Businesses should be 'good stewards of our future': Heng Swee Keat

Businesses should be 'good stewards of our future': Heng Swee Keat

Businesses leaders should invest in innovation, people and the community so as to be "good stewards of our future”, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Jun 4). Brandon Tanoto reports.

SINGAPORE: Businesses leaders should invest in innovation, people and the community so as to be "good stewards of our future”, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Jun 4).

In his speech at the Stewardship Asia Roundtable, Mr Heng highlighted three global trends that can impact the way leaders guide their companies: The rapid emergence and convergence of new technologies, decline in support for globalisation and the growing economic and strategic weight of Asia.

The first trend of new technologies brings about the potential to solve some of the most pressing problems the world faces today, such as climate change and healthcare, Mr Heng said.

“However, these advancements in technology also bring about other challenges, such as changing the nature of jobs and (a) growing digital divide between the ‘know’ and ‘know-nots’,” he added.

As for the drop in support for globalisation, the deputy prime minister said that the fruits of globalisation have not been shared equitably. The current US-China trade friction, for example, is one manifestation of this trend, he said.

Mr Heng also said that participants at the Nikkei Conference, which he attended last week, recognised the potential of Asia and its growing significance. 

Asian economies’ share of the global GDP is projected to double from 26 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent by 2030, he said, citing figures from the Asian Development Bank. But he also sounded a cautionary note, saying that while the figures point to a positive future, “none of these is a given”.

BEING GOOD STEWARDS

Given these trends have implications on how business leaders guide their companies, Mr Heng shared three ways to continue being good stewards: Investing in innovation, people and the community.

He noted that as technology advances and global economic and strategic weight shift towards Asia, supply chains will reconfigure and businesses have to be quick to innovate to stay relevant and competitive.

“Companies need to make the effort to understand new developments in technology in their fields, consider how these can be adopted and integrated into existing business practices, and create new value,” Mr Heng suggested.

He added that as companies today compete in the realm of ideas and to develop new products and services, there is a need to redesign jobs and work processes. In turn, workers can stand to earn higher wages from better jobs and improve their lives.

“People are our most valuable resource and investing in them is of utmost importance."

The long-term growth of businesses is only as good as the capabilities and skills of their workers, he said.

Company leaders can facilitate this by helping their workers reskill - an area in which the Government has also stepped up efforts.

For instance, Mr Heng, who is also Singapore’s Finance Minister, said he announced in this year’s Budget the Government will spend S$3.6 billion over the next three years to help workers thrive amid the economic transformation. Initiatives like SkillsFuture and Professional Conversion Programmes have also helped workers here pick up new and relevant skills, he said.

Lastly, there is a need for businesses to invest in the larger community it is in. “Companies should not just do well; they should also do good,” the minister said.

He called on leaders to not just mobilise employees to create impactful, sustainable corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, they should actively participate in them as this is “essential to lead the giving movement within organisations”.

On the Government’s end, it has launched the SG Cares movement to promote active volunteerism and everyday acts of kindness across Singapore, he added.

“Stewardship at its crux is about engaged, responsible and meaningful value creation over the long term,” Mr Heng said. “This focus on the long term is important, especially when change is happening ever faster.

“Equally, the focus is not just on the company itself, but the benefit to the larger community.”

Source: CNA/kk(hm)

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