On 22 May 2012, participants of the Volunteerism Conference were treated to an afternoon of insightful sharing from guest speakers Ms Susan Ellis, Professor Eugene Tan, and Mr Trevor Haeger.
Together with the speakers, the participants, comprising staff from both non-profit and for-profit corporations in Singapore, explored the possibilities for strategic workplace volunteer projects that should go beyond single days of service, for programmes with genuine sustainable impact.
Professor Tan who teaches business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the Singapore Management University shared his assessment of the local CSR scene. Beginning by setting the framework of CSR, he defined it as efforts by businesses to encourage employees in giving towards the social initiatives within the community.
I particularly enjoyed the candid manner in which Professor Tan challenged his audience to rethink the notion of CSR. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” - Professor Tan alluded the danger of thoughtless CSR efforts to this adage - noting that good intentions alone is insufficient for successful CSR efforts. He urged his audience to look at innovative ways of undertaking CSR, ways which will value-add to the beneficiaries, as well as employees’ experiences.
(From left: Professor Eugene Tan, Ms Susan Ellis, moderator Mr Simon Lau and Mr Trevor Haeger)
In this regard, Professor Tan highlighted the possibilities of tapping into the skills and talents of employees to bring about transformative CSR projects. Construct programmes which encourage employees to be agents of change and can therefore make a difference, instead of having them as helping hands doing menial tasks at homes or institutions which do not engage them.
Non-profit Organisations (NPOs) too, have to play an important role towards successful CSR in Singapore, as noted by Professor Tan. While CSR efforts are readily embraced by many companies, the real issue at hand is whether NPOs are effectively managing the rising pool of corporate volunteers. He called for NPOs to step up their efforts in being the partner to engage companies instead of just passive recipients in its CSR initiatives.
Professor Tan’s assessment of CSR efforts in Singapore was followed by Ms Susan Ellis’ in-depth sharing on what CSR efforts should comprise of, and the art of implementing meaningful CSR projects. Ms Ellis underscored the importance of the company’s support towards CSR projects, listing different degrees of support that could be extended. Examples include giving employees flexi time to volunteer in causes they care about. This could be in the options of having extended lunch hours, leave for volunteering or organising activity to promote volunteerism within the organisation regularly.
I found the ‘Business Case for Corporate Volunteering’ particularly enlightening, as it brought to my attention the importance of articulating and defending CSR to stakeholders and people who might question the necessity of such efforts. In her sharing, Ms Ellis shared with the audience how they could build a convincing and robust case in winning over stakeholders to support CSR.
Mr Trevor Haeger, Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, shared on Standard Chartered’s Journey in CSR. His presentation enabled me to put many of the ‘technicalities’ of CSR, as previously touched upon by Ms Ellis into perspective. As part of its community investment Standard Chartered Bank rolled out several CSR initiatives both in the local and global scale.
And in line with its dedication to the CSR cause, the bank increased the number of ‘volunteering leave’ from two, to three days in 2010, and also established an online portal in 2011 for employees to share volunteering opportunities with one another.
As aptly mentioned by Mr Haeger, such initiatives are important efforts in embedding a volunteering culture within the organisation. The endorsement and conscious effort from top management to be present at every volunteering programme is also critical for the success of CSR projects. This intentional deed contributes to the morale and loyalty of employees immensely. His sentiments echoed Ms Ellis’ proposition on the importance of support from top management.
The volunteering spirit of Standard Chartered Bank was appropriately manifested that afternoon as their staff volunteered as ushers to the participants at the session. The Bank’s active involvement in CSR is indeed an inspiration!
For someone just beginning to develop an interest in CSR but not having done sufficient research in this area, I found the session refreshing and particularly useful in identifying the important points to reflect on for impactful CSR programmes.
Ms Ellis’ sharing on the steps and pointers to consider when undertaking CSR, is undoubtedly a clear and useful guide for any Company keen to initiate or embark on this meaningful project. But before anyone can zealously dive into CSR, let us not forget Professor Tan’s quote on “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. This should be an appropriate caution for companies to put careful thought in conceptualising their CSR programmes, and be aware of the possible threats that could thwart the good intentions of CSR.
This article is contributed by volunteer writer, Ms Poh Yuhui
Check out the event pictures from the Volunteerism Conference here: