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CapitaLand matches its charity work with the kind of work it does best

CapitaLand president and group CEO Lim Ming Yan at its first Volunteer Day in China in 2014. He advocates leveraging employees' expertise to help the community.


BUSINESS leaders would be remiss to take their eyes off outcomes - think profitability, or productivity. Yet, zooming in on outcomes doesn't come as naturally when thinking about the philanthropy their businesses engage in.

But it is important to focus on outcomes when developing a corporate philanthropy strategy, says CapitaLand president and group CEO Lim Ming Yan. And to do that, serious thought must first be given to the causes a company chooses to back.

"Companies should advocate for worthy causes that resonate with what they do at work, leveraging the expertise of their employees to help the community, while also keeping the needs of the community in mind," says Mr Lim, who is also director of the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, set up in 2005 to help CapitaLand be focused and committed in its giving.

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For instance, he sees resonance between the foundation's focus on the education, healthcare and shelter needs of underprivileged children in the communities CapitaLand operates in, and its property business.

"We are building and shaping real estate of the future; and we believe that helping underprivileged children is the best investment in the future," he says in an e-mail interview. There are now 28 CapitaLand Hope Schools in China and Vietnam, and staff visit these schools twice a year to help with refurbishment work and interact with students.

Another example of taking on projects aligned to the company's capabilities is the CapitaLand Young Architect Programme, a three-month mentorship for 70 secondary students from low-income families, which focused on how design can meet the needs of people using community spaces and which offered students a chance to work with CapitaLand's product and design experts.

Choosing the right causes frees a company to focus on the beneficiaries' needs. "Keep an open mind when working with the non-profit organisation. Appreciate the cause and be clear on how to effectively address the beneficiary's needs and achieve the desired outcomes," says Mr Lim. Often, CapitaLand has been able to generate "multiplier effects" by roping in tenants and shoppers, or tapping on its wide network of partners for projects.

Measuring these outcomes is prudent, too.

At CapitaLand, this has meant putting in place systems to ensure accountability and measure the impact of its giving, measures which feed into an annual sustainability report, audited by external auditors.

For instance, it adopted the London Benchmark Group methodology to track the efficacy of the CapitaLand Kids' Food Fund at improving the nutrition of paediatric patients.

A focus on philanthropic outcomes need not clash with, or distract from, business goals. In fact, says Mr Lim, philanthropy is more effective and sustainable when it is clear that corporate giving "serves the company's strategic business outcomes".

In CapitaLand's case, its efforts have been bolstered by surveys showing that children's education and health (its foundation's focus) was the cause closest to Asia-Pacific consumers' hearts, as well as how global clients and tenants prefer serviced residences and commercial developments with sustainable practices or design.

CapitaLand also strongly advocates volunteering. All staff are given three days of volunteer service leave, which 2,100 employees made use of last year to put in a total of 16,000 volunteering hours.

Senior management involvement is crucial, says Mr Lim, who volunteers, too. The first CapitaLand Volunteer Day in Singapore in 2013, when over 200 senior managers undertook a makeover of 20 homes of underprivileged children to give them a better learning environment, was one memorable experience, he says.

At the end of the day, a business, simply via its provision of goods or services, has the power to give back in ways beyond charity causes. This may explain Mr Lim's strong personal interest in how CapitaLand shapes the community through its built environment.

"This is a heavy responsibility that we bear . . . and one that gives us our purpose. Creating spaces which are well-used and loved by the community can spark a greater sense of ownership and appreciation of where they live, work and play," he says.

After all, "the long-term success of our business is closely intertwined with the health and prosperity of the communities we operate in".

  • This article is part of a series highlighting inspiring companies who are catalysts of change in corporate giving. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as a media partner. For more information, go to