2019 was a remarkable year for VEON, where we delivered solid growth and successfully passed important compliance, governance, and sustainability milestones. VEON is now better placed to help all our stakeholders prosper in the digital age.
The positive impact of VEON on the communities where we operate has never been clearer. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, has reinforced the fundamental role that our operating companies play in connecting people and providing vital digital services. Since the pandemic struck, our first priority as co-CEOs has been the health and safety of our employees and everyone in our operating countries.
We have been proud to see our employees stepping up to help. Through free data and minutes for customers stranded abroad, free access to vital health sites and hotlines, special rates for doctors and nurses, and waived late fees, our employees have responded with care and kindness.
VEON is also helping local communities through humanitarian assistance, including the donation of testing kits, respiratory monitors, and ventilators to hospitals along with other essential medical equipment. For those with limited financial means, we are providing food and other provisions where needed.
Additionally, our operating companies are running mass awareness campaigns to sensitise the public about the relevant symptoms to be aware of, and measures to prevent the virus from spreading.
We saw for ourselves the positive impact of our sustainability programme in 2019. From the National Incubator Centre for future entrepreneurs in Pakistan to GoCamp for children in Ukraine, not to mention the host of other programmes we support, it is clear we are a force for good in the communities where we operate.
VEON remains fully supportive of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a responsible company operating in ten developing countries, we view the SDGs as an opportunity to drive socio-economic development in our host countries.
Over the past two years, the SDGs have helped shape VEON’s social investments and we are pleased that this year’s report includes our progress against four SDGs where we can have the most impact: Quality Education; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Gender Equality; and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.
As we look to the future as co-CEOs, sustainability will continue to be a core part of VEON’s approach to responsible business.
Sergi Herrero and Kaan Terzioglu
Co-Chief Executive Officers
*In February 2020 VEON Ltd. (the “Company” or “VEON”) announced the appointment of Sergi Herrero and Kaan Terzioglu as co-Chief Executive Officers, effective from March 1st, 2020.
Programme updates 2019
In 2019, VEON conducted a detailed materiality assessment to determine the topics and issues considered most material to the success of our business. The first stage of the assessment included a survey of more than 500 respondents, including employees, investors, regulators, trade bodies, and B2B customers.
Based on the outcome of the assessment, the following five topics are considered most material to our company:
VEON launched the Make Your Mark initiative to foster digital entrepreneurship in the countries where we operate. The programme focuses on supporting people to start their own businesses, which in turn helps to create fulfilling jobs for others.
VEON operates in developing economies that typically have young, growing populations. These conditions can create a significant demographic dividend for these countries if there are sufficient employment opportunities and prospects of earning a decent livelihood for the upcoming generation as they reach adulthood.
In 2015, we launched the Make Your Mark initiative to foster digital entrepreneurship across our operating countries, equipping these populations with the technological skills and tools they need to enter the competitive global marketplace.
Make Your Mark supports our contribution to two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in particular: SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure).
Our operating companies invest in start-up incubators and accelerators, supporting industry, innovation, and the development of a solid, sustainable local infrastructure. This offers budding entrepreneurs support to launch and scale business ideas that solve unmet socio-economic needs and create fulfilling work for others in their country. The growth of their businesses drives the local economy. These start-up programmes typically operate under public/private partnerships, such as the Jazz National Incubation Centre in Pakistan which is run in collaboration with the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.
Our incubation tech hubs not only provide shared working facilities; they also offer intensive mentorship and a range of other support services tailored to each market’s particular needs. Our initiatives typically offer four- to six-month programmes for groups of early-stage businesses.
Participants are offered guidance on everything from technology and leadership skills through to growth hacking and fundraising. For example, the Sevan Start-Up Summit in Armenia provides successful seed-stage innovators with the vital marketing know-how they need to take their ideas to market.
Successful start-ups are showcased globally, including at the acclaimed annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. We also support local hackathons such as the diversity-themed Djezzy Incubator hackathon in Algeria, application development competitions, and other non-resident programmes to encourage the development of broader digital ecosystems in our operating countries. Supporting these start-ups and entrepreneurs has helped us foster an internal culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Additionally, our provision of personal and professional development masterclasses helps to lay the foundations of entrepreneurship among even the youngest participants. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, schoolchildren can gain access to knowledge and resources in an inspiring co-working space. By creating economic opportunity for thousands of people, we are building a more sustainable business environment. Additionally, by boosting the local digital economy, we create more demand for digital services. Therefore, the Make Your Mark programme simultaneously adds value for society and for our shareholders.
Eldar is just one of the 2.1 million young Kyrgyzstanis on whom the country is pinning its economic hopes. Citing digital transformation as a key development goal, Kyrgyzstan’s 2018-2040 National Strategy includes a pledge to enable the next generation of Kyrgzstanis to play a leading role in domestic and global digital labour markets.
“The Jazz National Incubation Center has been a godsend”, says Mustafa Muhammad, the co-founder of Mauqa Online, a digital start-up that allows users to schedule high-quality domestic helpers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. He faced many roadblocks after launching his business.
As a company operating in developing economies with young, growing populations, VEON supports education programmes that focus on building digital inclusion and closing gaps in digital skills and literacy. These programmes equip young people for fulfilling careers and entrepreneurship, in turn driving economic growth in their local market.
VEON’s Digital Skills and Literacy initiative uses education to drive lasting change in the countries where we operate. Recognising education as one of the key engines of socio-economic development, we use our knowledge of technology and connectivity to support tech-centric educational initiatives.
Our support is delivered through a mixture of partnerships, training carried out by our own employees, direct investments, and donations. These initiatives are helping to support the local UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, these are relevant to SDG4: Quality Education and SDG5: Gender Equality. Several of our programmes focus on developing the digital skills of girls and women to ensure they have access to the same opportunities as their male peers.
VEON’s digital skills and literacy programmes support under-resourced educational institutions with digitised curriculums, IT equipment, and subsidised internet connectivity. An enormously successful example is Jazz Pakistan’s Smart School programme, which has received various international awards and financial aid. Similarly, in Kazakhstan, an injection of much-needed telecommunication equipment is enabling university students to gain the practical experience they need.
Our programmes also offer customised training and mentorship that prepare young people to enter the workforce, such as Big Data Schools in both Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
The focus, however, is not just on traditional literacy. With the help of our partners, we have also developed and deployed mobile-based skills development solutions that allow adults to gain digital skills from the comfort of their own homes.
One such example is Bangalink’s Learn More, Be More programme. Learning at home helps to break down some of the gender and economic barriers to digital inclusion, particularly in societies which restrict women’s outdoor movement.
Through building knowledge and understanding of digital applications and mobile internet, we empower communities. At the same time, we help to develop future markets for our products and services by expanding our potential customer base.
Launched by VEON operating company Beeline Kazakhstan, Big Data School is available each year to 200 students from reputable universities or with appropriate work experience. The school offers courses, taught by Beeline Kazakhstan staff, in programs such as Apache Spark, Hadoop, Scala, NiFi and NoSQL.
Education now means something different to Saira Ali, a year nine student in Pakistan's capital Islamabad. Since joining the Jazz Smart School programme, Saira has experienced what she describes as an "extraordinary" change of learning environment.