I am continuously amazed at the dynamism and immense growth opportunities present throughout the Asia Pacific region. I was reminded of this fact once again when I had the privilege this week to participate in the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta. The event brought together global leaders from business, government and civil society to discuss East Asia’s growth and the future ahead.
Although one of the world’s fastest-growing regions and home to some of the world’s most prosperous economies, we also know that the region’s rapid growth has brought about increasing social, economic and environmental challenges. We need to address these challenges to ensure that the economy we build is one that not only meets the needs of people today, but also lays a foundation for future generations.
Consumers in Asia’s emerging markets are the most socially conscious shoppers in the world. They need to trust who they’re buying from and they care whether these companies are committed to creating positive social and environmental impact. When quality slips, when companies make bad decisions, when corners are cut, when backs are turned on communities and the environment, the market will tell us so.
Equally – the rise of social media and proliferation of mobile devices – means that those mistakes can go viral and be broadcast at a faster rate than in the past. At the same time, the market recognises and rewards the efforts of companies who earn strong profits and provide economic opportunities up and down their value chains and across the communities they serve, when smart sustainability initiatives that are embedded into the business provide the foundation for future growth. If corporations build trust in their brands by doing what’s right for business – primarily grow, generate profit and reinvest in communities and stakeholders – the rest will take care of itself. But if we don’t, we pay the price of breaching that trust.
In a world of total transparency and always-on digital connections, trust that has taken 128 years to develop can be destroyed in less than 128 seconds. The only path: Do the right thing, every time in every location. And, we must do this with authenticity and transparency. Consumers, especially young people today, expect nothing less.
Through the collaborative impact of public-private partnerships, we have championed water stewardship across the region with more than 70 community water partnership projects in markets such as India, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. Already, we are water neutral in countries such as Indonesia, meaning for every litre of water we use in the production of our products, we replace it elsewhere – with a goal to be water neutral globally as a company by 2020. In ASEAN and Asia Pacific, we are ahead of this goal and on our way to be 100 per cent neutral in every market before 2020.
In Asia Pacific, we have helped more than 200,000 women entrepreneurs through our 5by20 initiative to overcome the barriers they face to succeed in business in markets such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam.
And we are continuing our work in promoting well-being and addressing the public health challenge of obesity through more than 100 active healthy living programs in over 19 countries across Asia Pacific. Our tripartite business model – partnering government, industries and civil society – to create shared value for the communities is non-negotiable.
Trust lies at the foundation of what we do and who we are. We are constantly working to secure and further build that trust for the benefit of the communities where we operate across the globe.
Atul Singh is former president of The