SINGAPORE (Mar 6): While some retailers inflate the price of masks, vitamins and healthcare products during this Covid-19 crisis and take advantage of fellow Singaporeans, Benjamin Chua and his team from Spic and Span are giving out free hand sanitisers to cleaners, healthcare workers and corporations.

Chua’s actions may take many by surprise as the crisis is a business opportunity that many companies could easily exploit to tide them over this difficult period. But to Chua, who is the founder and CEO of the building management and cleaning services company, this is what his company would normally do.

“This is us,” says Chua. “We don’t believe in jacking up prices at the expense of others. In fact, we don’t even know how to price it because in this difficult time of need, we want to be able to share with others who need it more,” he adds.
Founded in 2016 and stemming from a desire to help older, retrenched hotel employees find jobs, the social enterprise has since grown into a company where marginalised and vulnerable Singaporeans make up close to 80% of its over 100-strong staff.

Today, Chua and his team work with over 60 social service agencies to provide stable employment opportunities to these individuals who are ex-offenders, persons with disabilities, single parents, victims of domestic abuse and the homeless. And their work does not just stop there. He and his team have customised a training programme for each employee. This means an ex-offender is coached differently from a single parent or a person with special needs. “You need to know their barriers. For instance, a person with special needs will have a long training runway, which coaches need to be sensitive to. So, you need to be patient and encouraging towards them. An ex-convict on the other hand, is physically fit, but their work ethic is determined by their support system — be it family or gang members. And knowing this helps you approach them better,” explains Chua.

Aside from training, Chua and his team have also devised a career roadmap for their staff to enable them to upskill to earn higher wages and, in turn, enjoy a higher standard of living. This involves sending them for specialised courses such as lab testing, disinfection techniques and solutions development, to transition them into the group’s R&D unit which was set up last year. Here, the team prepares disinfectants and hand sanitisers that are non-toxic, child- and elderly-friendly and long-lasting — which was what is being given out for free.

True to their mission of “giving back selflessly”, the team is now cleaning childcare and eldercare centres such as The St Luke’s Hospital, at no cost. “Most non-profits and charities would not have factored the cost of additional cleaning into their budget for 2020. So, we are providing it to them, free of cost, as a ‘thank you’ for all the help they’ve given us,” says Chua.

Their continued efforts got Spic and Span recognised as a “Champion of Good” by the National Volunteer Philanthropy Centre’s (NVPC) Company of Good in 2018. To date, over 70 companies have been recognised for their holistic efforts in doing good, and in being advocates in their respective networks.

Some of these companies go on to receive top honours abroad for their acts of good. For instance, Chua and his team outdid some 60 companies to bag the Social Progress award at the Asia Pacific Social Enterprise Summit in Taiwan, last year. This is in recognition of the company’s efforts in hiring inclusively, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals.


Spic and Span is providing free cleaning services to non-profits in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak

Another winner, Ang Kian Peng of Samsui Kitchen was named one of 20 “Champions for Change” by Channel NewsAsia in 2019, for his organisation’s contributions to society. Ang founded the social enterprise in 2013, after realising that the food served to residents of nursing homes and voluntary welfare organisations lacked nutrition. Like Chua, he too equips marginalised Singaporeans with skills needed to prepare these meals. Ang’s efforts were also commended last year when Samsui emerged as the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise of the Year.

Dividends from doing good
As companies struggle to maintain their bottom lines at a time of economic uncertainty, giving back to society often takes a backseat. After all, most businesses believe it is their mission to increase profits.
However, as social issues gain prominence, there seems to be a shift.

“Business viability is taking on new perspectives beyond financial profits as market expectations grow for corporates to proactively do good,” notes Quek Shiyun who heads NVPC’s Company of Good.

She adds that “businesses that want to remain relevant would need to reframe their approach to doing business and adopt the ‘Copernican’ way of driving and measuring success”. The Copernican view puts purpose at the centre of business decisions, thereby requiring organisations to be agile enough to meet changing societal needs.

Quek’s advice is simple: start small by leveraging on a sweet spot of social needs that balances the company’s core business assets and expertise.

Studies show that gains from corporate giving are multi-fold. For instance, customers with a favourable impression of a company’s efforts on social responsibility are three times more likely to be loyal than those with less favourable perceptions of a company’s acts of good, a 2012 report by the Council on Foundations and Walker Information notes.

Similarly, a report by accounting firm Deloitte shows that millennials and Gen Zs are more likely to patronise companies whose values are aligned with theirs, and may go so far as to terminate a relationship when they disagree with a company’s values and practices.

In terms of human resource development, a 2012 survey by the firm shows that employees who ascribe to their company’s social ideals and efforts are five times more likely to remain with their employer. They are also reportedly more productive and collaborative with their peers.

With an increasing number of businesses — from SMEs to government offices and large multinationals — dedicating their time and resources for corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the dividends of doing good serves as strong motivation for corporations to continue their acts of good.

Indeed, it seems the best way for businesses to tide over the uncertainty of Covid-19 and a weak economy, is really a bigger purpose of serving societal needs. Along with enhancing their profits, it may just get them recognised as a Champion of Good which, in Chua’s words, “is the best validation for a company to show they’re not all talk and are actually here to make a difference”.

Applications for Champions of Good, an initiative by NVPC's Company of Good are now open.
This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore (Issue 923, week of Mar 9) which is on sale now. Subscribe here.