Corporates will no longer be happy to “donate and forget”, and will want information on the social impact of their programme.

The concept of corporate “giving” is at a critical inflection point. While traditional corporate philanthropy has played an instrumental part in supporting the social services sector in Singapore thus far, we are seeing new developments that will shape the space going forward.

A key development that could significantly impact how corporates give in the future is a greater focus on sustainability and transparency. Recently, the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) required locally-listed companies to take a “materiality-based” approach to their business practices in environment, social and governance (ESG). Businesses are expected to improve the transparency of disclosures on what drives their corporate sustainability practices and how they are performing against their ESG goals. When applied with a social and community lens, sustainability reporting will place expectations on the senior management and board of listed companies to identify the “why”, “how” and “impact” of what they do.

This trend represents significant opportunities for corporates to shape their focus and approach towards supporting the community. Firstly, in engaging both social services organisations (SSOs) and not-for-profit organisations (NPOs) through a formal stakeholder engagement process required in corporate sustainability, corporates are more likely to discover and better understand the key social concerns and gaps, and how these can directly or indirectly impact their businesses. Secondly, businesses have an opportunity to identify areas where they can play a greater role in, and how their core competencies and people skills can value-add to society. Thirdly, as corporates leverage their core competencies, they will discover that no single company has all the competencies needed to solve complex social issues.

This, I believe, will in turn help drive a fourth opportunity – greater collaboration and partnerships in the social ecosystem. There will be greater appreciation for collective and complementary partnerships to forge sustainable and significant social impact. As corporates collaborate on social impact, the expected link between corporate social responsibility and company branding mainly associated with a cash sponsorship model of corporate philanthropy, will start to diminish in importance.  

This trajectory, if materialised, will lead to the emergence of “shared value creation” between multiple stakeholders, a term coined by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer to reflect the maturing state of corporate engagement into ESG issues – a direction in which corporate giving in Singapore and the region may be headed towards in the near future.  

​Impact On NPO Sector

I believe that the impact of these developments in the NPO sector will be equally significant, perhaps even disruptive.

NPOs which have traditionally been successful in seeking corporate philanthropic and public donations may have to reinvent themselves and their skills. A simple approach of “here is our cause, please donate and let us take care of the rest” may no longer pull in corporate funding. Expertise in fundraising campaigns may give way to skills in business development and strategic programme co-development with corporate partners.

Corporates will no longer be happy to “donate and forget”, and will want information on the social impact of their programme. Not just “volumetric” impact (for example, how many disadvantaged students benefitted from the programme?), but also sustained social impact (how many disadvantaged students progressed to higher education or achieved employment?). Many NPOs will struggle to assess and disclose such information to their corporate partners.

Today, many NPOs also prefer to work in isolation of other NPOs. Competition and territoriality equally exist in the social sector, similar to the corporate world. In some cases, NPOs could be too sub-scale to be sustainable in the longer term without government funding support. If there is a move towards collaboration, NPOs will themselves need to become more person-centric in their approach.

Non-Profit And Corporate Stakeholders Coming Together

It is pleasing to see the many different corporates, NPOs and SSOs already actively mobilising efforts with the intent to shape these emerging trends and developments.

The National Council of Social Services (NCSS) Volunteer Resource Committee, which comprises representatives from all stakeholder groups, aims to help NPOs build their capability to engage the corporates and their skilled volunteers more strategically. The NCSS Social Service Institute is helping to train NPO executives with relevant skills such as social impact reporting and collaborative partnerships.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), with their strong network of corporate and NPOs, has also initiated CoLABS to mobilise collaboration between different stakeholders around common cause-based issues, such as disability, ageing and disadvantaged youth. The recently launched Fellowship of Good initiative encourages corporates to embrace shared value and multi-sector collaborative approach, and provides the framework and approaches that will help corporates engage the non-profit sector more strategically.

We are also seeing corporates take a more strategic and collaborative approach towards cause-based social issues. At Singtel, we have entered into collaborative partnerships with other like-minded corporates through the Singapore Business Network on DisAbility (SBNoD) and with partners like SG Enable to foster collective advocacy, support, mentoring and employability for persons with disabilities – something that we believe will help augment the skilled labour shortages in Singapore and also help build an inclusive society.

Social innovation programmes such as the Singtel Future Makers Programme aim to foster knowledge and skilled-based collaboration between different stakeholders, in order to get stronger leverage on technology and innovation to solve social issues. Singtel’s digital citizenship programme, known as the Digital Thumbprint Programme, collaborates with mainstream and special needs schools, social enterprises, SSOs and NPOs to ensure our youths grow up safely and responsibly in a digital world, something which we see as material to the success of the digital ecosystem we live in.

One thing is certain, the dots are connecting in our social ecosystem. Hence, I believe Singapore will have the opportunity to set the stage for a global model of collaboration for social impact that many other countries and social issues could subsequently benefit from.

Andrew Buay is vice president of group sustainability at Singtel and is part of NVPC Futures of Giving expert panel. He was a member of the third Enabling Master Plan Committee, and is currently a committee member of NCSS’s Volunteer Resource Committee. Singtel is part of the network of NVPC’s Company of Good, Company of Good Fellowship, SBNoD and also IMPACT2030, a global collaboration advocating and promoting skill-based corporate volunteering and collaboration in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Catalyst Asia, SMU, January 2018.