Build sense of stew­ard­ship in peo­ple: Chan Chun Sing

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE - Ng Jun Sen

To be a force for good, busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments must work to­gether to im­bue a sense of stew­ard­ship in peo­ple, said Min­is­ter for Trade and In­dus­try Chan Chun Sing yes­ter­day.

But he ac­knowl­edged that this was not go­ing to be easy.

He said: “How do we bring about this con­cept of stew­ard­ship and im­bue that into the next gen­er­a­tion, where the def­i­ni­tion of our suc­cess is not how well we do for our­selves here and now, but the def­i­ni­tion of our suc­cess is how well we en­able our next gen­er­a­tion to do even bet­ter than us?

“That is our chal­lenge, and that is a tall or­der.”

Gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies must first build a mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem of talent and trades for this to hap­pen, said Mr Chan in a key­note speech at the Insead Alumni Fo­rum Asia.

The topic of the fo­rum was “Busi­ness as a force for good”.

“How do we build a sys­tem that al­lows the hu­man po­ten­tial to flour­ish? How do we build a mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem of talent and trades where each and every in­di­vid­ual’s achieve­ment is de­ter­mined by his talent, ef­fort and com­mit­ment, and never by his lan­guage, race, re­li­gion, ances­try or fam­ily ties,” said Mr Chan.

This is fun­da­men­tal, as busi- nesses and gov­ern­ments will never be able to con­vince peo­ple that they are here to do good if peo­ple can­not hope to ful­fil their po­ten­tial with­out fac­ing bar­ri­ers along the way, he said.

“We need to speak to the in­di­vid­ual as­pi­ra­tions of our peo­ple, no mat­ter how di­verse those as­pi­ra­tions might be,” he added.

Ad­dress­ing 700 in­ter­na­tional busi­ness lead­ers, many of whom grad­u­ated from Insead, Mr Chan’s 28-minute speech at the Gar­dens by the Bay delved into the topic of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) and the chal­lenges in­volved.

It is not easy to be a force for good, ei­ther for busi­nesses or for gov­ern­ments, due to the trap­pings of the pris­oner’s dilemma, he said.

The dilemma de­scribes why two par­ties do not col­lab­o­rate for the greater good, due to other com­pet­ing in­ter­ests.

In some cases, a busi­ness that is con­cerned about its quar­terly re­ports might com­mit to CSR only if its com­peti­tors do so too, while gov­ern­ments may en­gage in cli­mate change ac­tion, for in­stance, only if other na­tions fol­low suit.

Mr Chan said one school of thought re­garded CSR as an oxy­moron, as busi­nesses should fo­cus on grow­ing wealth for their share­hold­ers, who will de­cide to do good of their own ac­cord.

A grow­ing group of busi­ness lead­ers to­day, how­ever, be­lieved in an­other the­ory – one where com­pa­nies are stake­hold­ers in so­ci­ety and have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards that so­ci­ety, he said. Such a mind­set would also help at­tract the best and bright­est to join com­pa­nies that have strong so­cial mis­sions.

“The verdict still seems to be open into which school of thought shall pre­vail in the longer term,” said Mr Chan.

With geopol­i­tics fu­elling pro­tec­tion­ist trade poli­cies and the ris­ing lev­els of dis­rup­tion caused by tech­no­log­i­cal change, he said, there are grow­ing con­cerns about the quality and quan­tity of jobs.

The re­al­ity of a more in­te­grated world econ­omy to­day will re­sult in win­ners and losers, he said.

The way which the so­ci­ety man­ages this dis­par­ity will have po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, he said, al­lud­ing to how some coun­tries in re­cent years did not prop­erly man­age their so­cial divi­sions as the world be­came more glob­alised, re­sult­ing in back­lash.

In a panel dis­cus­sion fol­low­ing Mr Chan’s speech, in­dus­try ex­perts dis­cussed the same is­sue of the chal­lenges of CSR.

Part­ner of Bridges Fund Man­age­ment Clara Barby said a ma­jor is­sue is defin­ing how wealth and val­ues are mea­sured, since dif­fer­ent cul­tures vary in their def­i­ni­tion.

DBS Bank chief ex­ec­u­tive Piyush Gupta said that palm oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, for ex­am­ple, have grap­pled with this is­sue as the world moves away from us­ing palm oil for en­ergy due to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

“If you (ask them to) turn off the palm oil to­mor­row, what are you go­ing to do with the mil­lions of peo­ple, whose gov­ern­ments won’t be able to look af­ter if palm oil is their only means of liveli­hood,” said Mr Gupta.

“Is this a sense of colo­nial im­pe­ri­al­ism? Who are we to play god? There are no easy an­swers.”

MAN­AG­ING WIN­NERS AND LOSERS

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