Taipei Times: Would you shed more light on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its role in Standard Chartered Bank?
Mark Devadason: It is a way of doing business — a part of our sustainability model. It is an element that leads to success. For a company to be successful, it has to be clear about what it is and what it does. As a bank, we have a very clear strategy on how to be a leading international bank in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
We also need to be aware that the world is a dynamic place. For the last 10 years, we have seen the shift of economic power from the West to the East, which is playing to our strength.
Sustainable business involves the way we work with people and the community and the government. We do believe having a sense of community — not only working within the community, but also participating in the community — is a positive aspect of our business. We think that drives many aspects of how we grow as a brand.
Staff engagement, for example, is one of the key areas of our sustainability agenda. If staff members feel that they work for a company that does the right thing, they are more engaged and more involved. That is why we have been developing employee volunteering programs over the last four years.
We have about 80,000 employees worldwide and we have doubled in size in the last five years. We have decided that every member of staff is entitled to two days of employee volunteering leave (a year). During the financial crisis, we actually increased this to three [days]. That is a potential 240,000 days worth of voluntary work within the community.
TT: Does socially responsible activity help deliver concrete financial results?
Devadason: I don’t think it is concrete and I don’t think it has to be. Being successful is important for any business. To that end, you have got to have a business with a strong strategy and stay dynamic to change. That has got to be at the center. In my opinion, what you do in a community and how you manage people builds how the brand is perceived. That is part of building a brand people want to be associated with. When people buy products, they make decisions between what is on offer.
TT: How does Standard Chartered differentiate from its competitors in CSR activities?
Devadason: Every country has lots of different CSR activities. As a younger man, I never could tell what it added up to. So we focus on a few big things. “Living with HIV” is a program based around education and awareness about the challenges of living with HIV.
In some countries in Africa, you cannot pretend the disease is not happening. Twenty percent of our staff might have it or their family might be impacted. That is a reality of doing business in Africa. Standard Chartered has fully trained and certified HIV trainers in each of our markets. There are 28 in Taiwan. Their job is to educate people and increase understanding about the issue. Another program, “Seeing Is Believing,” is about preventable blindness, and we raise awareness and money for that cause.
Preventable blindness and AIDS are two big social issues where we do business.
Recently, we have been focusing on female empowerment in India and Africa. As our business is impacted by GDP growth, we have identified issues that have an impact on community and GDP. Because we look at global issues but apply ourselves locally, we can have more of an impact.