History and Background of CSR in Singapore The concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in Singapore began in the 19th and early 20th centuries, usually initiated by clan associations for their strong cultural and community spirit. Since then, the onset of globalisation has allowed for the influx of international corporations, together with their values and CSR practices into Singapore’s ecosystem. Of the CSR elements, corporate philanthropy and voluntarism remained the most prominent, with companies mainly focusing on reporting and compliance, or as an opportunity for media publicity.
Over the recent years, there has been a greater push for the role of CSR to take precedence in business strategy. Companies are increasingly becoming aware of the importance that social responsibility plays in creating value for a business and their stakeholders. In 2018, NVPC’s survey reported that 50% of businesses give back to the community. However, the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a wave of giving that created an increase in donations that “exceeded figures from the year before”. The concept of doing good, including CSR, has been developing in Singapore with the proliferation of Benefit Corporations, UN Sustainable Development Goals and Impact investing, signalling a new era of innovative, socially responsible business practices. However, we want to encourage corporations and businesses to do it better, by doing it differently.
At Solve n+1, we believe that businesses have the capability to change lives, through methods that extend beyond donating to charitable causes. Investing in the ‘social good’ fills the gap with resources, but we want to challenge corporations and businesses to also stand in the gap.
The 3 opportunities for CSR “It’s about being a socially responsible corporation, not a corporation with CSR.” From our research and experience with different stakeholders, we found 3 opportunities: contribution of skill sets, bridging the knowledge gap on social issues, and building mutual relationships with NGOs. As such, we have created a system to enable corporations and businesses, by enriching the CSR experience.
1. CSR should build on existing skill sets CSR is often seen as an extracurricular activity, which can be deprioritised if it distracts employees from their main role. Because most companies maintain a “profit first” mindset, it often simplifies CSR into an “if only” question: We can donate only if we have an excess in resources, or we can volunteer only if we have excess time. This models to the employees that CSR is secondary. Even when businesses decide on a philanthropic voluntarism approach, they might sign up for a trash picking program, or a vegetable-cutting session in the kitchen. Menial work is necessary and value-adding, but it’s time we bring CSR out from the realm of “dirty work”.
When we think of value, we think of time and resources. We believe that contribution is sometimes less about meeting people’s everyday needs, but about co-creating together with them to help them truly live. As such, we created a giving personality quiz that would inform you of the most efficient ways you can contribute. While companies try to partner with vulnerable communities, it is crucial that their employees are also enjoying the process and value-adding. It is almost ironic that some of the best problem-solvers in prestigious companies would think that doing good is simply about washing dishes, when they could be utilising their thinking skills to solve social issues more effectively. The department of CSR should be one of the most exciting work environments, as it requires a large amount of collaboration and innovation.
2. CSR should Deepen Understanding
We often ask corporations and businesses, “do you know who and what you are donating to?” Majority of corporations and businesses are interested in contributing to good work, without always knowing what good is. CSR can be a touchy topic, if money is the only type of contributions organisations can make.. While money is a highly accessible manner of contributing, purely relying on financial giving could limit understanding and further distance corporations and beneficiaries. When there’s more understanding of social issues, there can be more creativity in our response.
We believe it is vital for their employees to learn more about the issue and take time to unpack the complexities behind the activities and program itself. We have compiled a book about the social impact sector, “Beneath the Rug” that makes these complex social issues accessible and readable for corporations and individuals to glean and enrich their perspective.
3. CSR can build mutually beneficial Relationships
As many CSR initiatives are often a short-term/one-off program, there is little to no opportunity for long-lasting relationships to develop. The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. — Gandhi
A deeper understanding would foster a more resilient relationship. As part of our CSR strategy, we believe in the importance of co-creating with corporates to create value that would give employees a greater sense of meaning. In doing so, it would equip them to do likewise with vulnerable communities and beneficiaries, co-creating with them for a longer, more resilient partnership to be built. As such, our CSR strategy for corporations is one that meets them where they are, allowing us to tweak and be flexible about how we can empower them to do good, and to do CSR better.