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From CSR to CEO

This article is brought to you by Company of Good Fellowship.

Quite often, talent development professionals rack their brains for great ideas, or go on an extensive search for that elusive and costly leadership programme to groom their high potential executives. Quek Shi Yun, deputy director of corporate giving at National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, explains why CSR can be the answer organisations are searching for.

Doing good is good business. In this world where the bottom line matters, hitting KPIs and meeting shareholders’ expectations trumps goodness, we’re always quick to dismiss this over-idealistic thought.

But this idealism when backed by strategy, culture building, passion and talent development can, in fact, benefit the corporate individual, the business and community. It can be the paradigm shift in what leads a business to flourish – transforming ordinary employees to committed outstanding leaders.

CSR builds transformational leadership and talent

Quite often, talent development professionals rack their brains for great ideas, or go on an extensive search for that elusive and costly leadership programme to groom their high potential executives – which are hard to come by – and many are often left frustrated at the results.

There is a saying that goes: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”

Learning shouldn’t be confined to one’s job scope and it is often most impactful when it is hands-on, experiential and inspiring. Placing talent in roles that require them to lead the business’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda can prepare their head, heart and gut for a successful career in leadership.

Driving a CSR programme is demanding. It enables and equips the employee to acquire a myriad of skills, and experience mindset shifts, which help them to navigate and excel in top corporate roles as they face the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Transformative and complexity thinking

Social issues are typically complex and multidimensional. They cannot be easily addressed by a one-track solution. Household poverty, for example, does not get solved by simply sending children to school. Many cross-cutting factors that lead to the situation of disadvantaged families need to be addressed.

CSR requires making sense of and managing different relationships, competing interests, non-linear events and uncertainties. Coming up with an effective intervention requires a deep understanding and analysis of the wants and needs of the beneficiaries. Having a user or outcome-driven mindset and incorporating design thinking skills helps to revolutionise how an organisation functions, to ensure that the interventions are in tune with the behaviour of the users to mitigate risks of rejection or unforeseen consequences.

Executives are usually also pressured to draw links between the business and doing good. This challenges them to rethink resource utilisation in view of the limitations most non-profits that they would partner with face. They will be motivated to devise strategies that leverage core business advantages and maximise spare capacities. A role in CSR involves constant creation of synergies and value-add to the business. If nothing else, transformative and complexity thinking is something high potential individuals will certainly pick up.

Empathy and compassion for the community

Most of today’s employees believe in working for a leader who is not only visionary and strategic, but also caring and compassionate. This is especially applicable for the Millennials who express strong preferences to spend their waking hours in meaningful jobs, with companies that act ethically; and especially work with leaders that do not command respect, but earn it through being not just eff ective, but staying genuine and responsible.

The head honcho is typically the one who sets the values and infl uences the culture of an organisation.

A leader who is empathetic and has moral courage is more likely to cultivate a corporate identity and work environment that treats all its stakeholders positively.

A portfolio in CSR will expose and educate future corporate leaders to the needs and challenges of the community and society. This allows a chance for them to appreciate the circumstances of different stakeholders and spur more thoughtful actions in addressing the various concerns, within and outside of the business.

Shared value and stakeholder engagement contribute to your business bottom line

Leading the CSR agenda enables an avenue and test bed for future leaders to make a stand on their personal values and beliefs, as well as inspire their staff towards a common shared value and a collective shared future. A successful CSR agenda involves obtaining buy-in across the various business functions and having all employees act in alignment.

Collaboration and partnerships are often crucial in bringing together a holistic and effective social intervention. The high-potential employee challenged with needing to deal with interwoven factors and concerns from all parties will have to ride each ebb and fl ow, while managing with finesse, polarised opinions and a multitude of personalities.

The process of stakeholder engagement and management helps talented employees to deepen relationships and build social capital, which bode well for their future leadership capacities.

Groom your future leaders through CSR today. Company of Good Fellowship is a talent development programme that develops high potential corporate leaders in a CSR role by providing the relevant education, experiences, environment and exposure. Find out more at:

Photo / Company of Good Fellowship


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