 Source: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2012/africa%E2%80%99s-priorities-sustainable-development
2 Source: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/04/19/financial-inclusion-on-the-rise-but-gaps-remainglobal-findex-database-shows
3 Source: https://oneacrefund.org/impact/
4 Source: https://www.africa.undp.org/content/rba/en/home/blog/2017/8/7/africa_defining_challenge.html