Dr Kenneth Keirstead is of South African origin and a graduate of the Pathology Institute in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also graduated from two advanced education institutions in the US in executive management (College of William and Mary and Columbia University). After more than three decades in senior research and management positions with multinational companies, he specialised in public health care policy, followed by human resource development in Africa.
He is widely traveled and a frequent speaker and lecturer on human infrastructure building in the developing world. His work now focuses on West Africa (Mali, Guinea, and Liberia), where he plays a key role in the development of rural human infrastructure development, the planning and operations of UDECOM, and administration of programs in health care and education.
He is a board member of the Canadian Council on Africa and serves on task forces and the boards of international pharmaceutical development companies. He is widely published, mentors graduate and doctoral students with interest or origins in Africa, and is a confirmed believer in self-help for the development of African people.
eLA: What is The Lyceum Group and what is your role in it?
Kenneth Keirstead: We are a “collective” of professionals based out of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada – all with specific and focused interest in Africa. Our mission is Sustainable Human Resource Development in Africa. This encompasses health and wellness, education (primary, secondary, tertiary and distance education) and social programmes for development and empowerment. Le Groupe Lyceum is a humanitarian NGO located in Conakry, Guinea and working in that country, Mali, and Liberia, and is developing contacts and networks in adjacent countries. As a Diaspora African, I founded and now direct the operations that we started in 2000. Born in South Africa, I have worked and traveled in thirteen African countries over the last thirty years.
eLA: What is behind the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
Kenneth Keirstead: Historic precedent implies that businesses and organisations from the West working in Africa have often not provided residual social benefit or impact on indigenous populations and the infrastructure – concurrent with the benefit taken out or derived. This often breeds mistrust and suspicion of outside interests.
The world community has been sensitised to this by virtue of their wish to be seen as responsible and caring, and often a self-serving desire to enhance their corporate equity and reputation. Whether this is self-serving or altruistic, the result is that Western companies and organisations are now making strides toward making sure that they respect things like environmental assessments, pay attention to their contribution to the social fabric of communities and peoples in Africa and provide equity to marginalized peoples (disadvantaged, women and children). They also strive to enhance their reputation and their “press” in Africa.
Out of this, grew the movement to embed CSR as a recognized function of projects in Africa and elsewhere. Key examples of this are companies such as Global Alumina, Alcan/Alcoa and SNC-Lavalin, who invest considerable sums to comply with CSR principles. Instead of being seen as exploitative, they are making a difference to rural and urban societies in Africa.
The awareness of the lack of CSR in many projects in Africa followed an informal study we conducted on about ten NGOs and organizations on the ground there. We found that residual influence and benefit was largely treated lightly as it impacted negatively (a wrong perception) on the financial bottom line. We became advocates, systems designers and contract implementers of CSR programs for groups working in Africa.
eLA: How does this influence the work of Lyceum Research group?
Kenneth Keirstead: In order to test CSR concepts and validate their effectiveness, we first decided that CSR must be implanted as a key objective of The Lyceum Group. To do this, we chose a rural village on the Loos Islands of Guinea (the village of Fotoba) to be a “laboratory” where we could test models and organisation.
Could the local community organise itself (with our help) and become empowered to make decisions and implement programmes for societal improvement? After three years of refining strategies and programmes, overcoming ethnic and behavioral challenges and learning from mistakes, the project can now be considered a success. Health care improvements, sensitivity to the natural and historic environment, improved primary and secondary schooling, improved nutrition, establishing micro-enterprise and general improvement of pride and self-esteem have been experienced.
These are grass-roots programmes where we act as coaches and a vehicle for training. In all cases, the responsibility for the final result rests with the people and the community.
In practice, CSR is the foundation of not only what we do at The Lyceum Group but is a programme enshrined in all our contract work for companies, government, institutions and organisations.
eLA: How do you promote this idea, and how do people react to it?
Kenneth Keirstead: The Lyceum Group maintains very active networking with stakeholders in Africa, North America and Europe where it promotes the concept that CSR should be a part of any group or any activity. We speak at many group meetings (service clubs, church organizations, government bodies, conferences etc.) and promote the “corporate value” of CSR.
Our website www.grouplyceum.com is frequently visited and has high “hit’ rates on the CSR section. We also actively target companies, NGOs, government groups, and others we know are active in Africa.
Fortunately, there is a groundswell of awareness that we all have to do things better in Africa (aid organizations, celebrities, foundations, education institutions, etc.). The position of “corporate value” and “residual value” is very well understood and received – even though full implementation is at an early and tentative stage.
eLA: Can you tell us something about your activities in education in Africa? Why the focus on West Africa?
Kenneth Keirstead: My father, Dr Eugene Keirstead, devoted his life to the education of the Zulu people in KwaZulu-Natal and founded dozens of schools and two tertiary education institutions. This implanted in me a knowledge of need in Africa, and it ultimately became my mission to use education as the strongest way to positively influence a society there. Almost 50 percent of Africans are under the age of twenty years old.
Over the last five years, I have focused on the demographics, marginalisation of children, for example girl students, behavioral issues in families with children eligible for education, and performance gaps. We have designed, or started, improved education programs in five districts of rural Guinea – primary and secondary schools.
We have helped to model a unique, “borderless”, and private bilingual university in the Forest Region of Guinea. It is called UDECOM (Universite pour le Developpement Communautaire) in N’Zerekore. The novelty and appeal of this university is the equal emphasis on didactic and practicum education – enhancing the employability of graduates. It is now partnered with the Université de Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada and the University of California in Irvine. Finally, many years of my life have been spent teaching and presenting.
West Africa is a unique blend of Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone, and Arabic influence. The people are very proud and imbued with a rich and multicultural history. We found it uniquely compliant, receptive and not overly burdened by precedent or post-colonial biases.
eLA: Maybe “off the record”, this is more for my personal interest … Why is Waliou de Gomba on your website, how does he fit into the picture?
Kenneth Keirstead: Personal interest is good! The Lyceum Group is a non-partisan group that promotes inter-faith activities and respect for differences. More than 65 percent of Guineans are Muslim, with Fotoba being a microcosm of Muslims, Christians and Animists. They interact with remarkable congeniality. The tomb of the Waliou is at Fotoba – as is one of the first Anglican churches. Our attempt is to show plurality and respect for the rich history for all sides and to encourage the children and community to be proud of their wonderful heritage.
eLA: Kenneth, thank you very much for your time.