"We do not associate with partners who are not able to demonstrate equal rigour and transparency in their dealings.”

In the heart of Johannesburg, amidst the bustling energy of South Africa’s economic hub, Barbara Copelovici steers a crucial course for SAB, the nation’s iconic brewing giant. As the ESG and entrepreneurship director, her focus is both retrospective and progressive.

The French-born Barbara’s journey is one of purpose and impact. Before joining SAB in 2017, she honed her strategic acumen in management consulting, tackling complex challenges across diverse sectors. But her heart lay in social enterprise, evident in her founding of a venture empowering Johannesburg’s homeless and her support for other such initiatives.

She has often been recognised for her passion, as a holder of the 2014 Brightest Young Mind Awards, being part of the World Economic Forum Global Shaper – Soweto Hub from 2016 to 2019 and more recently, in 2021, invited to join the Africa-French Young Leaders community.

Little wonder then that Barbara’s dedication shines through in SAB’s entrepreneurial programmes, which nurture small businesses in disadvantaged communities, fostering economic vitality and chipping away at entrenched inequalities.

“Our entrepreneurial initiatives focus on previously disadvantaged populations in township and rural areas. By investing in those small businesses, we support the economic vitalisation of those areas and alleviate some of the lingering socio-economic ills,” she explains.

Mitigating fraud

But Barbara’s vision extends beyond empowerment. Recognising the prevalence of informal trade, she delves into the key question: why does an outlet choose to be informal?

“We have spent time understanding informality in our trade. What we have discovered is that a lot of them wish to become formal but struggle to get a licence: whether it is because they don’t understand the process or they have been scammed by a so-called agent who promised a license,” she explains.

“A key initiative that we have undertaken in that regard is to digitalise the licensing process thereby enabling seamless access and mitigating fraud risks. The blueprint is being implemented in a few provinces already,” she adds.

With a presence in 12 African countries, Barbara certainly has her work cut out for her in adhering to rigorous ESG reporting standards.

“We abide by a globally recognised ESG reporting framework [GRI] and are thereafter going through internal and external audits. We also have a very rigorous ESG governance structure, which goes up to the highest level of leadership in the business. We do not associate with partners who are not able to demonstrate equal rigour and transparency in their dealings,” she notes.

Futureproofing agriculture

This commitment to transparency and sustainability extends to SAB’s own employees.

“All our employees have to complete a training educating around corruption and unethical practices with clear dos and don’ts. This is then enforced through our own internal forensics team which investigates and takes action if rules are not adequately followed. We also have an anonymous tip line for anyone to report unethical dealings of our staff or stakeholders,” she adds.

Barbara’s focus is not only retrospective but proactive too, particularly when it comes to mitigating climate impact and building resilience in agricultural communities.

“Beyond the support we have been providing to emerging farmers who supply us directly, I believe an important part of our work is done in our research centre in Caledon, where we seek to futureproof our agriculture programmes to the various rising environmental risks,” she concludes.



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