Profit is no longer the only measure of success

Can profit and social good be on the same side of the scale?

What customers, suppliers, employees, governments and society expect from businesses have changed. It’s not enough that they make good products. They also need to be good citizens.

The case for responsible business is strong. More than half of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands. The same study also found that nine in ten shoppers would boycott companies if they found that they were irresponsible. These days, rather than tacking philanthropy on as an afterthought, more and more companies have integrated corporate social responsibility in their business strategy. For example, the success of buy-one-give-one has seen many others following suit.

Although profit and social good may seem at odds with each other, businesses both big and small can take a page from social entrepreneurs, who see them as two sides of the same coin. This year, the DBS Foundation’s Social Enterprise Summit, the largest gathering of social enterprises in Southeast Asia, aims to take learnings from prominent social entrepreneurs on how businesses can pursue both missions in a balanced way.

Here is what to expect from the week-long Summit:

1. Meet Award Winning Social Entrepreneur That Turns “Religious Sewage” Into Profitable Business

Founder-CEO Ankit Agarwal started his social enterprise HelpUsGreen to find profitable uses for the eight million tons of prayer flowers that were eventually scattered in the River Ganges, polluting the water that the millions of Indians rely on. Apart from saving the earth and turning a profit, Ankit never imagined that he would also lift the quality of living for underprivileged women.

Changing lives of women in India’s most discriminated caste. Photo courtesy of HelpUsGreen

Wanting to prevent chemical ridden flowers from adding to water pollution, HelpUsGreen, “A World Changing Idea 2018” recipient pioneered a unique “flowercyling” technology to turn sacred flowers into beautiful handcrafted incense sticks, organic compost and biodegradable packaging material. Through their work, it became clear that HelpUsGreen could do more. The founders started hiring marginalised women, and created an equal working environment, offering them a fair wage.

Ankit has an impressive list of accolades; the UN Momentum of Change Award, and the UN Young Leader Award to champion Women’s Rights. Earlier this year, Ankit Agarwal was recognised by Forbes as one of India’s 30 under 30, and the company received a “Goal Keepers Award” from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And Ankit is in good company. Day one of the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Summit will also see three other powerhouse social entrepreneurs from around Asia to discuss the ways enterprises can leverage business smarts to be catalysts of change.

2. Visit A Farm In Cosmopolitan Singapore

It would not surprise you that in land scarce Singapore, majority of food is imported. Although the garden city has many green spaces, how does a farmer farm without land? Going to underutilised spaces of course!

Outdoor space is a premium in cosmopolitan Singapore, but rooftops make for great urban farms. Photo courtesy of Edible Garden City

Bjorn Low, Co-Founder of Edible Garden City, initially started building gardens by stacking wooden boxes and utilising spaces on rooftops of buildings. But what began as a small farming project became a “grow-your-own-food” movement with the ultimate goal of making cities become more self-sufficient. Today, they maintain edible gardens for hotels, schools, restaurants, commercial buildings and private clients, including 60 prominent restaurants, bars and hotels in Singapore.

Bjorn’s latest project Citizen Farm is the one he is most proud of. An 800-square-metre farm, Citizen Farm uses something called a “closed-loop urban farming system”. The farm sees waste as a resource and feeds leftover agriculture waste to insect larvae. The waste produced by these insects becomes fertiliser, nothing is wasted! For it’s good work, the Edible Garden was a 2017 DBS Foundation grant awardee, and Bjorn was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2018.

As part of the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Summit, Edible Garden City will share a sneak peek of what goes on behind the scenes. Check out what other experience visits are in store here.

3. Learn What Cacao Beans Have To Do With Saving The World

Olam estimates that one in three chocolate bars that people consume are made from cacao beans handled by Olam. Photo courtesy of Pixels.

When Olam first started, they traded cashews in India. Today, Olam is a leading agri-business and is listed among the top 30 companies by market capitalisation. It supplies food and industrial raw materials worldwide across 70 countries. Over the years, the group has built leadership positions in cocoa, coffee, cashew, rice and cotton with a reported sales revenue of S$26.3 billion.

So, why would a successful business like Olam care about saving the world?

Agriculture is literally facing a lot of “heat”. Despite changing climates and unpredictable weather patterns, the industry is still expected to feed the world, while alleviating poverty, providing employment, conserving the natural environment, and the list goes on...

Although Olam recently redefined its business purpose to “Re-imagining Global Agriculture: Growing Responsibly”, its drive to grow the business responsibly been a core purpose for several years. The ambition to grow business and achieve social impact is lofty, but Olam has proven that businesses can be profitable while boldly tackling 11 of the 18 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The mastermind behind it all, Sunny Verghese, Co-founder & Group CEO of Olam International Limited will give a keynote address at the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Summit on how leaders of businesses can spearhead sustainability goals in their own businesses. His passion for sustainability has made Olam the #23 on Fortune Magazine’s “Change The World” list. Sunny was also recently nominated the Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a network of more than 200 CEOs who are collectively responsible for a combined revenue of more than US$8.5 trillion. Talk about affecting change!