IN 1970, Milton Friedman famously remarked: "There is one and only one social responsibility of business: to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits."
The famed American economist was opposed to the concept of businesses having a social conscience, since he believed this would be a distraction from the primary purpose of making a profit.
So it is ironic how closely interconnected the two concepts are today. As companies seek to retain talent and attract customers in an ever more competitive environment, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a key way for firms to be recognised for their distinctive values and community engagement.
Indeed, there is now a business case for doing good - and companies in Singapore, both small and large, have taken note.
For small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) SJ Low Bros & Co, the strongest benefit of giving lies in heightened employee engagement.
A fruit distribution company with an 80-year legacy, the SME was started in 1934 by SJ Low. He believed in "performance with a purpose", and built a personal and professional legacy of contributing to society - as opposed to one of just consuming resources to make profits.
SJ Low Bros is now a third-generation family business that has expanded to include market research and brand development for food & beverage (F&B) and consumer goods.
Many years after the patriarch's passing, grandson Low Zhennan - now the firm's deputy managing director - is determined to not just continue his grandfather's legacy, but to build on it and institutionalise giving within the company.
When it comes to corporates, the younger Mr Low believes businesses should be champions of the community.
He says: "We don't make decisions solely on profit here; we have compassion for the community, which is part of values our colleagues also practise. From a business perspective, the corporate giving activities we do annually bring our team closer together and give more meaning and purpose to our work."
Starting small with a vision of holding regular activities in the future, SJ Low Bros has worked on events such as Run & Raisin' with TOUCH Community Services, using its resources (in this case, raisins) to raise funds.
As an SME with a small team and limited budget, SJ Low Bros also looks for collaborations to increase its reach.
In 2015, together with a speech therapy company, the firm took children and their families from Star PALS (Paediatric Advance Life Support) to a trampoline park for a family day. This was not only an opportunity for inter-business collaboration, but also a chance for SJ Low Bros staff to see a different side of their colleagues outside the office.
Mr Low recalls that during the family day with Star PALS, one of the firm's general workers fully engaged with the kids - enthusiastically getting them to put on props, take pictures, and have fun. Her spontaneous compassion and joy throughout the activity made her colleagues acknowledge and appreciate her more, forging a closer bond among the entire team.
For SJ Low Bros, doing good has also meant doing well; this is most evident in its employee engagement and staff retention rates.
In the company's employee work- life survey at the beginning of this year, responding to the question "what are the chances that you will be in this organisation one year from now?", half the staff answered "90-100 per cent" and the other half replied "70-89 per cent".
This only served to strengthen Mr Low's belief in corporate giving even more. Indeed, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre's (NVPC) Company of Good initiative has introduced him to a corporate giving approach that advocates more purposeful and strategic giving - inspiring him to think of new ways for his company to give better, and more holistically.
- This article was contributed by NVPC, as part of a series of stories on the business case for doing good. The Business Times is supporting NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Visit companyofgood.sg for more information.