Femi Da-silva, CEO of HSE Nations, the visionary and Chief Coordinating Officer of the Africa Safety Award for Excellence (AfriSAFE), sat down for an exclusive interview to delve into the intricacies and triumphs entwined within the past four years of orchestrating this prestigious award. With insight and candor, he shared the highs and hurdles faced while orchestrating this profound event, revealing the profound impact and future aspirations in the Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) industry across Africa.
What are we looking forward to this year?
This is the 5th anniversary of The AfriSAFE and we will be honouring organisations and individuals without whose consistent support we would not be here today. Their supports have been a great encouragement in these five years of AfriSAFE; there are some individuals who are not being awarded today but we are grateful to for consistently supporting us. Truth be told, we cannot mention the names of everyone, from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member that sent us N5,000 ($5) to support the event two years ago, to brands who are rooting for us and demonstrating their goodwill through their supports. From these supporters, we are going to be honouring the top 5, out of which we’ll have the AfriSAFE Man of The Quinquennium. I must quickly point out that they are not being honored only for supporting AfriSAFE but were also widely nominated in recognition of the impacts they have made in the HSE industry. Many of them spend quality time and resources to support safety causes and empower individuals in the industry.
What greater impact could we think of than what we are doing?
And people who have been consistent in pushing that agenda will be recognized as our top 5 today This year, we got 18,716 entries from across the 5 African regions and other parts of the world and by popular demand, we’ve also created the category of Africans in Diaspora. We got quite a number of nominations and since it’s a novel award category, we’re going to be honouring about 2 to 5 people within that award category who have been exceptional, met the award criteria and submitted their supporting documents on time. Also, being the fifth anniversary of the award, some categories have been added. This year, for example, we’re giving out the CEO Recognition Award- that is, we are celebrating quite a number of CEOs apart from our regular partners who have been consistent in supporting health and safety activities. The CEOs we’re presenting today are all winners; they were carefully selected based on recommendations from eminent stakeholders who are influential in the HSE industry from around the continent. We’re equally going to be having the Impact Award- this is made up of individuals whose selection, beyond the judges’ decision, have been compiled by our organization to recognize their steadfastness. Of course, to be a part of these people you must have been widely nominated and consistently been raising awareness of health and safety in the last five years.
As a stakeholder in the HSE industry in Africa, what are you most proud of about the industry?
This HSE industry plays a crucial role in safeguarding lives and promoting the wellbeing of individuals in workplaces and the environment at large. Therefore, AfriSAFE encourages continuous improvements and innovations in HSE practices, ultimately leading to safer environments for everyone involved. Being able to provide a platform for the recognition and celebration of exemplary achievements within this field fills me with immense pride. Helping to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of professionals who are committed to ensuring the safety and health of individuals and communities is a huge responsibility that I do not take for granted. I am also particularly proud of how readily established HSE professionals are willing to mentor young professionals. As we all know, experienced mentors can pass on their wealth of knowledge, skills, and expertise to the next generation. This accelerates the learning curve for young professionals, helping them become effective contributors sooner. Beyond technical skills, these mentors encourage personal growth, ensuring that their mentees develop soft skills like communication, leadership, and problem-solving lifestyle, which are crucial in any profession. Many of these mentors I have met often have extensive networks within the industry and readily introduce their mentees to these networks, opening doors to new opportunities, collaborations, and partnerships. I am proud to be a part of this closely-knitted community of professionals looking beyond personal aggrandizement to promote a shared vision of a safer Africa. What challenges were faced in organizing this year’s award? The challenges of organizing AfriSAFE year in, year out are still there, especially people not responding to award nominations and notifications in time.
There are individuals and organisations that should be among the awardees today but could not make the cut because of their late or no responses at all, particularly regarding submission of supporting documents. Someone asked me; ‘in this past five years, is there anything that you don’t enjoy about organizing AfriSAFE?’ I responded; “AfriSAFE is a passion for me, and it is not tied to any gain whatsoever. In fact, if you’re looking forward to any gain, especially the monetary aspect, you’d be totally discouraged because it’s not worth the effort at the moment, in terms of gains. But when it has to do with impact, which is what this project stands for, that impact has been it for us.” I like every part of the AfriSAFE process but let me mention this; in this five-year journey, I’ve seen friends turn foe. I’ve seen people you consider mentors in the industry suddenly turn people still form their own opinions. In five years of organizing AfriSAFE, nobody, not a single organization can say that we demanded money before we could honour them. We have observed some large numbers of organizations and individuals who have either withdrawn their support or refused to support based on the conditions to receive an Africa Safety Congress is poised to address, is that we still find it difficult to effectively collaborate. As an organization, we collaborate, in fact, the success of what you’re going to be witnessing today is as a result of collaborations, and we’re going to be involved in more of those collaborations going forward.
I hope that everyone takes a cue. I understand there are challenges in collaborations, one of which is lack of a shared vision and conflict of interest in some areas. We are very passionate about safety and improving safety standards in the continent based on our vision as HSENations and AfriSAFE. Sometimes, we meet individuals and organizations whose outward appearance seems fueled by similar passion as ours but during closed door meetings we find out that they are strictly motivated by what they would gain rather than what they can give back to the society. As such, our visions do not align, and against you. I have seen betrayal of the highest order.
The reason is simple. People get offended that you didn’t recognize them when they attended the event or you didn’t give them an award. I have often said that I do not give awards, I just create the platform. We have tried to maintain peace with everybody but award in return. Every giving’s to support AfriSAFE has always been by freewill and not tied to receiving an award. The award is strictly on merit. Another challenge that I find in the HSE industry, which is one of the issues that the we have to let them go. That said, there are several organizations we’re partnering with and which we will continue to partner with at a deeper level as time goes by. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to achieve a lot. There is so much we can achieve with mutually beneficial collaborations. I am hoping that this congress will address that, and at the end of this event, we will be able to do and achieve more.
Why do nominees still need to buy tickets to attend the event?
This is a good question because it’s something that I have been asked by a few people. For us, it’s more about the commitment, really, not the money. We have observed over the years, that people often don’t take things seriously if they don’t pay for it. I’ll give an example. In one of our early editions, we asked quite a number of nominees to attend for free and we noticed that many people did not show up. Immediately we started adding a ticket fee, a lot of people started taking attendance seriously. However, we put a condition in place that any nominee that cannot afford to pay for their ticket will be issued one for free. There are few nominees today that have taken advantage of this opportunity to attend the event. For some, we just collected a fraction of the tickets if they could not afford to pay the discounted fee. So, it’s not about money; it’s to ensure commitment. Also, it’s not like we’re selling the award. It’s a way of ensuring seriousness. More so, you can’t even buy the award because how much would you be offering when we’ve rejected millions of naira of sponsorship in exchange for getting an award. It defies logic.
What should we expect from AfriSAFE 2024?
AfriSAFE is an initiative that consistently redefines itself to ensure continuous improvement. That is why we are never afraid to introduce innovations that better project our vision and actualize our aims. For example, this year, the Africa Safety Congress was created in collaboration with some strategic partners. The inaugural congress is themed, “Collaborating for a Safer and Sustainable Africa”. This landmark event brings together extremely grateful. For all those who bought tickets to attend, thank you. Our Chairman, Dr. Afe Mayowa, is someone who strongly believes in the vision of the event. He is collaborating with us and providing support through his company, Danvic Petroleum, to ensure we can host an amazing event. Next year, will be much more bigger (AfriSAFE to the World ), and I encourage everyone to take time to read the segment by our Global Vice President, he said more on this.