Doing Well and Doing Good in Asia: Keys to Success

Doing Well and Doing Good in Asia: Keys to Success

Published 6th December 2018
Catherine Mudford

HCLI Associate 

Published 6th December 2018

The Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) recently spent time with executives from Mastercard, Singtel and Unilever, three organisations that have forged a reputation for their commitment to building sustainable and enduring organisations that both ‘do well and do good.’ These conversations revealed four common factors in accelerating the journey towards being an organisation that both does well and does good. They also shared the distinct advantage organisations in Asia offer.

There is an increasing expectation that businesses demonstrate the ability to achieve both commercial success and positive outcomes for society and the environment. As Larry Fink, CEO & Chairman of Blackrock, wrote in his 2018 Annual Letter to CEOs

“Public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”  

In line with global standards, compliance and mandatory reporting requirements in Asia are increasing. From January 2017, companies listed on the Singapore stock exchange (SGX) have been required to prepare a sustainability report on a comply-or-explain basis. While organisations and leaders recognise the increasing importance of building and leading sustainable and responsible businesses they are often unsure how to successfully evolve their business models and organisations in response to this.  

Mastercard, Singtel and Unilever are different in many ways, spanning different industries, geographies and origins. Yet, as executives from a diverse range of businesses and functions at these organisations – from HR to Innovation, to Strategy and Sustainability - reflected on the factors they believe have been instrumental in their sustainable business journey, four key themes emerged.
Four Common Factors

Factor 1 - Belief that Doing Well and Doing Good is Good for Business: Executives at each company believe that a sustainable business must do well and do good. They emphasised that it is absolutely critical to innovate, push boundaries and reinvent their businesses to ensure that they not only do good but at the same time do well.  As Aileen Tan, Group CHRO at Singtel shared “Philanthropy is not sustainability.  We think about the impact.  Our obsession is around the concept of maximising and multiplying value – how do you get $10 back for every $1 invested.” And doing well extends beyond financial advantages. Scott Tierney, SVP, HR, Asia Pacific at Mastercard observed: “being purpose-led helps us attract top talent and appeal to a broader customer base.”

Factor 2 - Relentless Focus & Dedicated Resources:  Across the three companies, executives describe a relentless focus on their sustainability agenda, from the Board down. In addition, they allocate dedicated resources and dedicate time.  As one executive said, this requires a full-time effort, “if this was a night job, that would be a trade-off.”

Factor 3 - Commitment to Setting Targets and Measuring Progress:  Making commitments and reporting on progress emerged as a critical element.  Executives shared a culture of setting measurable targets around the sustainability agenda, sharing these targets internally and externally, and holding people accountable for delivering against these. As Suresh Rai, VP HR, SEA and Australasia at Unilever, shared “When you measure commitments then you see a difference – and when it is the global COO asking the questions, people see that you are serious!"

Factor 4 - Partnering with Others:  Executives across these organisations shared stories of deliberately collaborating internally and externally, establishing partnerships, learning from as many diverse groups as possible, from customers to millennials. They say that they have progressed because they have consciously focused on learning from others.  

Different in Asia?

We were curious whether executives see the approach to sustainable business and responsible leadership manifesting differently in Asia. They shared that for most Asian cultures taking a longer-term view of the world is more intuitive than it is in the western world. There is a recognition that for society and economies to thrive, business needs to focus not only on the short term but also the long term.  

While many organisations in Asia have a long history of corporate philanthropy, the challenge is to build a mindset that sees the virtuous circle of doing good and also doing well.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission 2017 report Better Business, Better World: Sustainable Business Opportunities in Asia estimates there is US$5 trillion in opportunities in addressing the challenges raised by the Global Goals – addressing health issues, providing quality education, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, providing affordable and clean energy, building sustainable cities and communities.

Executives see opportunities for Asian enterprises and other organisations operating in the region to leverage the region’s connectedness and fast advances in innovation and technology to take advantage of these opportunities. And, in doing so, accelerate their own journeys as organisations that are recognised for their commitment to sustainable business and responsible leadership.

HCLI is currently conducting research to better understand the human capital levers that are most critical in accelerating the development of sustainable organisations and leaders. If you would like to contribute to the research you can share details of your company’s approach to ‘Doing Well and Doing Good’ by completing this confidential survey before 14 December 2018.  

Update: This research has since been completed, please click here to access the research report.

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