27 November 2017

A Foundation for all seasons
Media Title: The Edge
Section: Supplement
One of the most prominent banking groups this side of Asia, CIMB Group has deep community ties not just within Malaysia, but in all the countries which it has a presence. CIMB Group has supported many entrepreneurial endeavours over the years, which in turn has lifted entire communities into new strata of wealth and wellbeing. Indeed, it would not be out of place to suggest that CIMB Group has been heavily involved in nation-building throughout the ASEAN region. 

But decades of fulfilling the financial objectives of so many is only part of the battle; talk of nation-building is all well and good, but the execution can only ever take place effectively at the grassroots. Important though it is to finance the economy and remain profitable, one tends to leave an even more indelible mark by reaching out to help those who are not yet in a position to help themselves. It now tends to be referred to, somewhat impassively, as "corporate social responsibility" (CSR). 

Thankfully, CSR is more than just another corporate acronym to this group. The CIMB Foundation, formed almost exactly 10 years ago, now brings messages of hope, empowerment, and that Malaysia Boleh spirit to all corners of the country. In the 10 years since inception, the Foundation has contributed a total of RM120 million, having made a positive difference to the lives of some 700,000 people through nearly a thousand (962) initiatives. 

Such is the priority placed on outreach that no less than CIMB Group's Chief People Officer, Dato' Hamidah Naziadin serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Foundation. 

"The CIMB Foundation aims to empower communities and change the lives of our beneficiaries regardless of their race, creed, age or gender. Empowering lives is something very close not only to my heart, but also the hearts of our CIMB Group CEO, Tengku Dato' Sri Zaf rul, our trustees, as well as the management and staff of CIMB and the Foundation. To all of us, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing people meet their potential through our investment in them and in projects that improve lives, societies and communities," she tells The Edge. 

According to Hamidah, thanks to the philanthropic vision of Dato' Sri Nazir Razak who initiated the CIMB Foundation 10 years ago, substantial resources have been channelled into creating long-term positive impact through three pillars, namely, Education, Sports and Community Development, with diversity and inclusion as the guiding principle. 

Initiatives under the Education pillar are focused on English and financial literacy for students, through PINTAR and Be$MART programmes respectively. 

She adds, "PINTAR is a rural school adoption programme incepted three years ago to encourage the learning of English. For this purpose we have adopted 32 schools since, and also upgraded the computer labs and libraries for some. Be$MART on the other hand is one of our flagship programmes, which aims to address youth bankruptcy by teaching university students the various aspects of financial management." 

Hamidah explains, "Be$MART is a comprehensive two-day session that utilises a mixture of lectures, simulations and games meant to deliver an end-to-end view of financial management in a fun and interactive way. This includes smart tips on saving, investing as well as retirement planning. University students are our strategic target group because they are at the stage where they are just about to enter the working world and should not be debt-laden." 

The move made perfect sense as the Foundation was well-placed to tap into the CIMB Group's finance and investment expertise, "so it was only natural for us to extend this knowledge to benefit tertiary students", Hamidah says. 

A new programme that the Foundation will be launching this year is "CIMB Mozek", developed with young students' learning needs and diversity in mind, in collaboration with Teach For Malaysia. "CIMB Mozek is a school holiday camp meant to promote integration among Malaysia's multiracial children," Hamidah says. 

The Foundation has also been actively involved in nurturing sporting talent to compete in international arenas. "We have been supporting junior squash players for 10 years now and I am truly proud that we have been able to produce junior champions such as Sivasangari Subramaniam, Ng Eain Yow and Aifa Azman, who all have the potential to be the next Datuk Nicol David," she says. 

"It is all about financing coaches, equipment, as well as training so that our athletes are able to fulfil their true potential; and we also want to nurture talent amongst the differently-abled, namely blind football and wheelchair basketball, giving them the opportunity to make it in our society." 

With the Community Development initiatives, Foundation can reach out to an even wider scope of beneficiaries by giving grants to fund projects such as baking classes for single mothers at the Perkhidmatan Sosial Pembangunan Komuniti (PSPK) shelter; vocational training for disabled youth and adults at the Daybreak Centre; drum performance training for the hearing-impaired at YMCA KL; access to basic amenities for rural communities in Sarawak through Barefoot Mercy, up-skilling woodwork, ironwork and tourism management for the Mah Meri in Pulau Carey, Klang; setting up renewable energy in rural areas of Sabah; and many more. 

"We help by empowering these communities with the skills they need in the hope that they can then improve their productivity and livelihood with a better income," says Hamidah. 

Environmental preservation is another big feature of the Foundation's list of projects. These projects not only conserve Malaysia's natural ecosystem and educate the community, but also stimulate economic growth. Hamidah explains, "For instance over the past two years, our staff have collaborated with local NGOs such as Lanskap Malaysia and Sabah Wetlands on two tree planting initiatives. The first initiative involved Lanskap Malaysia, with whom we planted 1500 trees in three locations: Taman Kejiranan Air Panas Setapak, Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, and Merisuli Lahad Datu. 

"This is essential to improve species diversity as well as soil quality required in a productive forest. The Foundation also collaborated with Sabah Wetlands to plant 1000 mangrove trees where we worked with 12 local schools in the planting activity. Mangrove forests represents a significant source of biodiversity, providing a home, feeding and breeding ground for mammals, reptiles, and migratory birds. 

"Our staff have also worked with the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch to educate local communities on waste management techniques, and to raise awareness on environmental degradation issues. The ecosystem needs to be protected in totality not only to protect its flora and fauna – especially the turtle landing sanctuaries but also to benefit state's economy and people who are dependent on eco-tourism. A resort at Lang Tengah, for instance, produced 3.8 tonnes of waste in the 2013 holiday season and was aiming for a 25% rubbish waste recycling rate in the 2015 season. Through our project, the resort staff and visitors successfully recyled 40% of the resort's waste in that season." 

Hamidah credits most of the Foundation's success to the passion of CIMB staff, as well as the underlying philosophy governing all programmes and initiatives. Her mandate is to ensure that all projects carried out in the name of the CIMB Foundation are executed professionally, efficiently, and in the interests of the programmes' intended beneficiaries. 

"There are specific key performance indicators (KPIs) attached to each project. For example, we target 80 Be$MART sessions in universities nationwide this year, and we have successfully conducted 70 to-date. Additionally, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and potential partners are chosen based on similar objectives and a shared philosophy of ensuring sustainable and measurable long-term impact for the beneficiaries. When our beneficiaries are empowered, and their lives are changed, that's the best measure of our projects having achieved their objectives." 

Maintaining so many causes all over the country is a challenge at the best of times, and in this regard, the CIMB Group wisely saw fit to rope in its thousands-strong workforce, based all around Malaysia. 

Hamidah explains: "CIMB began our flagship Community Link Programme in 2007 to encourage our staff to champion projects based on the needs of their local communities. Annually, they will submit proposals for grant approvals to enable them to reach out and help the needy, which will be evaluated based on our charter. This serves to institutionalise the spirit of giving back and the sense of community care and engagement among our staff across the group. 

"As at 31 December 2016, we had funded 733 Community Link projects to the tune of RM37.27 million. For 2017/2018, a total of RM2 million has been set aside for our Community Link programme, for which 80 projects have been shortlisted." 

Staff are also invited and encouraged to participate in CIMB Foundation projects, for example, the distribution of bubur lambuk during Ramadhan, the donation of various necessities and clothing items for flood victims during the East Coast floods earlier this year, charitable support of fire victims in Tawau, Sabah, in addition to the supporting of Rohingya refugees being camped at Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, and of course, the Foundation's Be$MART sessions held nationwide. 

"Taking a leaf from her experience as CIMB's Group Chief People Officer, Hamidah feels that corporates with a strong CSR culture forms part of an excellent employee value proposition for young recruits who prefer fulfilling careers. This bodes well for attracting great talent to CIMB, and for continuing our ASEAN-wide philanthropic aspirations through the foundation," she says. 

If you thought all these initiatives are simply rushed through over a quick weekend here or the odd few hours there, you'd be sorely mistaken. It pays to participate in the CIMB Foundation's social empowerment efforts. "In an effort to encourage even more of our staff to be part of our various CSR drives, recently we introduced a programme called Flex4CSR, which allows staff to take a wholemonth's paid leave in order to give back to the community through charitable work under any CIMB Foundation projects. 

"At the same time, we also announced our new Staff Volunteerism Policy, which provides a half-day leave for every 10 hours of volunteering in CIMB Foundation activities. By implementing FlexACSR and Staff Volunteerism Policy, we develop a strong sense of community engagement in our staff, and we make giving back part of CIMB's DNA, so that as we progress as a business, communities also progress with us. At CIMB, our CSR philosophy is that business success is meaningless if our surrounding communities suffer," Hamidah explains. 

Hamidah also credits much of the Foundation's current success to the trustees and former CEO's of the foundation, especially projects instituted well before she became CEO: "We have continued to support many programmes that began many years ago such as our Junior Squash Development programme, the PINTAR English literacy programme, Young ASEAN Leaders, Knights of Nature, our ICT Education for Rural Schools initiative, Community Link and Gift of Sight, to name just a few. 

The banking group has recently taken its commitment on CSR to greater heights. In a novel corporate move, the CIMB Group recently announced that it would commit one percent of its Profit Before Tax (PBT) annually for CSR initiatives. This will start with the group's 2017 PBT, for the foundation's 2018 activities. 

Hamidah says that in terms of absolute value, this substantial increase in budget means that the Foundation will be able to empower even more communities and change even more lives through projects and initiatives that are ready to be expanded locally or regionally within ASEAN. "The 1% PBT allocation for CSR will enable us to do more towards empowering communities and changing lives on a bigger scale in all three pillars of Education, Sports and Community Development. 

"When communities thrive, nations will also thrive, which bodes well for the region's future growth and stability. And one of the best ways to ensure communal growth is to ensure inclusivity, so that everyone can be empowered to contribute to nation-building in their own unique way," concludes Hamidah.
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