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Speech at 4th International Singapore Compact CSR Summit

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State for National Development, Stamford Ballroom, Raffles City Convention Centre

Mr Kwek Leng Joo, President of Singapore Compact for CSR,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. A very good morning to all of you.
  2. My children are of school-going age, and one of the programmes they have in school is the Community Involvement Programme (CIP) (I believe it is now called the Values in Action Programme), in which students are required to clock a certain number of hours for community outreach. I believe the cause is a good one. Beyond just teaching social values, students stand to gain when they are involved in community work. Though it is mandatory initially, if such community outreach is done well, students could really learn and understand the full range of issues confronting those whom they help, be they the aged, the underprivileged or the handicapped. This is when the value of giving back to society begins to be imbued in them. So a “tradition” would have been built up and even when students graduate and CIP is no longer a requirement, many students continue to participate because they begin to understand and appreciate the value in community work.
  3. This begs the question: How does it continue thereafter? We all know that as businesses, you are accountable to your shareholders so the bottom line matters. But we also need to ask ourselves what our place in society is. The place we live in is more than a physical locality, it is also a home because of the relationships we have established with the people around us. In the same token, on a nationwide level, do we simply operate a business in a place or are we doing much more to make this place a home? When we begin to give ourselves to others, that’s when we begin to transform society. It has begun in schools but what happens after that? In my capacity as a member of parliament, it would mean looking out for what I can do more in my community and how I can involve my residents to reach out to those amongst us who need help.
  4. CSR can sometimes be seen as something hip and a ‘must-have’ for progressive companies. There are practical reasons, like positive image branding, to why we think it’s beneficial. However, do we go through the motion or do we really absorb the meaning behind it? I believe much starts from leadership. If the top leadership does not emphasize CSR or genuinely believe in it, it will just be perfunctory. But at the very least, we are still doing something about it. However, if we truly believe that there’s something we can do, we begin to see how the entire nation can be transformed. In many ways, building great companies depends on the values of the leadership and management. If senior management leads by example, your employees can be inspired. They may no longer just be doing a job from 9 to 5, they will begin to embrace the values that the company espouses because the whole company is participating in the process. Just as children in schools learn to value community involvement, so we can continue that in the business place through CSR.
  5. Often we also forget to look inwards. How do we look after our employees? How do we create a positive work environment? How do we go the extra mile to recognize their effort? That’s when we have to reconcile good HR practices with the bottom line. And HR practices isn’t just carried out at the HR department, it extends to the CEOs and the bosses. It is really about looking beyond the financial bottom line and looking at how we contribute to society, and by that I also mean the community that exists within your organizations as well, your employees and your workplace.

    Good CSR Practices by Award-winners
  6. With a board-level CSR Committee at the helm, NTUC FairPrice has developed CSR strategies that are integrated into daily business operations, aiming to do right by their customers, staff, the community and the environment. For example, FairPrice is committed to inclusive and harmonious workplaces, and provides employment to diverse groups, including the disabled, women re-entering the workforce who are looking for more flexible work arrangements, and beneficiaries of the yellow ribbon project. The yellow ribbon project is where we work actively with prisons to rehabilitate ex-inmates and the community supports them by providing them job opportunities. 40% of its comprises employees above 50 years old. The company also supports its staff with a Study Grant for employee’s children and a Hardship Grant to tide workers when they are going through a rough patch.
  7. Besides taking good care of your crew, the issues and needs of the environment and the community are important too. CapitaLand, for example, is one company which prioritises such CSR initiatives. The real estate developer has taken a holistic approach towards CSR, aligning community development projects with the company’s credo of “Building People”. It’s not just physical buildings, but it’s about building a home and building people. Its corporate foundation, CapitaLand Hope Foundation, allocates up to 0.5% of the firm’s net profit to improving the lives of underprivileged children across Asia. CapitaLand commits to several other initiatives that aim to better the livelihoods and education of children. For its significant efforts in meeting the triple bottom-line, CapitaLand has just this month been included on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as a global sustainability leader. I think we all know it’s not the benefit of the title that we’re going for but because we believe in the cause.
  8. CSR can also be also about responding to the unmet needs of society. The government provides a wide and extensive range of assistance but this is where efforts have to be complementary. The moment people shift responsibility to the state, we become less connected to society. We will work to mesh the efforts of the government with the efforts of organizations and individuals into a fairly tight network where we ensure that not only do people not fall through the net, but we are also ready to go upstream to catch people before they fall. Whether you are in a big or small company, you have the capacity to embrace CSR.
  9. Adrenalin Events and Education is one business that has benefitted by innovating its business to meet social needs. A start-up that is only 4 years old, the event management company integrates CSR into its business model, employing and training the physically challenged, hearing-impaired, and youth-at-risk as part of its team. By ensuring that 30% of the events that it manages have an element that benefits the society-at-large, Adrenalin has also helped to raise $1.2 million for various causes and mobilised 10,000 volunteer hours for the community to date.
  10. When it comes to sustainability for the Planet, governments can help to establish frameworks and systems, but it is innovative and enterprising companies who play the critical lead on sustainability. NatSteel Holdings, for example, produces reinforcing steel with 100 percent recycled metal waste, thereby reducing 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission each year. That amount alone is 5 percent of Singapore’s total annual emission. NatSteel’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint makes it one of the most energy-efficient steel-producers globally, utilising 30% less electricity than the average steel mill. In addition to cost savings, NatSteel’s focus on researching and developing such technologies to drive energy efficiency has given it an advantage over its competitors in terms of knowledge and innovation.

    Building CSR Awareness for the Future
  11. These companies have shown us how CSR – essentially doing what is right – complements a focus on the bottom line. As we look to the future and to higher adoption of CSR in Singapore, in addition to showcasing such forward-thinking companies, it would also be important to build up CSR awareness among our future business owners and CEOs and HR honchos. We have to hone the values, knowledge and skills of our youth. In this regard, the Singapore Compact has kick-started a Youth Membership Scheme with the National Youth Achievement Awards Council that will soon attract young individuals with an interest in CSR to come forward and be part of the Singapore Compact network. This Scheme will be extended to students in tertiary institutions starting this September, allowing even more youths to directly participate in and support CSR initiatives.
  12. Singapore Compact and City Developments Limited (CDL) have also joined hands to organise the CDL-Singapore Compact Young CSR Leaders Award. This business competition provides an excellent platform for young aspiring leaders to execute CSR principles within a real-life business scenario. So you don’t only talk about the theories but you figure out how to work on it in practical terms on a day-to-day basis. Besides proposing business plans to integrate CSR, shortlisted teams are attached to participating SMEs and are provided mentorship by CSR consultants to guide them in refining their proposals.
  13. The student team “SMIL.E INC” was attached to Mainguard Security Services, an SME and also a pioneer in the local security services industry. The team proposed five strategies for Mainguard as part of its business operations to strengthen CSR in the company. One proposed strategy was for the company to support the growth of start-ups in Singapore by providing complimentary security consultancy. Another proposed strategy taps on Mainguard’s core expertise to equip students and the elderly with practical security tips for everyday situations. This winning team, as well as nine other teams of young leaders, demonstrates that responsible business practices can be built into any company regardless of their size. If the spirit is willing, the rest of it would follow.
  14. I would like to congratulate all our young award-winners on their spark and initiative in innovating for good.

  15. Before I end, I would like to applaud the Singapore Compact for CSR for contributing to Singapore’s journey to sustainable and inclusive growth. It is really about building a home with a heart, not just at an individual level but certainly at a community level. And community includes all businesses as well. I do believe, honestly, that when we do begin to give ourselves back to society, we begin to look beyond self, whether as individuals or companies, and we begin to change as a nation and we begin to change society as well. There is a place for CSR in every company, and I hope that Singapore Compact can help bring more companies on board for this journey. If each and every one of you here and your respective companies go forth and begin to embrace this, things will begin to change. I wish all of you a meaningful and productive time at this year’s International Summit for CSR. Thank you very much.