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Harnessing strength, resources to support one another during crisis

Despite Covid-19, organisations innovated to lead by example and inspire fellow businesses to do good.

From far right: Adriana Lim Escano, founder & CEO, Abry Pte Ltd, Junnie Lee, operations manager, Kimberly Kwan, assistant commercial manager, with Seet Tiat Hee (dark blue t-shirt), principal of Crest Secondary School, his students undergoing an internship with Abry, and vice-principal Sam Ho (far left).

Lush Singapore managed soap waste through its exclusive licensee company, Sash Natural.

Snack box subscription startup Boxgreen has seen an increase in subscription as more people are working from home.

Mitsubishi Electric Asia collaborated with BCA to paint the Asian Women's Welfare Association's shelters for displaced families.

Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis that brought the global economy to a grinding halt. Businesses reached a nadir as the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for many of them.

During this difficult period, it is easy to throw in the towel and take an insular approach. However, the group of organisations nationally recognised as Champions of Good 2020 rolled with the punches, innovated, and continued to lead by example and inspire fellow businesses to do good - as exemplified by the few companies that are featured here.

Quek Shiyun, head, Company of Good (COG), said: "Individuals and organisations make up a community. In challenging times, it has become more apparent that our interests are very much interconnected. It is important for individuals and organisations to do their part to harness the strength and resources to support one another, to emerge stronger together.

"Every sector has its platforms, resources and expertise that can be leveraged through collaborating across networks so as to optimise resources and core competencies to create greater social impact. Collaboration enables each of these sector to harness the potential of their platforms to create greater awareness, outreach to serve the needs of the community efficiently and sustainably."

This can be seen from the various projects that the Champions spearheaded. For example, COG launched a programme called Eat for Good and together with COG collaborators Maybank Singapore, Samsui Supplies & Services and Tripadvisor, partnered The Food Bank Singapore's Feed the City project. Looking ahead, the Champions will seek opportunities to amplify their efforts in doing good by working together, and tapping each other's strengths. They will continue to embody the spirit that true champions make time for good.

Ms Quek added that being nationally recognised as Champions of Good is just the beginning of a meaningful journey. "We encourage all Champions of Good to continue to make time for good, persist in having purpose the centre of their business , collaborate with stakeholders, to bring like-minded partners onboard their doing good journey and inspire others to become multipliers of good, to create greater social impact."

FOR many companies in Singapore, setting work hours and having employees adhere to them is practically an employer's right. But Adriana Lim Escano feels differently. The founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of fashion and lifestyle retailer and distributor Abry instead adapts working hours to suit the needs of her 19 staff members, the majority of whom are single mothers and elderly women. This group struggles to find employment as they often cannot meet "rigid" traditional working hours, Ms Lim Escano said.

It has always been a part of Abry's aspiration since it was established in 2008 to affirm every individual's uniqueness, inspire a community of infectious hope and realise dreams.

"Celebrating different companies' strengths and collaboration is part of that bigger picture," said the 41-year-old Ms Lim Escano. "We recognised this in Thomas Sabo (despite them being our competitor), and found creative ways to hire their retrenched team and continue their legacy in Singapore."

She added that good synergy leads to less resource wastage, less duplication of efforts, better efficiency and better quality of life overall.

Besides securing a distribution deal with jewellery brand Thomas Sabo, Abry was recently appointed to operate the retail store at the National Gallery - The Gallery Store by Abry - since end-October 2020, even as the Covid-19 outbreak ravaged the retail industry.

“The different landlords and brands are happy with the unique and fresh concepts we have brought while meeting their desired targets. Vendors and Singapore designers have been happy with the opportunity to be showcased. Most were surprised at the response to their products, and hurrying to produce more to meet demand.”

BOXGREEN, as a food company, is aware of how the environment impacts food supply through ingredient shortages and price increases as a result of climate change. So the company came up with plant-based snacks that are as much as possible sourced regionally from sustainable suppliers. All packaging boxes are also made of recycled material and are 100 per cent recyclable.

Andrew Lim, co-founder, said: "We think it's every company's responsibility to address the climate change issue in their operations; and a great way to start is by looking at how to reduce waste or to encourage recycling. While our impact may not be great globally, we do believe that we can make a small difference in our geographically-small country. Climate change aside, we'll run out of space at some point if the waste keeps piling up."

Boxgreen is a social enterprise supported by DBS Bank. As social enterprise (SE) sector mature in Singapore, businesses are increasingly aware that championing such causes is as much about nurturing these businesses as it is about strengthening the ecosystem. DBS Bank's DBS Foundation, an early player in the space, is actively leveraging collaborations to widen their impact. Last year, for instance, it announced its inaugural DBS Foundation Social Impact Prize as part of SMU's Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition. It also partnered the Singapore International Foundation in 2019 to award the DBSFxSIF Social Impact Prize to three SEs that have shown compelling achievements. This is in addition to its annual Social Enterprise Grant, which has been held annually since 2015. Karen Ngui, board member of DBS Foundation and DBS's head of group strategic marketing and communications, said: "Food binds people together and has the power to connect across generations. Yet some of our attitudes towards food have exacerbated critical issues such as global warming, climate change and biodiversity loss. We look forward to working with social enterprises across Asia as together, we work towards creating a better, more sustainable world."

COMPANIES now view corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a crucial part of their mission, rather than an afterthought, and many see collaborations with other companies as a good way to give back to society.

Hence, in the spirit of collaboration, Mitsubishi Electric Asia, an electric and electronic equipment sales company, teamed up with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to paint the Asian Women's Welfare Association's shelters for displaced families. Volunteers cleaned and painted the Lengkok Bahru premises to turn the space into a positive living environment for these families.

Frederick Goh, vice-president of Mitsubishi Electric Asia, said that it is difficult for businesses to be sustainable if they are solely looking at financial gains. "Companies must recognise CSR as a tool to strengthen their businesses while contributing to society at the same time . . . Collaborating yields a greater positive social impact as it lets us leverage each other's resources and opens the door to a greater pool of beneficiaries.

"At this time, the growing societal and environmental issues are factors which impacted businesses' growth and sustainability. When the business practices are purpose-driven, and creates shared values, it will gain trust from its stakeholders, including society, customers, shareholders, and employees. At the same time, stakeholders earn satisfaction from supporting the business practices."

This will be the fourth year that Mitsubishi Electric Asia is participating in the SG Cares Giving Week movement, which is taking place from Dec 1-7 2020.

"The CSR committee will be sprouting up thanksgiving tree in our office for staff to hang their personalised 'thank you messages" to their fellow colleagues," said Mr Goh. "The company will also be distributing a little token of appreciation to the eligible deserving staff, about 125 of them."

BEFORE Covid-19 struck, hotels would typically be left with barely used bars of soap and bottles of shampoo after their guests checked out. Lush Singapore, a retail chain that sells soaps, shampoos and skin-pampering items, managed soap waste through its exclusive licensee company, Sash Natural.

Its chance came when Hong Kong-based Soap Cycling, Asia's first and largest soap-recycling charity, expanded to Singapore. It gathered unused soaps and shampoos for recycling and subsequent distribution to groups such as migrant workers and low-income families.

Jacqueline Tan, partnerships manager of Soap Cycling, said that with hotels running at 80-90 per cent occupancy when a pre-pandemic Singapore was still a major tourism hub, a lot of hotel soap was going to waste.

So when the Singapore chapter of Soap Cycling was set up, hotels were the first partners it reached out to. Hotel partners now include Park Hotel Group, Hilton Singapore and Frasers Hospitality. The soaps collected from Soap Cycling Singapore's hospitality partners are first sorted and then "cleaned" - in straightforward fashion, that is, by scraping off the surface layer of the soap with a scraper.

A Lush Singapore spokesperson said: "Soap is self-cleansing and self-preserving, so it's safe for use and does not have to go through a 'sterilisation' process." The charity also trains hotel housekeepers on selecting the soaps for the programme, so that only mildly used or unused ones are collected."Lush is a brand with strong ethics, and have been involved in environmental movements since the start. We have always supported small grassroots groups and other non-profit organisations working in the following areas - environmental, animal protection and human rights (including equality, peace and social justice). So it was no surprise that we work with Soap Cycling Singapore for this event."

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