By Isabella Tian Ye
The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.
The Discover+ Panel on Corporate Social Responsibility, held on 20 October 2020, was graced by Hosea Lai (Moderator), Head of Social Impact (APAC) at LinkedIn; Ng Boon Heong, Chief Executive Officer at Temasek Foundation Ltd; Eugene Ho, Head of Corporate Affairs at SAP Southeast Asia; Vandna Ramchadani, Regional Head of Corporate Philanthropy for Asia Pacific at Bloomberg. Attendees included students at various levels of education with a desire to know the different career paths in government relations and public affairs, and how to best position themselves for such roles.
While there are different names in the field, such as corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship and corporate philanthropy, the CSR sector is all about creating positive social impact for the common good. Born two to three decades ago, CSR is a combination of corporate sustainability, which refers to how companies have a responsibility to manage the impact caused by delivering product and services, and philanthropy, which refers to corporate giving. It can tap into all sorts of pressing issues and challenges such as climate change, environment, community issues, education, arts etc. As businesses stay close to the community and the environment, companies are also able to keep up with the tempo of the sector’s market that they serve. In some companies, CSR stands alone as a foundation or separate department, but in most cases, CSR rolls up into the corporate communication or marketing division.
In recent years, the CSR sector has become more mainstream as it has been integrated with general economic growth. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the process has also been accelerated. The job scope of CSR department incorporates multiple elements, such as strategic planning, partner collaboration, project execution, marketing and communication, human resources management, community engagement, psychological counseling and data analysis. Thus, there is no one day that is exactly the same as another. For instance, if a company’s CSR department is assigned with a digital skilling programme with a targeted outreach of 5,000 youths and educators annually, the work distribution for those in the CSR department will range from programme publicity, volunteer hiring and training, to tackling any unusual problem. Narrowing down to specified tasks, the work ultimately depends on the field that organisations are interested in, whether it is education, food insecurity or any other causes.
CSR requires diverse talents, which means that there are few formal barriers of entry. Some key advice would be to research about the organisation that you would like to work for and to consider embarking on a role that aligns your passion. The NGO sector is also a good way to start. Besides, the three most important soft skills needed to work in the CSR department are agility, natural inclination to collaborate, and action orientation, as most issues that an organisation wants to solve cannot be tackled alone without partnership.
In reality, there is insufficient demand for CSR roles. As Singapore is a relatively safe and secure country, those interested in joining the field need to broaden their horizon by stepping out of the limited zone to see what international NGOs are doing. Take the opportunity to find something that resonates with you. Once you zoom in on a specific topic, you can then approach either the public, private or nonprofit sector such as foundations that support the field.
It can be demonstrated by including your volunteering experiences into your CV, especially during difficult times like Covid-19. If you want to work in the CSR industry, go volunteer for something that you are truly passionate about and show consistency. For example, you can find a pet society and walk the dog for free if you are passionate about animals. However, don’t take up a voluntary cause just for the sake of box checking or because you need to apply for a CSR role in a sudden. Only real passion will shine through.
Gaining internship experiences in a variety of different sectors, including governmental, corporate, and non-profit organizations, will enhance your experience and opportunity in the CSR field. However, there are no specific focused areas that CSR can generally appoint, unless an organization is looking for a specific person with a specific skill set. For example, if a company is seeking talents in international collaboration, having some international-related work experience would be useful and relevant; if the organization wants to hire somebody to look after the health care scene in Singapore, then internships in the healthcare sector would be useful. At the end of the day, it is still your passion that matters. Therefore, the advice would be to choose an internship within an area you are very passionate about.
One of the hardest parts is to figure out ways to create the maximum amount of impact with even limited funding – a restriction that is difficult to mitigate as the need of the society is usually far larger than what organizations can offer.
Furthermore, as there are many proposals coming in from external networks, it is sometimes very easy to detract on the path as it will be tempting to shift CSR funds to those initiatives.
Another tough point for CSR would be to think of ways to devise and build a system for the beneficiaries in a long-term and sustainable way, rather than solely through corporate giving.
Singapore is promoting social entrepreneurship, and the focus from philanthropy has pretty much moved to corporate social responsibility for many of the companies over the last two decades. This includes being responsible for their products and services and being environmentally friendly. This trend can be attributed to how more and more companies are beginning to identify with the concept of creating shared value in our society today.