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Making it their business to give back
- Susan Chong, CEO and founder of Greenpac
- Mark Fletcher, Director of Human Resources at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
- Paul Monk, Managing Director (APAC), Alpha Development
- Komala Murugiah, Programme Coordinator (APAC), Alpha Development
- Tan Seng Chai, CapitaLand's Group Chief People Officer and Executive Director, CapitaLand Hope Foundation
- Matt Wall, CEO, Alpha Development
Moderator: Vivien Ang, journalist, BT
MAKING the world a better place is not just the responsibility of governments but companies as well.
Many business leaders have come to realise that creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals, and are stepping up efforts to support the causes they believe in.
Panellists share their views on why is doing good an essential ingredient for their company's long-term success and their take on what more can be done.
Q: How does CSR improve bottomline for your organisation?
Susan Chong: When staff bonds deepen over activities, their ways of doing things are better in-sync and thus productivity will increase. This would lead to the development of a highly motivated team which would then help the company to get more business.
Mark Fletcher: The Ritz-Carlton's Community Footprints initiative offers employees and guests the opportunity to give back to the local community.
Community Footprints teams, based at each Ritz-Carlton hotel, club and residence, localise the global strategy to make a difference through skills-based volunteering, mentoring and volunteerism experiences that benefit child well-being, environmental responsibility, and hunger and poverty relief.
Komala Murugiah: Through CSR, there's been increased employee engagement within Alpha. This has enabled the team which works across different time zones to come together, purposefully. Being involved in CSR at Alpha means that hearts, minds and hands are engaged, enabling us to practise being present often. With recognition that we are a Company of Good and being a Champion of Good, we continue building a positive brand, leading an awareness piece that our products and services as a corporate create a much wider global impact. This attracts opportunities.
Tan Seng Chai: Increasingly, there is a call for more transparency, stakeholder engagement and sustainability reporting among companies and many institutional investors also prefer companies with sustainable business practices and a commitment to do good. Corporate giving and staff volunteerism for community development are key areas of focus of CapitaLand's overall sustainability strategy. Through our philanthropic arm, CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF), it has allowed us to build strong social capital and goodwill for CapitaLand in the communities we operate in. In the longer term, this strengthens CapitaLand's social licence to operate and ability to deliver sustainable value to our stakeholders.
Q: How does the act of giving attract talent?
Ms Chong: The workforce of today is made up of people who seek a purpose-driven job. The people of today are also more conscious of how they can positively impact the world around them, and this is where Greenpac has a strong attraction factor.
Volunteerism also brings together employees from diverse backgrounds in pursuing a common goal; shared objective helps to build camaraderie and strengthen teamwork.
Mr Fletcher: At The Ritz-Carlton, our ladies and gentlemen are our most important resource in our service commitment to guests, and we are committed to ensuring their well-being. This employee value proposition has been a key contributing factor in attracting talent to work with us. Our Community Footprints programme supports the organisational culture where we take care of one another, and always put people first in all that we do.
Mr Tan: Giving has shown to positively impact companies. At CapitaLand, it enhances our positive organisational culture. For many staff, especially our younger ones, working for a responsible company committed to doing good helps energise them with a sense of purpose. Based on post-volunteer surveys, more than 94 per cent of respondents feel proud working at CapitaLand, and enjoy working in a company with a positive and vibrant corporate culture. When done consistently and regularly, corporate philanthropy boosts employer branding to attract and retain talent.
Mr Wall: As a learning & development provider developing young talent, we are a people business. Our most successful talent are always those fascinated by what makes people tick, and this is in their blood: whether they are helping train employees at a large Singaporean bank or participating in a race to raise awareness of migrant workers' rights, the drive to help others is a strong indicator of long-term talent for me as an employer.
Q: How does the act of giving impact the community?
Ms Chong: We capitalise our strength in volunteerism and apply our experience to meet the demand in bringing CSR to fruition, and also to help others, especially the SMEs that are new to CSR initiatives. With this in mind, Greenpac went on to become one of the founding members of 'Company of Good' in championing and driving corporate giving in Singapore. We strongly believe that businesses have a significantly critical role to be the agent of change and lead others in giving back to the community.
Our goal is to be the agent of change to lead the movement of corporate giving in Singapore, and to attain greater positive impact through collective action. Leadership in volunteerism is not a position or title to put a name to, it is through coordinated action and leading by example.
Mr Fletcher: The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has been spearheading the annual regional Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts, Asia-Pacific fundraising initiative - Smile Asia Week, since 2014. During this week, which usually takes place in the second week of May, specially crafted cakes made by the pastry chefs from each Ritz-Carlton hotel are sold to raise funds for Smile Asia, an international medical charity which sends medical volunteers on missions to provide corrective surgery to children with cleft lips and palates, and other facial deformities. All proceeds from the sale of the cakes go directly to the charity.
Since the launch of the initiative, we have sold more than 50,000 cakes, which have contributed to over 2,000 life-changing surgeries. Our staff volunteer their time and skills to help with the making, packing and selling of these cakes, with some even joining the overseas medical missions. We are all glad to be able to give back to the community and make a positive impact on people's lives.
Paul Monk: As well as the immediate benefits to the community as a result of giving, a critical additional consequence is bringing businesses closer to the communities that they are a part of. Companies today often talk of their "stakeholders", of which, the community are a group alongside the shareholders, clients, employees, etc.
Mr Tan: CapitaLand has in place systems and processes to measure the impact of our contribution towards our beneficiaries over the years. This is part of our annual sustainability reporting that is audited by external auditors. We use various tools to measure the impact on our beneficiaries and to ensure accountability of how the funding is being dispersed. We also work closely with our non-profit partners in tracking and measuring the impact of our contribution towards the beneficiaries. Depending on the programme, indicators such as improved academic results, health and behavioural performance of beneficiaries are tracked.
Q: Do you believe that goodness is the business of every organisation?
Mr Tan: CapitaLand recognises that the long-term success of our business is closely intertwined with the health and prosperity of the communities we operate in. Our philanthropic efforts are in line with our credo, "Building People. Building Communities." We have always held the belief that corporates can play an important role in contributing towards the building of an inclusive and caring society.
As CapitaLand works to transform city living, it is important to also keep the community's interest in mind. As a responsible developer, we seek to build sustainable and inclusive real estate developments, and combine them with meaningful placemaking initiatives to enhance the lives of our shared communities.
Mr Wall: It is possible to reframe every firm's corporate rationale into a CSR opportunity. At Alpha, we develop young employees in the financial sector, most often on graduate training programmes. One of our pro bono projects has repurposed some of training work to help these large employers at the recruitment stage, to reach out to a broader spectrum of students and increase the diversity of the future workforce: Helping them attract more people with disabilities, gain a better balance of gender and ethnic background etc. This is a simple step, costs little time and everyone wins.
Q: Why is it important for every organisation to have CSR in its DNA?
Ms Chong: Keeping up with the changing trends and business dimensions, corporate giving has evolved to go beyond the usual tree-planting, old folks' home visitations, cheque-writing to charities etc. These days, CSR is deployed as a base to steer corporate giving by behaving responsibly to our stakeholders, creating value for social and corporate sustainability through a sound Corporate Citizenship plan in place. So you asked, is it important for every organisation to have CSR in its DNA? Absolutely.
Ms Murugiah: The magnitude of being real and good shouldn't be underestimated. When CSR is in our DNA, organisations are conscious and aware in their decision-making on a daily basis.
As these combined efforts of conscious decision-making and offering products and services that are mindful of their impact coincide, we begin to transform the society into one that's supportive, cohesive and driven.
Q: What more can be done to encourage other firms, regardless of size, to give back to the community?
Ms Chong: The management has to first believe in the giving culture, believe in doing good. This will then positively impact their people who will then come on board with them.
Companies can do so first by indoctrinating their people the giving culture, starting from something doable and bite-sized before levelling up to do more. The key is to get started. Take the step to doing good and continue with it, the rest will follow. It is not about the magnitude but of doing it in a sustainable way.
Mr Fletcher: I feel that it is more rewarding when an organisation or its employees can relate to or identify with a particular cause. Working with a few selected beneficiaries and developing long-term partnerships with these beneficiaries also help to foster continuity among any organisation's employees in giving back.
Mr Tan: Companies can be more strategic in their philanthropic efforts and advocate for worthy causes that resonate with what they do at work, while leveraging the expertise of their business and employees to help the community. Additionally, instead of donations, companies can also focus on giving time through volunteering.
CapitaLand is a strong advocate of volunteerism and was one of the first companies to formalise three days of Volunteer Service Leave for our staff to further encourage them to take part in volunteering activities. Members of CapitaLand's senior management team also regularly participate in our corporate philanthropy activities to set an example and show appreciation for the contribution of our employees.
Mr Wall: We are a medium-sized firm, and we give what we can to our communities. When I see the value it gives us, the teambuilding experience and the smiles on our co-workers' faces, I'm amazed that not every larger multinational invests as much as they can in CSR. The payback in terms of employee well-being is huge: it's a compelling business case.