In the pursuit of new innovative ideas, many corporates have set up ways to bring startups into their ecosystem. For DBS Bank, working with startups is about its commitment to its brand purpose.
The DBS story is particularly pertinent as the world accelerates plans to pivot digitally during the outbreak of the coronavirus. Working with start-ups that are born from agile business models is useful for larger, more traditional businesses, but the need for a strong link to brand purpose has never been more important than during tough times for people, from a health and economic perspective.
DBS started life as the Development Bank of Singapore, one of the organisations that contributed to the building of an independent Singapore over 50 years ago. The organisation now counts Singapore, India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong as its core markets, and regularly punches above its weight globally in the rankings of financial brand’s digital capabilities.
Innovation and digital have arguably become a core aspect of the DBS brand but its work with startups, though the DBS Foundation (DBSF), is more about social impact than it is about digital transformation, though that does play a part.
To understand how fusing innovation and brand purpose drives the brand’s business forward, The Drum spoke with DBS and two DBS Foundation members Bettr Barista and Even Cargo about what the partnership means.
Karen Ngui, board member of DBS Foundation and DBS’ head of group strategic marketing and communications, explains that the partnership is founded on the idea of creating profitable businesses that also drive social change for the region.
“DBSF nurtures and advocates for social enterprises across our core markets of Singapore, India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Social enterprises are businesses for good that share our passion for shaping a better future for their communities – they are focused on delivering social value, while still remaining profitable. Through the work of DBSF, we seek to catalyse the growth of an ecosystem of businesses that do business differently and in doing so, scale the impact we can make in addressing the myriad social and environmental challenges that confront a rapidly growing Asia,” she says.
For Ngui, the time for paying lip service to brand purpose is over.
“All businesses, big and small, should be purpose-driven and think beyond themselves to have an ESG focus. This goes further than just supporting socially-minded start-ups – we believe businesses should walk the talk and be socially-minded themselves, actively pursuing a dual bottom line that goes beyond profit and includes social impact. This is what we are trying to do at DBS. We recognise that we share a symbiotic relationship with the societies and communities we operate in, and we want to be a force for good,” she adds.
The model that DBS uses for the foundation is based on three things - advocating, nurturing and integrating. From an advocating perspective, the brand brings the social entrepreneurs into its activities, including its events and workshops. It was the theme for the latest series of DBS’ content series Sparks, particularly those with a sustainability edge. The bank nurtures through grant funding, incubation and mentoring. Finally, the brand integrates by bringing them into the culture and operations of the bank through conscious procurement, financing, providing co-working spaces and skilled volunteer mentoring by DBS employees.
Ngui adds that as all brands and businesses face challenges presented by the Coronavirus, it’s apparent that social entrepreneurs need additional help from larger corporations.
“In our recent conversations with social entrepreneurs supported by DBSF, it has become increasingly apparent that SEs, like most businesses, need holistic support to help them weather the uncertainties and challenges triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have just launched the 2020 DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Grant call, and together with various other initiatives that the bank has put in place to nurture and grow the social enterprise ecosystem, we hope more social entrepreneurs will come forward to pursue their goals and succeed at building innovative businesses aimed at tackling Asia’s growing environmental and/or social issues,” she explains.
With DBS having a strong history supporting social entrepreneurs, it's no surprise that it's quite far ahead in knowing how it can help smaller businesses and communities get through hard times during the Coronavirus outbreak. It's an inspiring example for many large businesses and should serve as the catalyst for more organisations to explore how they can contribute too.