Helping purpose-driven companies thrive in a post-pandemic world
This article was originally published on The Business Times.
ON NOV 15, 2022, we welcomed the eight billionth person on planet earth. While the global population is projected to continue growing, humanity’s demand for natural resources already far exceeds what the earth can sustain, and the gap looks set to widen –unless we take action.
Three years after the outbreak of Covid-19, life is finally returning to some semblance of normalcy. But the pandemic has shown us how fragile and interconnected we are as a human race.
If we continue now as we did pre-pandemic, we are at risk of causing irreversible damage to individuals, communities and our planet – indeed, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned about “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe”.
So how should we respond? Can we learn the right lessons, and resolve to work together towards a different, better future?
For a start, I am encouraged by how governments, businesses and communities came together to overcome the pandemic, especially in Singapore, where our businesses showed remarkable agility and responsiveness to support the national effort.
Such multi-sector collaboration will be critical as we confront global challenges. In recent years, international organisations and world leaders have called on companies to do more for people and the planet. To this end, there has been a growing global movement of businesses going beyond maximising profit.
This is possible when companies begin to understand their purpose and how their existence contributes to making the world a better place. Board members and management teams must take the lead in defining this corporate purpose. Employees, customers, suppliers and even the wider community should be engaged in the process, so that the final purpose statement carries deep meaning for all key stakeholders and guides the company in making real impact.
Companies are already experiencing heightened expectations on this front. According to a 2019 Accenture study, 65 per cent of consumers wanted companies to stand up for the issues they are passionate about. When I met with a local university last year, I was told that our local undergraduates seek internship or employment opportunities with companies that are truly “good”.
Indeed, many companies have already aligned their operations to their corporate purpose. A forerunner among purposeful companies, Patagonia, is “in business to save our home planet”. The company is living out its purpose – in September 2022, it pledged all its profits, some US$100 million annually, to fund climate action and wilderness preservation efforts.
By committing to corporate purpose, a company can begin its journey to become a force for good. And if the company can embed its purpose deeply into its culture and DNA, its strategy and execution will naturally align towards benefiting communities and societies. A company that lives out its purpose authentically will also strengthen trust with all its stakeholders.
This is why the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) is transforming our successful “Company of Good” programme to help companies respond to these new global winds of change.
Drawing from the work of the Alliance for Action on Corporate Purpose, which involved over 40 organisations working together to develop a framework and blueprint on corporate purpose, we are now ready to help companies take this important step forward.
Our work on corporate giving will continue, but we will also be enabling and recognising purpose-driven companies that do good in the impact areas of people, society, governance, environment and economy. We will provide the platform, tools and support for Companies of Good to adopt corporate purpose as their “north star”, for sustained and strategic contributions to society.
Let me share two examples.
A relatively young home-grown company with a mature approach to doing good, Speco was founded with the social mission to provide jobs for marginalised Singaporeans. To date, it has partnered 91 social service agencies and upskilled 300 individuals as part of its inclusive hiring practices. Investing extensively to create advanced antiviral solutions, Speco provides greater opportunities for its employees by involving them in R&D, transforming the company into a high-tech cleaning solutions provider for over 200 organisations across Singapore.
The second is a global company that is driven by its purpose to “make sustainable living commonplace”. Unilever harnesses its brands, people and partners to create positive impact for the community, like when it distributed 50,000 plant-based meals to vulnerable families during the pandemic. The Unilever global procurement team also operates its sustainable sourcing from Singapore, as part of the company’s ambitious sustainability agenda to halve its environmental footprint.
Both Speco and Unilever are our Champions of Good – exemplary organisations demonstrating that “doing good” can translate into “doing well”.
There have been 143 Champions of Good, but that is still a small number for Singapore. To create greater impact, we need more Companies of Good and Champions of Good. Now is the time for companies to embrace corporate purpose within the larger business ecosystem, standing ready to seize emerging opportunities and shape a better future for Singapore.
I call on all companies to step forward.
Company of Good, corporate purpose