Social enterprises, listcos honoured for steward leadership in sophomore list by Temasek's Stewardship Asia Centre

25 companies from the region were honoured at the Steward Leadership Summit, held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on Nov 21.

Local social enterprises Bettr Barista, Inclus, Project Dignity and Tea-ideas join large listed companies DBS Bank, OCBC and Singtel Group in the second edition of the Steward Leadership 25 (SL25), an annual list of 25 initiatives that have made significant positive impact on stakeholders, society, future generations and the environment.

The 25 companies from the region were honoured at the Steward Leadership Summit, held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on Nov 21 with some 400 participants in attendance.

The for-profit organisations were chosen for addressing social and environmental challenges that threaten humanity, say organisers Stewardship Asia Centre (SAC), Insead Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, WTW and The Straits Times. SAC is a non-profit organisation established by Temasek in 2014.

The 12-year-old social enterprise Bettr Barista, for example, fosters equity and resilience for marginalised communities through barista training courses. The Bettr Group also owns a roastery that sells coffee supplies and operates retail coffee shops in two businesses.

In October, Bettr bagged $2 million in funding from the Asia Impact First Fund (AIFF), which is backed by Heritas Capital and the DBS Foundation.

Meanwhile, local banks DBS and OCBC were honoured for their work in bridging the digital divide in Singapore and tailoring investment solutions for decarbonisation in Asia respectively.

Other local names on this year’s list include SMRT Corporation and Sodexo Singapore.

The impact of the honourees’ projects spans 14 countries in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The beneficiaries include communities in Thailand (Advanced Info Service, PTT Exploration and Production Public Company), Indonesia (April International Enterprise, PT Industri Jamu Dan Farmasi Sido Muncul), Nepal (Chyau Bio Technologies), Cambodia (C-Quest Capital), Australia (Eather Group), Japan (Landlink Co), India (Last Mile Care), Mongolia (Monpellets), Lebanon (Refuse SARL) and the Philippines (Energy Development Corporation, SM Prime Holdings, Tojo Motors).

Apart from OCBC, two Singapore-based honouree companies have reached multiple countries with their projects. Healthcare social enterprise Reach52 has served communities in India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines; while wastewater management system provider Safe Water Gardens (SWG) has provided safe sanitation to villages in Indonesia and Nepal.

Rajeev Peshawaria, chief executive officer of SAC, says the organisers are encouraged to see the SL25 initiative gaining traction across Asia Pacific and beyond. “It takes more than just rules, incentives and reporting to bring about transformational change for the planet and humanity. We hope that these 25 will inspire others worldwide.”

Sustainability is a journey that requires stewardship from the top and needs to be incorporated into business strategy so that companies can grow well by doing good, says Dr Veerathai Santiprabhob, chairman of the executive board, Mae Fah Luang Foundation.

“It is reassuring to see the SL25 list consisting of a wide range of companies across different industries from social enterprises and SMEs to large corporations and MNCs,” says Santiprabhob, former governor of the Bank of Thailand from 2015 and a member of the SL25 judging committee.

The other members in this year’s judging committee are Patrick Daniel, director of SPH Media Trust; André Hoffmann, vice-chairman, Roche Holding AG; Munib Madni, founder and CEO, Panarchy Partners; Tan Sri Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, executive director of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Secretariat; Professor Joanne Roberts, president of Yale-NUS College; and Professor Hellmut Schütte, Professor Emeritus of International Management, Insead, Singapore.

Being purpose-driven has always been part of DBS’s DNA, says Karen Ngui, head of group strategic marketing and communications, DBS Bank. “In August, we announced our pledge of up to $1 billion over the next 10 years to step up support for vulnerable communities and catalyse social impact across the region. From 2024, DBS will allocate up to $100 million annually in Singapore and key markets. The funds will primarily support programmes addressing immediate needs like food and housing, promoting education to break the poverty cycle, enhancing digital and financial literacy and strengthening emotional resilience.”

To improve digital literacy, DBS partnered the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on the national Digital for Life movement, which aims to scale digital workshops and collectively reach some 100,000 Singaporeans and residents by 2024, adds Ngui, who is also board member at the DBS Foundation. “Through the partnership, we contributed $500,000 to the Digital for Life fund, which totalled $1 million inclusive of the Singapore government’s dollar-for-dollar matching, to support projects by non-profit organisations that help drive digital inclusion.”

To subsidise hawker meals and ameliorate the effects of inflation, DBS launched the DBS 5M hawker meals programme, supplemented with digital workshops to teach seniors about cashless payments. According to Ngui, more than one million meal subsidies were redeemed in less than three months and the number of senior citizens who used PayLah! at hawker stalls quadrupled. 12% of overall redemptions were senior citizens while 24% earned less than $2,500 a month, she adds.

Mike Ng, group chief sustainability officer at OCBC, says: "We are honoured to be among the SL25 awardees for the second year running.”

This has been a milestone year for OCBC, Ng adds. “We have exceeded our sustainable financing target of $50 billion as at 3Q2023, ahead of our original timeframe of 2025. We have set ambitious, quantitative and credible decarbonisation targets for emissions arising from six key sectors in our corporate and commercial banking portfolio. We also stepped up efforts to enable and encourage our retail and business customers to accelerate their low-carbon transition with innovative market-first sustainable financing solutions.”

OCBC will continue to partner industry stakeholders to devise impactful solutions to climate issues, says Ng. “Taking climate action is a duty for all individuals and all businesses and we are optimistic and excited about the immense possibilities ahead.”

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