Alex Jorgensen is a Public Diplomacy student pursuing both a Master’s of International Relations at the Maxwell School and a Master’s of Science in Public Relations at the S.I. Newhouse School. He participated in the Singapore Summer Practicum.
Stewardship Asia Centre: A new thought leadership center in the East
This summer I had the opportunity to work at the Stewardship Asia Centre in Singapore. Stewardship Asia Centre (SAC) is known as a thought leadership center that looks to inspire businesses: family owned, state owned enterprises, investors, and nonprofits; to employ SAC practices with the long term in mind. This means that they conduct their business thinking about stakeholders as opposed to simply shareholders. Stakeholder theory is a broad theory, but in short it means that a business takes into account the environment, the community, the customer, and the shareholder or investor. This differs from the way many companies conduct themselves because most companies are looking to make a short-term profit that brings quarterly gains and keeps their shareholders at bay.
It is a widely held belief that this type of short-term profit chasing is what led to the Great Recession when mortgages were repackaged with high grades despite the fact that the homes were owned by people who could not afford the loans. This real estate bubble combined with the failings of the Lehman brothers and Arthur Andersen has led to sweeping changes and a Western focus on Corporate Governance. While corporate governance is seen as the first champion of long-term profitability, it still only focuses on a companies shareholders and is not as important to private corporations, nonprofits, and institutional investors who may see it as a checklist. Corporate governance serves as a list of boxes to check for public companies so that investors can claim ethical investment, but fails to see the larger picture that stewardship encapsulates.
Stewardship is a function of management. According to SAC, “Stewardship is the management of assets to which an organization has been entrusted so that they hand them on in better condition.” Good stewardship has a direct relationship with long-term return on investment. While good stewards may experience short-term pain, the long-term goals and core values of an organization drive them through temporary setbacks, into enduring prosperity. SAC spells out four elements that foster stewardship for companies:
- Conservatism in financing
- Sensitivity to the operating context – leaders are aware of the external world around them
- Cohesion and company identity – salient through all employees
- Tolerance for experimentation and outliers, which allows them to stretch their conception of what is possible.
These four elements create long-term vision and core values that empower employees to feel valued and become loyal to leadership in place. Stewardship as a business concept is new and only has been implemented with regulations in two countries, Britain and Japan (with failed attempts in Malaysia), Singapore is looking to be an early adopter of stewardship as it serves a lot of the philosophy of the Eastern world and lends itself to long-term profitability. Companies that have championed stewardship in the eyes of Stewardship Asia Centre include: Black Rock Investment, the Tata Group from India, and Singapore’s own government practices.
This internship taught me the theoretical side of stewardship and the practical side of running a start-up thought leadership center. Through sitting in on policy development, speech writing, curating content, press release writing, and event planning I learned practical ways to run a successful thought leadership center.