Chose Cheou's varied career has seen him take on key roles in corporate affairs at several organisations in South Africa. As a jury member of the African Excellence Awards, and ahead of its Winners Day held in Cape Town on April 21 (scroll down to the end for more information), Chose gave us insights into the strategic importance of corproate affairs, the risks and rewards of working as a communicator in Africa, and the real meaning of Ubuntu.
Your current role has you working for a state-owned enterprise. How does your approach to corporate affairs differ from your past roles in the private sector?
There a number of similarities and differences and these inform the approach to corporate affairs. Eskom is state owned and therefore has a distinct legal form and apart from operating as a commercial entity has public policy objectives. We have to report regularly on our performance to our responsible minister and to parliament and are therefore constantly scrutinised by the public. We are also tightly and highly regulated by the National Energy Regulator (NERSA). Each and every South African is both a customer and owner of Eskom and this fact strongly influences how we approach corporate affairs.
As a communicator who has long had a seat at the executive table, how do you see the role of the corporate affairs director in influencing overall business strategy?
Corporate affairs is strategically positioned to impacting and influencing overall business strategy. Corporate communication, stakeholders’ engagements, media relations, reputation management and issues management all resides with corporate affairs and these are central and crucial to organisations competitive advantage. Actively dialoguing with key stakeholders that impact an organisation enables it to influence results in their favour. This is normally achieved through ensuring that corporate affairs has a seat at the main executive table and regularly has an opportunity to present to the board.
During your time at Microsoft you led an expansion of the organisation’s philanthropic efforts. Is this type of community engagement especially important for business and society in Africa?
Africa is all about Ubuntu - defined as meaning ‘humanity to others’ and also meaning ‘I am what I am because of who you are’. Ubuntu is at the core of doing business in Africa. Ubuntu is also good business. Microsoft’s philanthropic efforts continue to have a positive impact on the lives of the people of Africa.
"“Africa is all about Ubuntu - defined as meaning ‘humanity to others’ and also meaning ‘I am what I am because of who you are’.”
Their philanthropic efforts demonstrated corporate responsibility, humanity and community values that are crucial to doing business in Africa. When I was at Microsoft we use to say, “Your potential our passion” – we were very passionate about doing business in the Ubuntu way. I am continuing doing business in the same vein at Eskom through the Eskom Development Foundation.
You have also had past experience in compliance. Why are these areas crucial to good business practise in South Africa?
As far as I am concerned compliance, risk and ethics are inextricably intertwined, especially when you are doing business in a highly regulated environment. At Eskom we have to conform to numerous policies, laws, regulations and standards. We have set up mechanisms that ensure we treat this part of our work with care, transparency and responsibility. Compliance gives confidence to stakeholders that they are dealing with a responsible company.
What are the biggest risks and rewards of working as a communicator in Africa?
Rewards are innumerable in that you have an opportunity to work in a very diverse environment – culture, language, religion, etc. The diversity is also the source of numerous risks. You have to deeply understand and appreciate the diversity and the unity in this diversity otherwise Africa will be inaccessible and inaccessibility is a curse to communicators. You also have to love and have passion for Africa and its people. Travelling in and around Africa is also a major obstacle that adds to its inaccessibility. However these communication challenges are minor when one considers that African countries economies are growing whilst growth has slowed down elsewhere in the world.
"However these communication challenges are minor when one considers that African countries economies are growing whilst growth has slowed down elsewhere in the world."
What have been some of the biggest trends in African communications in the past few years?
The exponential growth of communication channels and platforms. In just few years, the increase of mobile phone networks has changed communications in Africa. Many Africans countries have skipped the landline stage and jumped to the mobile and digital age – hence the numerous opportunities for making profit that I alluded to earlier. Mobility and digital has become king in Africa and the mobile technology will shape all endeavours of the Africans.
"“Many Africans countries have skipped the landline stage and jumped to the mobile and digital age.”
And what does the future hold for communications in Africa?
The future is very bright and beckoning. Africa has become a communicators’ paradise due to the challenges and opportunities that it presents. Africans are ready for a future of a connected, safer and better continent which is alive with possibilities. Africa needs communicators that are ready to assist and educate on the better use of information and communications technologies.
Chose Choeu sits on the jury of the African Excellence Awards, a celebration of the best in African corporate communications and public relations and which is co-hosted by Communication Director. The highlight of the Excellence Awards is the Winners Day in Cape Town on 21 April 2016, where communications professionals come together to celebrate the best in PR over the last year. The winner's day will include a symposium and a dinner: you can book your tickets here. For the latest on the global Excellence Awards community, follow @