Illovo Sugar Africa Puts Social Development First

07 MAY 2024

In a ground-breaking move Illovo Sugar Africa (ISA) becomes first within the African sugar industry, and one of few corporates across the continent to create a social development directorate at executive level which is to focus on safeguarding and expanding Illovo’s social development interests across the countries where we have businesses.

Says Gavin Dalgleish, CEO of ISA: “Driven off the belief that targeted social development within our value chains and driving business success go hand in hand, we have proven ability as a private business to use our resources, skills and capability to leverage genuine partnerships that help to make a difference in the African communities that host our operations.”


In appointing Dr Ernest Peresu as the executive position’s first director, Gavin went on to say that Illovo’s strengths were forming collaborative engagements with private and public sector partners to leverage resources for the benefit of these communities and countries. “Our ambitious environmental targets to reduce water usage and carbon emissions align with a commitment to continue serving our consumers and customers across domestic and regional African markets, with a strong governance focus. Collectively our social development and business intent delivers on Illovo’s Thriving Community purpose.”


As such Dr Peresu is now primarily accountable for shareholder relations, stakeholder engagements and negotiations across our African business entities to ensure that Illovo’s social development interests are protected and advanced, in a way that brings value to both our businesses and the Group overall. Having joined ISA in 2011 as Ubombo Sugar’s Chief Medical Officer, Ernest was appointed in 2018 as the Group’s Chief Medical Officer and brings with him extensive experience in community, government and other stakeholder engagement. In addition to his PhD in Development Studies; a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine & Surgery, MBChB; three masters degrees including one in Business Administration in Finance, Ernest holds several other medical and non-medical diplomas.

Says Ernest about his new role: “For me, I believe the creation of this position is a major statement by the business to find our “true north” in terms of social development – in essence, our purpose. It underscores the point that the business already has a deep understanding of the communities where we operate, of society in general and of our value chain, which all face considerable economic and social challenges that governments alone are unable to solve. Therefore, they need the private sector and other partnerships to help them respond to these adversities.”

Whilst still in its formative stage, the new directorate is busy developing its own operating model, supported by a team of people who have a greater understanding of the varied social development contexts, nuances, and similarities within our surrounding communities. It’s not only getting to grips with the unique hardships that communities in our businesses face; it’s also about us understanding how these challenges may evolve to impact our own businesses.

As Ernest says: “We need to configure ourselves in a way that we positively influence and change the mindset of our leaders to put social development at the core of our business activities and our investments. This will determine what we do in our communities, where we put our money and most importantly, where we don’t. We need to get our boots on the ground!”

The primary goals of the new directorate are to be focused on leveraging genuine partnerships with communities, governments, development agencies, NGO’s and others, to create compounded positive impact and to align the initiatives that the Group selectively chooses with local, national and global development agendas and with the wider sustainability agendas for sugar. Ernest says that through this approach, the Group will be able to develop capabilities that others in the “game” have already built or are building.

“For example, we are not experts in housing but we can develop expert partnerships to solve for some of the housing issues we find on our estates. If we broaden the net to include academic institutions, we stand to benefit from their independent and expert involvement in a way that carries more weight with our external stakeholders and equally, attracts other independent partners and stakeholders who bring with them their expertise and resources,” says Ernest.

He’s clear that Illovo is very proud of the socially transformative work it has already completed in the past and is leading currently, including major projects such as both phases of the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project in Eswatini, which has radically changed the livelihoods of many hundreds of local farmers who now grow irrigated cane on their own farms and deliver it to the Ubombo factory.

“So our work will focus on building out that platform to create something special at Illovo, best in class and totally responsive to the social development imperatives of our businesses across our African footprint,” says Ernest.