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UBS seeds communities to grow

Ms Tan briefing executives from various charities and UBS volunteers at a 'Done in a Day' workshop.


THE Swiss bank that serves the wealthy also invests for another important client: society.

"It's about us investing," Leona Tan, managing director, and community affairs and diversity & inclusion adviser at UBS, told BT in an interview. "Our community dollars that we put into Singapore specifically or any other location that we might have a business presence in are about investing in that community."

UBS AG - the financial services company and founding member of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre's (NVPC) Company of Good (COG) programme - supports local communities globally through the community investment component of its "UBS and Society" platform: a platform covering all of UBS's activities and capabilities in sustainable investing and philanthropy; environmental and human rights policies that govern client and supplier relationships; managing the firm's own environmental footprint; as well as the firm's community investment.

Following its global theme of focusing community investment in education and entrepreneurship, UBS supports youth and social enterprises in Singapore by providing targeted financial support and employee volunteering to partners who seek to empower these communities, generally on a multi-year basis. "At the end of the day, we are a foreign organisation based in a local community. In order for the community to thrive, we have a responsibility to ensure that the environment we're in, the society we're in, actually thrives," said Ms Tan.

One example of UBS's community investment in education is its partnership with CampVision (CV), an organisation that reaches out to underprivileged, at-risk youths in Singapore.

In 2014, UBS teamed up with CV to organise the LEAD Programme, a yearly mentoring journey for youths to build leadership skills, communication skills, and resilience. Over 10 sessions, UBS volunteers are grouped with the youths to participate in teambuilding activities facilitated by a C-suite executive coach that UBS uses for its key talent.

"It's about building a safe and empowering community of youths and adults where they can all be equals. So the youths actually see adults also struggling with the same things," said Ms Tan. "You know, and you ask why we do what we do. It's not only about the beneficiaries. At UBS, we also want to make sure it's about the culture of making an impact. Each and every one has the ability as a volunteer (to make an impact)."

On the social enterprise front, UBS has worked with Empact Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based social enterprise that matches skilled volunteers with charity partners, through Empact's skills- based volunteering "Done in a Day" workshop. At the eight-hour-long workshop, UBS helps charities build capacity in their projects by leveraging the skills of UBS employees in fields such as law, finance and HR.

"Society tends to forget that charities also have issues such as HR matters, how we deal with talent development, how we track them, and all that. So, basically, the teams put together tend to be quite high-level, with at least a director and above," explained Ms Tan on how UBS's efforts add value to the charities' projects.

She added: "The overarching theme is always that we want our charity partners to build capacity as an organisation as well as in the project that they may have come to us for."

To evaluate whether UBS should undertake projects that come its way, Ms Tan explained that the bank considers factors such as the capacity for the project to grow, whether the investment is financially justifiable, and whether UBS is able to facilitate the commitments of the project.

"We tend to look at projects that are new or different," she added, "and (we might even) work with them and say, 'Have you thought about doing this?' The intention is really about seeding, and then growing from there."

  • This is part of a series of stories on impactful corporate giving under the Company of Good programme led by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). The Business Times is supporting the initiative as media partner.