Walking the CSR Talk

October 19, 201611:14 am1302 views
With corporate social responsibility now being enshrined in the culture of organisations, it has become imperative for head honchos to spearhead the charge. HRM reveals more.

When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR), Timothy Cheong, Group HR Director, Banyan Tree Corporate, says all organisations need to ask a fundamental question of themselves: “Are we convinced that what we are doing as a company is for the good of the environment and people we work with?”

“If we cannot truthfully say that, then all CSR efforts will dim in significance when work pressure piles up, and when the finance numbers tell us this is not a pragmatic approach towards doing business.”

Cheong stresses that conviction for CSR must start from the top and be demonstrated by examples.

“Our associates see how seriously we take the CSR culture from the beginning in the choice of our hotel sites. This also extends to: the business partners we work with who carry similar convictions; the design of our hotels to blend with the heritage of the land; the resource conservation programme we put in our hotels; and most of all, the efforts we put in to develop both our local associates and the people in the community. As all these catch on, CSR will become second nature to them,” he explains.

Banyan Tree is well-placed to share its insights when it comes to CSR. The organisation clinched the Best CSR Practices gong in the 2016 HRM Awards in March.

Leading from the front

Michelle Lee, Head of Sustainability, Asia, Lendlease, says creating a sustainable future is not something new for her organisation either. In fact, CSR has been an integral part of its culture for more than 50 years.

“We do so by influencing the design, construction and operations of the places we create, ensuring that they are safe, environmentally sustainable, and inclusive to all users, and we always engage with the community during the process,” explains Lee.

Tiffany See, Executive Director of HR in Asia-Pacific at technology giant Dell, says the conglomerate has been reporting on CSR activities since at least 1998, when it published its first Environmental Progress Report externally.

“The Dell 2020 Legacy of Good Plan clarifies our long-term commitment to CSR and outlines 21 specific goals,” she says. “We encourage others to establish clear paths for their own companies to integrate CSR into their overall business strategy and corporate DNA.”

Wong Keng Fye, Head of Human Capital, Maybank Singapore, says its mission is to “humanise” the financial services sector.

“The group endeavours to do so not only through efforts to finance economic development and provide modern financial services, but also through innovative community programmes that impact the lives of marginalised members of society,” he stresses.

“The Maybank Foundation, a major vehicle for the group to positively impact many of Asia’s most needy communities, is supported by the keen involvement of employee volunteers. It’s not about scoring points – it’s about what we can do to build a better tomorrow.”

Lee says Lendlease pays attention to how it can ingrain sustainability, its key guiding principle, into everything that it does.

“Leaders walking the talk and acting as role models are also very important in reinforcing this culture,” she explains.

“We have very strong management support for all the community activities that we have organised. Every year without fail, you will see the management at the community events working alongside colleagues. Every employee, regardless of seniority, gets down and dirty to do their bit for the community.”

Likewise, Wong cites that leadership is important when it comes to encouraging staff to participate in CSR events.

“At Maybank, our senior management are involved in setting the strategic direction of CSR,” he says.

Lee says there is also a supportive culture where managers provide employees with the flexibility to support community projects during office hours, including the time used to plan and coordinate the event.

“Every year for the past 20 years, all employees globally participate in ‘Community Day’, where they participate in community projects. Globally, over 7,800 employees have contributed over 600,000 hours to over 350 community projects.”

Her counterpart Cheong also cites that CSR is “very much” in Banyan Tree’s DNA.

“In fact, when we started developing our land in Phuket more than 20 years ago, CSR did not enter our mind specifically. It was simply how to make an abandoned mine into a viable business so that the people around our land would find employment,” he explains.

“Since then, whenever we venture into different parts of the world to operate hotels and properties, the DNA of Banyan Tree is to be a responsible steward to the land and to the people who invited us to this venture. So that’s the starting point.”

See also cites says it is critical that community outreach is a key employee engagement pillar and that the function is led by senior executives with representation from team members.

“HR can help to ensure that a framework and infrastructure support are provided to team members, such as theEmployee Resource Groups at Dell. These are a great way to build networks, engage with team members and gain a sense of fulfillment,” she says.

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Beyond the usual practices

See says the organisation’s “10×20 goal”- the Dell 2020 Legacy of Good Plan, is about setting an aspirational goal of seeing its technology generate 10 times more benefit than it takes to make and use it.

“We are driving to achieve the following by 2020 in each of our focus areas: environment, community and people,” she says.

“In 2015, Dell Singapore organised a total of 580 independent events, resulting in over 7,200 volunteering hours. More than half of our Singapore-based employees participated in these activities.”

Some of Dell’s key CSR schemes include its youth learning initiatives that help underserved young people access technology and education (In 2015, Dell increased the number of children directly impacted by these programmes by more than 100,000), working with the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore in 2015 to provide technology-based education opportunities to children with intellectual disabilities, supporting children’s cancer research, working with global charities, and undertaking leadership in the field of recycling.

“Dell is now the world’s largest technology recycler with take-back programmes in 78 countries. The company now is 71% of the way to its ambitious 2020 goal (to recycle 2 billion pounds, or 907,000 tonnes of material in a year,” See explains.

Lee says Lendlease’s CSR approach spans economic, social and environmental aspects of service.

“Lendlease’s sustainability framework comprises of 12 aspirations and among those that guide us are health and wellbeing, community development, diversity and inclusion, and training, skills and employment,” she elaborates.

For example, Lee says Lendlease has designed its managed malls to be inclusive to people with different abilities and needs, by ensuring a design philosophy that is accessible to all. The Jem mall in Jurong East was awarded the Universal Design Mark Goldplus for urban design by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore.

“All Lendlease managed malls in Singapore are BCA Green Mark Platinum awarded,” she says.

“Jem also worked with Pathlight, a special school for children with autism, to showcase their artwork in the marketing suite and parent’s rooms.

Cheong says Banyan Tree’s CSR programme is predicated on two principles: “Embracing the Environment” and “Empowering People”.

Aspects under the former include resource conservation and greening the environment, while empowering people comprises training time for hotel associates among others.

Meanwhile, Wong says Maybank’s key CSR programmes are focused on providing financial inclusion for low-income families.

“We assess the needs together with our community partners and try to address these through our programmes. We also organise various events to provide volunteer opportunities for our staff according to their different interests and passions,” he explains.

Examples of Maybank’s CSR activities include the matched savings programme and insurance for low-income families (see: boxout).

Empowering Millennials

According to The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, nearly nine in 10 (87%) young workers believe the success of a business should be measured by more than just financial performance.

In addition, findings from the Aflac Corporate Social Responsibility Survey Fact Sheet showed that 66% of millennial workers were likely to invest in a company well-known for its CSR programme.

Lee says feedback from millennials during job interviews and career fairs, have also indicated that non-monetary rewards play an important role in their ratings of potential employers.

“These include clear career development paths, job satisfaction, and opportunities to give back to the society.

“Our Community 365 programme empowers millennials to lead community projects and give back to society sustainably,” she explains.

Wong says new job applicants to Maybank have also indicated an interest in the CSR opportunities that the organisation offers.

“We share our CSR efforts and volunteer opportunities with new staff as part of their induction programme, and the response is often encouraging,” he says. “We are also seeing more fresh employees participating in our volunteer events, and these millennials bring with them a lot of passion, enthusiasm and creativity in doing good for the community.”

According to See, it is not just millennials but most talented professionals that want to work for organisations that exhibit good corporate citizenship.

“Our focus on CSR helps us attract team members that share our vision to make a difference. Over the years we have started sharing our values, commitment and contributions in CSR with potential candidates,” she says.

Helping the organisation

Lee says one of the benefits of CSR is positively related to employee engagement, commitment and job satisfaction.

“This benefit is especially apparent because our community projects and events that are employee-led. Employees get to experience liaising with community partners and leading a group of colleagues to do something meaningful together,” she says.

Cheong points out that Banyan Tree’s CSR efforts have fostered an environment and culture for the company to “work for good”, “build for good” and “operate (the hotels) for good”.

“This culture help us question: are all we doing this for the good of the people and the environment? That is where the deeper conversation takes place besides the financials and performance indicators,” he adds.

See says Dell sees that the more engaged staff are, the more team members are involved in CSR and employee resource groups.

“One of the reasons for this could be a sense of belonging to the cause. With increased participation in CSR, we have noted better engagement through the employee engagement scores on Dell’s anonymous annual employee satisfaction survey,” she states.

Wong says Maybank’s CSR efforts have helped to build social goodwill for the company.

“Volunteer activities help to increase employee engagement and can be a way for departments to bond outside of work,” he explains.

Banyan Tree’s CSR principles

Embracing the Environment

  • Resource Conservation: Banyan Tree has accredited assessor Earthcheck audit the energy and water conservation at each hotel and property.
  • Greening the Environment: The organisation sets targets for planting trees in each hotel and property.
  • Other efforts: Hotels have other location specific conservation efforts such as breeding sea turtles and doing conservation research with local universities.

Empowering People

Banyan Tree sets aside training time for its hotel associates to mentor young people in the community on hotel skills, such food and beverage, housekeeping, or language and mathematical skills so they can be gainfully employed in the future.

If opportunities permit, the company helps these “trainees” to run a restaurant (such as the “Seedlings” restaurants it has in Phuket and Hoi An) so they can earn an income.

The company also has ad hoc and ongoing voluntary programmes at aged homes and orphanages.


Maybank’s CSR offerings

  • Matched savings: Maybank’s programme, CASHup, stands for “Cultivate a Savings Habit”. Through this, the bank matches the savings of low-income families up to S$1,000 to encourage them to cultivate good savings habits.
  • Insurance for low-income families: The Breadwinner Protection programme provides free personal accident insurance for low-income families, to give financial protection and peace of mind.
  • Global Corporate Responsibility day: Maybank staff around the world show their commitment to the community by taking part in meaningful initiatives on this day each year.


The article first appeared on HRM Asia. 

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