Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Champions of Good Conferment 2022 on 1 September 2022.
Chairman and CEO of National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre,
My Parliamentary Colleague Minister of State Alvin Tan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to join you this afternoon for the 4th edition of the Champions of Good conferment event. I understand the last time we had a physical, in-person event was in November 2018. That was quite some time ago, so it has been a long hiatus. But as they say, the good things in life are always worth waiting for. I am glad we are finally able to come together, and join so many businesses here today to celebrate the spirit of doing good for Singapore.
This event could not have come at a better time as well because, as all of you know, at the start of this week we eased some of our measures and we made mask indoors optional. It is okay if you want to keep your masks off. However, if you have the sniffles, you should wear your mask because we do not want to spread the germs to the people around your table. And if you are not feeling well, you really should not even be here today. As I have been saying all this time, we should all do the right thing, and be responsible.
When I think about companies doing good, what comes to mind is the Covid-19 pandemic, and what we have been through over the past two and a half years. It has a difficult time for all of us. Many Singaporeans livelihoods were impacted, many businesses struggled to make ends meet. But it was also a time of unity and common purpose, when Singaporeans reached out to help one other through the crisis.
Amidst the pandemic, all of us felt, deep in our bones, that each of us had to do something to help make things better. And so it was for businesses too – whether it was employees or CEOs, big companies or small enterprises, everyone stepped up to do something and give back. It was common to hear of senior management taking pay cuts to avoid letting their employees go, employees rallying their colleagues together to volunteer in support of people in need, or companies organising donation drives to help those affected by the pandemic. This palpable sense of collective responsibility was ultimately what enabled us to get through the last two and a half years and be where we are today. So I would like to say a very big thank you to all of you for your many contributions and sacrifices to fighting the pandemic together. Thank you very much.
In fact, because of all your efforts, corporate giving increased during the pandemic despite the tough economic conditions. Based on NVPC’s Corporate Giving Study, two-thirds of businesses engaged in corporate giving last year, that is up from 50% five years ago. Overall trust in our society went up too. A Pew survey of countries around the world showed that Singapore is one of the very few countries where trust and unity is higher today than before the pandemic – 75% of people in Singapore think that Singapore today is more united than before. That is quite remarkable. Very few countries have experienced that. For most countries, it is the other way around; the majority of people think that their countries are more divided, more polarised, less trusting than before the pandemic. But we have strengthened our trust and unity, and that is something we should not take for granted.
Today, we are in a better position than before. But we also know that the pressure and strains on Singaporeans will continue to grow, especially in a more uncertain and volatile world. The Russia invasion of Ukraine has brought about great economic uncertainties, including a sharp rise in prices everywhere around the world, and we are feeling the effects of this in Singapore. More fundamentally, we are entering a different global order. The world that we are used to for the last 30 years since the end of the Cold War is very likely behind us. We are entering a new era, which will be marked by rising geopolitical tensions increasingly impacting trade, finance and investments everywhere around the world.
If we are to get through and navigate this new world, we will need to sustain that same spirit of collective responsibility that got us through Covid-19 – with Government, Employers, and Workers all doing their part to build a better Singapore together. That is why we are embarking on this Forward Singapore exercise to refresh and strengthen our social compact for our next bound. We call it a compact because it is not just about what more the Government can do, but what all of us can do together.
On Government’s part, we will certainly do more. We will continue to create an open and attractive environment for companies such as yourselves to thrive and succeed, and that means investing heavily in education and skills training so you can get access to talent and good workers. That means investing significantly to entrench our status as a hub for the region and the world, to bring in more businesses and create more opportunities for growth.
That is our job, but all of you as employers also have a role to play. We will need companies to do your part as a responsible employer. We will need employers to strengthen your commitment to workers, and share the fruits of progress with all of them. That means ensuring workers can grow with the firm by investing in employee training and development; helping every worker feel pride and dignity in their work by paying them well, especially those in rank-and-file jobs; maximising the potential of every worker, by adopting inclusive hiring practices, including supporting persons with disabilities and mature workers, and taking a firm stand against discrimination in the workplace by race, religion or nationality; and upholding fair employment practices at work.
Beyond all this, we would also like to encourage more companies to give back to society. Because if there was one thing the pandemic made clear to all of us, it was that businesses can only truly prosper when the community prospers. So whether it is supporting the work of community organisations or working directly with disadvantaged or vulnerable groups to uplift them, there is a big role for companies to play. These are not new ideas. In many other places, consumers, employees, shareholders and society at large are increasingly holding companies responsible for their impact on society. The old refrain that companies should just focus on maximising profits and shareholder returns is increasingly outdated. Instead, more and more are embracing a broader perspective – one that is centred around a strong sense of corporate purpose, as you heard from the video just now.
And we are increasingly seeing this shift in Singapore too, amongst the leading employers. But we would like to see this mindset change becoming more pervasive across our entire corporate sector.
We will endeavour to do this in our usual tripartite fashion, which means the Government, unions and businesses coming together to see how we can improve the overall landscape, change mindsets, and in the process strengthen our tripartite partnership.
I understand that NVPC, together with the Singapore Business Federation and other corporate representatives, are also working on a national framework on Corporate Purpose. It aims to guide companies on the journey towards being purpose-driven organisations, and I look forward to the conclusion of this meaningful work.
All this will be a multi-year affair. We cannot achieve this overnight. But the good news is that we are not starting from scratch. We are building on strong foundations that we have been building up assiduously over many years and decades. More companies in Singapore have become part of NVPC’s “Company of Good” network, and I am glad that since the initiative started we have more than 2,400 companies being a Company of Good. 2,400 is an excellent number, but we have got more than 200,000 companies in Singapore. So we are barely scratching the surface and we must do much more to get many more corporates on board.
But more importantly, today, we recognise 112 organisations as “Champions of Good”. This special group has not just been exemplary in doing good, but they have done so in a way which aligned to their corporate purpose, and multiplied their impact, such as through involving their employees and corporate partners together on their journey. Of note, this is the highest number of Champions that we are conferring in a single year since the start of the initiative. My heartfelt congratulations to all of you! Another big round of applause for all of you, well done.
All our Champions have made meaningful contributions to society. I cannot go through all their stories, but perhaps let me just share two examples. The first is S&P Global. All of you know the name, it is a financial information and analytics company. Apart from its own charitable giving, S&P Global stands out for its institutional support for giving amongst its employees, that includes grants to cover the costs of employee-organised volunteer events, and leave for those engaging in community service. S&P Global also regularly makes use of its extensive industry networks to bring partners together to support good causes. For example, it was not only the sponsor for the Tech for Good event last year, but it also brought in key partners such as the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and James Dyson Foundation, all of which contributed to the success of the event.
It’s not just large companies that can make a difference. SMEs can also make a difference too. Take Alpha Development Partnerships as an example, it is a financial training provider with a small team of eight people. The company wanted to do something to help Foreign Domestic Workers, who were badly impacted by the pandemic. And so it did not allow their small size to stop them giving back to society. Instead, it rallied its employees to provide Foreign Domestic Workers with free training in financial management and entrepreneurial skills. It also engaged their business partners to help deliver on topics they did not have expertise in. To date, Alpha Development’s programme has provided free training for 50 beneficiaries.
Some times we hear companies say, I am just one company, what can I do to make a difference? But what S&P Global and Alpha Development have shown is that no company is truly alone. All of you have valuable business networks, which you can leverage on to partner others and make a difference. Beyond financial contributions, all companies have employees with skills which you can harness to make a meaningful difference to the lives of others.
To the companies out there who are keen to develop your own corporate purpose, and are wondering how best to do it, or who you can work with, I encourage you to join the thousands of other companies today as one of NVPC’s Company of Good. I think in this room I am perhaps preaching to the choir, all of you are converted. But you are also our ambassadors. So please spread the good news to your peers, the people in your industries, so that more can join us as part of this network.
To conclude, there remains much more we can do to build a stronger and more cohesive Singapore. We need to do more to uplift lower-income workers and families, so we can truly be a society that creates opportunities for all, regardless of our different starting points in life. We need to do more to provide assurance to Singaporeans across all stages of life, especially our middle-aged workers and elderly, so no one feels they have to fend for themselves during hard times. In these areas and more, we will need to work together, but companies will play an important role – by being responsible employers, and doing your part to give back to the community.
Under the Forward Singapore exercise which we are now undertaking, we will continue to engage different groups and take in feedback on what more we can do. I hope all of you here will participate actively and share your ideas, including how to enable companies to better support your workers, and invest in the community. I am confident that if we work together, if we maintain that strong spirit of solidarity and fellowship with one another, we can build a fairer and more inclusive society, and a better Singapore in the years to come.
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