Tis better to give and engage

It’s not just about the money. Social engagement counts too.

Although corporate donations are widespread in Singapore, the private sector’s lack of community participation is disappointing, concluded a recent study by researchers from the National Technological University and Singapore Management University.

Titled “Corporate Giving Research”, the study involved interviews with 60 senior executives of Singaporean and international corporations operating here.

“The private sector must begin to look beyond the creation of shareholder value and become more socially engaged,” said lecturer Ferdinand de Bakker, who headed the report and has been researching on corporate philanthropy for more than 30 years. Doing so, experts believe, will result in positive impacts on the business itself.

As global changes affect us through pressing issues such as fiscal deficits and aging populations, the world will be looking towards the private sector to find the scale, expertise and financial strength to help address issues in a meaningful way, said the report.

But for the private sector to benefit from this trend, it must address the disconnect between its take on corporate responsibility and its current paradigm of corporate social involvement.

de Bakker explained: “A company’s future is determined by the way people view it. If a company is viewed in a favourable way, stock prices increase. If not, consumers no longer buy its products.”

Further more, continued de Bakker, if a company is seen as interacting with society in a meaningful way, it’s also seen as a more attractive option among job applicants. “This is something we have seen in Singapore,” he added. “Human resource directors indicated that it was easier to find the right people if the company practised corporate social involvement.”

He suggests that companies should ramp up efforts to conduct a “social engagement audit” to determine how a business’ values are linked to social issues. “This should translate into strategies and resources to engage with the social sector and weaved into business plans,” according to the report.

“Corporate giving projects the image of how generous a company is,” agreed Ivan Chin, founder of Positive Intentions, a social enterprise that specialises in people development. “I’m a big advocate of not just corporate giving, but corporate doing. And where possible, local companies should be doing as much as multinationals.”

MAKING GOOD OUT OF DOLLARS

HSBC Singapore, which was recently named the 2012 Corporate Category Winner at the inaugural President’s Award for Volunteerism, launched its Volunteers@HSBC staff programme in 1997. Through the programme, the bank provides the funding and support for employees to organise and participate in volunteer services for the community.

At its annual Corporate Responsibility night, staff volunteers also help to select the charities which will receive funding from the bank as its way of empowering them and giving them greater ownership of the bank's corporate responsibility mandate.

“Success in business is inextricably linked to the strength and well-being of the wider community in which we serve,” said Goh Kong Aik, head of group communications and corporate sustainability. “With success comes a responsibility to give something back to the larger community and our defining consideration is that we want to make a difference in society.”

For utilities giant Sembcorp Industries, volunteer activities are planned around environmental and community causes like the Garden City Fund and charities serving the disadvantaged elderly.

“Contributing towards our communities helps us play a part in building a more caring and compassionate community,” said Gwendolyn Loh, manager of group corporate relations. “The communities’ acceptance of us grants us the license to operate, which is an important yet intangible asset for companies and businesses.”

There are also others like Lorna Whiston Schools, a provider of English language programmes, which has been practicing corporate social responsibility way before CSR even became a popular buzzword here.

Since its first school was established 33 years ago, Lorna Whiston has had their fair share of food, book and toy drives. But they took their commitment a step further five years ago, partnering with Life Community Services Society (LCSS), an organisation that works with lower income group families and children with incarcerated parents by empowering them through care and mentoring.

That spirit of giving isn’t just prevalent amongst the staff of Lorna Whiston as parents and students have also been enthusiastic about supporting the school’s charity outreach, said Shanna Mae Therese, a principal at Lorna Whiston’s pre-school Raintree Cove, recalling a recent Christmas gift drive for LCSS.

A WAY TO GO

Aside from the corporate benefits of giving and social involvement, many volunteers are supportive of their companies because they want to play a part in shaping a better world. At the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), more than 200 staff members recently put together a Christmas album for sale in support of the Tan Tock Seng Community Charity fund, which was set up in 1995 to help needy patients.

“Through this collective vocal effort, we hope to connect with the public while spreading joy and cheer throughout the community,” explained corporate communications executives Chong Pei Wen. “It was a tribute to our patients to brighten their day.”

Her colleague Angie Teoh added that for TTSH, corporate giving and CSR are not done with any financial incentives in mind— but because it’s simply the right thing to do. “It’s more of a philosophy,” she added.

“I’m just happy to be able to use my experiences and networks to support children in a country that has suffered,” said Alan Addison, a teacher at Lorna Whiston who has led a fundraising campaign to build a new dormitory for a children’s home in Cambodia and was also involved in setting up the school’s English language programme.

For Valerie Lee, a senior trader at Sembcorp who actively takes part in company-driven CSR initiatives, volunteering is a good way to add a fun and meaningful aspect to work life. It helps too, that the avenues to participate are easily accessible and convenient.

“I find it one of the best ways to get know my colleagues better and spend my time out of the office in a meaningful way,” she said. “Of course it helps to see the reward of your effort impacting someone in a positive way.”

“It’s addictive.”

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

  1. Check out the full findings of the Corporate Giving Research report.
  2. Inform yourself on your company's community activities. Is there leave assigned for volunteer hours? Do they have a matching donation program?
  3. Talk to your company about getting more involved with your own initiatives. While they may need to seek alignment with their business goals, the chances are they will enthusiastic.
  4. Share how you started something at your company - we love to hear from you.