Conscious capitalism: Making goodness the business of every organisation

From Left to Right: Ms Melissa Kwee, CEO, NVPC; Mr Eugene Seow, Vice Chairman, NVPC; Mrs Mildred Tan, Chairman, NVPC; Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community & Youth; Ms Sim Ann, SMS, MCCY & MOF; Mr Teo Siong Seng, Chairman, SBF; Ms Lee Sze Yeng, Board Member, SBFF. (Photo: Company of Good)

By Jolene Yeo

Socially conscious customers, idealistic employees, and a skeptical public have now provided a compelling narrative to urge companies to give back to society, intrinsically or not. As the business landscape matures and the economy saturates, businesses have continued to develop a unique and socially responsible business model over the lull period, differentiating their product from the rest of the market.

“Conscious capitalism”

“If a business does not make profit, it dies. But it does not follow that the purpose of business is to make profits.”

In face of a lingering recession and an educated consumer population, consumers have in generally tightened their purses, making it more necessary for business to differentiate their products to suit the changing taste and preferences of consumers.

A 2015 Nielsen report found that 66% of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social causes and environmental impact. This willingness to pay a premium for socially responsible products is particularly consistent across all income levels of consumers; the Nielsen report finds that it is no longer limited to wealthy suburbanites in major markets willing to open their wallets for sustainable offerings.

Increasing numbers of consumers in developed regions, like Singapore, are beginning to consider sustainability actions more of an imperative than a value-add.

Making goodness the business of every organisation

Where does Singapore belong then, in what seems to be a worldwide phenomenon to tweak business models to make doing good part of every company’s DNA?

The 2015 Corporate Giving Survey (CGS 2015) by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found that while many companies in Singapore engage in volunteering and donating activities, more can be done to deepen their giving journey by being more thoughtful and strategic in their giving. The mature economic landscape in Singapore provides companies with a solid grounding to give back to society financially, or through investing time and effort.

Despite the perceived abilities to give back to society more meaningfully, companies often lack to impetus and know-how in tweaking their business model to include doing good as part of the business objective. Many a time, companies retain the model of having a measly Corporate Social Responsibility team, perhaps even parked under Human Resource, to come up with less than meaningful activities.

Likening it to how the Community Involvement Project in schools have moved far beyond beach-litter picking and spending one day at the old-folks home, students as young as 13 are now encouraged to play a more active and involved role in their Values-In-Action project, thus developing a clear sense of purpose towards serving the particular community of choice rather than a mere follow-through to accumulate the necessary hours.

Likewise, in the words of Minister Grace Fu, to make doing good the business of every company requires a shift in mindset away from seeing corporate performance and social responsibility as competing for resources in a zero-sum environment; away from seeing corporate giving as a cost, a constraint or mere charity.

June 2016 saw the launch of the Company of Good, a programme jointly developed by the NVPC, in partnership with the Singapore Business Federation Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

As companies at large in Singapore struggle with defining what good giving is, and whether they are giving well, the Company of Good framework is developed to help guide companies on how they can give well and holistically. This framework is open to all local and foreign-owned companies, large enterprises or SMEs that are operating in Singapore.

This national initiative–both ground up and receiving support by the MCCY comes at a time where it is now more imperative than ever for consumer brands to embrace sustainability in businesses, that while business require profits to survive, it does not follow that the purpose of business is to make profits.

Singaporeans and the world at large wants to see how our companies can be the catalyst of change in the communities they operate in; the critical professional expertise, resources for giving, and influence of companies make businesses well placed to plan and execute sustainable changes to the Singapore society.

Growing the culture of giving

Well-known companies such as DBS, Visa and Shell are creating new markets in the world by closely aligning social causes with their overarching corporate strategies. DBS for example, is a fervent supportive of social causes and social entrepreneurship, and has provided seed funding to contribute to growing the efforts of young change-makers.

Companies in Singapore have also long played a key role in contributing back to the Singapore society. M1 is known for the commitment to the arts, NTUC Income and Keppel Corporation do contribute financially to bettering the lives of the less advantage, FoodXervices set up the Food Bank Singapore in 2012, now run by over 900 volunteers and distributes around 60 tons of food per month to help over 100,000 needy individuals.

“Social responsibility is a critical part of proactive reputation management. And companies with strong reputations outperform others when it comes to attracting top talent, investors, community partners, and importantly, consumers”, says Carol Gstalder of Nielsen.