Businesses not doing enough to help society, says S’poreans

A street scene in Singapore

A recent study by Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, shows that nine out of 10 Singaporeans believe it is important for companies to address societal issues, yet only three in 10 think they are doing enough in this area.

The top three social causes that Singaporeans are most concerned about are: the environment, healthcare and education.

Since 2001, corporate donations to charities in Singapore has doubled to S$507 million in 2010. This accounts for two-thirds of the S$776 million in donations made in the same year.

Singapore however, still lags behind developed countries like the United States, where corporate giving comprises 0.38 per cent of GDP, as opposed to 0.17 per cent in Singapore.

According to the study, 84 per cent of Singaporeans said that they are more inclined to buy the products and services of a company that actively supports a cause.

Bob Grove, Managing Director of Edelman Southeast Asia, said: “If consumers are telling you that they want to purchase things which are aligned to causes, perhaps businesses should give it to them because that’s going to become a long-term business plan.”

The study added that “societal attributes now play an important role in helping businesses and brands build future trust and success, and that it is no longer just about operational factors.”

Experts said that motivation needs to come from the top to have a long-term commitment to social causes, adding that 50 per cent of Singaporeans say CEOs should be making that commitment, and visibly.

Mr Grove said: “The trick here is, don’t treat it as part of a discrete CSR programme, treat it as part of your business. Let me give you an example, General Electric came up with a with a concept seven years ago called ‘GE ecomagination’. That business is now 25 per cent of its global revenue and is growing twice as fast in terms of revenue than any other part of GE’s business.

“That is a return on investment and that is measureable by very traditional forms, revenue, margins, etc, because they’ve really integrated it in to their business. So they have aligned profit with purpose, and that is the part that people need to get.”

So why aren’t Singapore companies doing more to make their customers happy and cut costs?

Audrey Chia from the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy at NUS, said: “I think we need to understand what some of the paybacks are. I think perhaps that is not being made clear to them. A few years ago, there was a book that came out called ‘Green to Gold’ that argued that by being environmental, companies can actually save costs because being environmental companies can cut down on waste and making better use of resources, thus increasing efficiency.”

This article was first published in CNA