Uganda ROOTs initiative – an interview with David Onyango

Hear from David Onyango as he discusses the ROOTs initiative and his role as Head of Communications and Sustainability at Diageo’s Uganda Breweries Limited.

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David joined Diageo nearly 6-years ago and has since worked across Corporate Relations and Sustainability. He has been managing Diageo’s Running Out of Trees (ROOTs) campaign in a bid to restore Uganda’s forest cover and conserve the environment. Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL) pledged to work with the government, other corporate companies, and citizens countrywide to grow, restore and conserve 40 million trees around Uganda every year for the next 5-years.

What has your Diageo experience been like since joining to your current role to now?

My Diageo experience has been amazing and very fulfilling with immersion in the entire breadth of corporate relations from public policy and regulation to sustainability and communication.

Tell us more about your current role at Diageo and what is the most exciting thing about this role?

I’m currently the Head of Communications and Sustainability at Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL).

The most exciting thing about my role is the opportunity it gives me to interact with all levels of employees internally from the shop-floor to the Managing Director and externally from our local raw material communities to top government officials, regulators and the media.

The role is also very fulfilling on a personal level, especially in the planning, implementation and monitoring of sustainability projects that significantly impact communities around us.

Diageo has launched the ROOTs campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Water and Environment. Tell us what this initiative involves and why Diageo are committed?

The ROOTs campaign is a series of activities aimed at restoring Uganda’s diminishing tree cover. The primary objectives of the campaign include mobilisation of the private sector to raise funds for tree seedlings, physical participation in actual planting and growing the trees and increasing public awareness of conservation and reforestation of degraded areas.

The inaugural launch was held on 6th February 2020 with a symbolic 330km marathon relay flagged off from the Parliament of Uganda by the former Rt. Hon. Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga.

The campaign fits perfectly into Diageo’s Society 2030 strategy on pioneering grain to glass sustainability and specifically with regard to preserving water for life and accelerating efforts to a low carbon future.

Explain how this initiative came about and what has it been like behind the scenes.

Uganda’s national deforestation rate stands at 2% annually with an average of 122,000 hectares of mostly indigenous species lost every year.

Faced with this extraordinary challenge, the Ministry of Water and Environment launched a National Greening Campaign built around engaging local stakeholders in attaining national restoration goals through increased public awareness and participation in the conservation and protection of indigenous tree species to address ongoing loss and conversion of primary and secondary natural forests.

As a longtime partner of the Ministry through the National Forestry Authority and having already recently restored over 200 hectares of forest cover within the Lake Victoria Basin catchment area, Uganda Breweries was approached to lead the private sector participation in the campaign.

Working with different stakeholders in the planning and execution of campaign activities has been challenging. Especially creating time for weekly meetings and adhoc engagements to make presentations to other private companies as well as meeting the demands of my day-to-day deliverables. However, it’s always rewarding when we onboard new partners.

What has been your involvement in this campaign and why does this matter to you?

Personally, I’ve been involved in the end-to-end management of the project including the launch activities, development of the mobile application which will enable the public to purchase seedlings, making presentations to onboard partners, scheduling media engagements and planning for tree planting activities.

The entire process has provided a great opportunity to develop key external relationships and a robust support system enabling me to be a better manager of resources. As far as learning and development are concerned, the campaign has enhanced my leadership capabilities in a demonstrable way.

What does this commitment mean for our people?

As Uganda Breweries marks 75 years of sustainable domestic value creation, our participation in this campaign further demonstrates our long-term support to the people and government of Uganda. From our commercial teams to the agronomists in the local raw material fields, from our supply teams to our legal, finance and tax teams, this commitment to Uganda gives all of us a social license to operate.

By building and maintaining key stakeholder relationships with our regulators in government, industry peers, the diplomatic corps, development partners and cultural institutions we are able to step-change our public policy involvement by amplifying our purpose giving us reason to believe that we will meet our F25 ambition to become the most-trusted, respected and best performing consumer business in Uganda.

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