Subject: Heritage Source: http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=9794 Doing well by doing good Cindy Tham Eddy, Raja Bahrin and students pitching in to raise the tiang seri THE BUZZ in the air in the Terengganu museum last Saturday morning wasn't just due to the heat or tourists. The excitement was almost palpable as a group of secondary school students clambered up the wooden steps of the old rumah bujang berserambi that hot morning. The timber Malay house dating back to 1888 is one of five traditional architectural designs preserved by the Terengganu museum in Kuala Terengganu. Eighty-odd students from four secondary schools near Merang were there that day. They will be doing more than explore the culturally historical structures. Over the next six weeks, some will actually get to participate in the restoration of a rumah berpeleh Terengganu. The 100-year-old prefabricated structure made from chengal, held together with dowels instead of nails, is being relocated from its original site in the town of Manir to a new cultural village in Merang, near Kuala Terengganu. The project is led by architect Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Shah, whose passion for traditional Malay architecture is reflected in some of his works, such as the state museum and the Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque. "We read a lot about conservation in the newspapers but what exactly is conservation? How can we be part of it?" he said to the students earlier that morning. Enter DiGi Telecommunications, which organised the study programme, bringing together the architect and the students. It is part of the telco's corporate social responsibility (CSR) drive to support the preservation of Malaysia's heritage. The company has identified five individuals -- named DiGi's Amazing Malaysians -- whose craft involve the preservation of five broad areas: natural, cultural and social heritage as well as heritage embodied in art and architecture. In addition to Raja Bahrin, Amazing Malaysians include Balu Perumal, the wetland conservationist in Perak and Siow Ho Phiew in Johor, one of the few artisans who still know how to craft the lion's head for the Chinese lion dance. Also onboard are Diana Rose, who set up a longhouse in Sarawak to preserve the Melanau culture, and Romli Mahmud, the storyteller of Perlis. Other than its aesthetics, the traditional Terengganu house is also a pragmatic structure well suited to the local environment and culture, Raja Bahrin said to his young audience. In his brief presentation, the architect described the virtues of the house raised on stilts -- protection and ventilation -- and the communal space represented by the serambi. Raja Bahrin acknowledged that it may no longer be environmentally viable these days to construct timber buildings. But, he pointed out, many traditional building concepts and designs can be adopted in contemporary practice, instead of letting them fade into oblivion. After the museum, the students attended workshops to learn more about the task at hand. Some were introduced to woodcarving, while others tried their hand at weaving. Another group learnt to sketch the different facades of the house that will be restored. The following day, the students witnessed the tiang seri ceremony, when the main pillar of the house was erected. "It's been fun. I've never done any woodcarving before. I now have an idea of what it involves," said Nur Izyani, a Form Five student from Sekolah Teknik Wakaf Tembusu. For Nur Maziayana, a Form Two student from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Penarik, the traditional Malay house is nothing new; she has seen them in parts of the state. She admitted though, that she knew little of the value of such architecture until that morning. Another student thought of the event as nothing more than a fun weekend excursion, courtesy of DiGi. Giving to the community Companies in Malaysia and the world over appear to be playing an increasingly active, and visible, role in supporting projects that aim to benefit society or the environment. In January, HSBC Bank Malaysia teamed up with WWF-Malaysia to initiate a three-year project, working with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia and other partners in Kelantan, to reduce the incidence of tigers killed or removed from their natural habitats. The project also hopes to reduce the financial losses suffered by the local community as a result of tiger attacks on livestock. This is not the first time the bank is sponsoring such community-based projects. Taking the lead from the HSBC Group's global CSR policy, the bank in Malaysia launched the "HSBC in the Community" drive in 2002, focusing on education, the environment, philanthropic funding, heritage and culture and the arts. According to the bank's CSR report in 2003, funding for CSR efforts has gone up from RM876,000 in 2002 to RM1.3 million the following year. HSBC has even adopted the Equator Principles in 2003, a commitment by financial institutions to observe sustainable development in their loan policy. One way is by lending only to borrowers whose development projects include an environmental impact assessment that meets local regulatory requirements. "Project financing plays an important role in financing development throughout the world. This is particularly pertinent in emerging markets where project financiers often encounter environmental and community issues," says Zarir J Cama, deputy chairman and chief executive officer of HSBC Bank Malaysia. "We recognise that our role as financiers afford us significant opportunities to promote responsible environment stewardship and socially responsible development." Companies are also leveraging on their expertise when it comes to CSR. Intel Malaysia has provided IT training to more than 27,000 teachers in the country. It is also helping local universities go wireless, starting with Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. Cisco Systems Malaysia has its Cisco Networking Academy, which facilitates education through the Internet in polytechnics and colleges. Meanwhile, Computer Associates Malaysia has launched a KIDSAFE campaign to help make the Internet a safer environment for children. The company provided software to organisations like the Malaysian Coalition for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse to monitor the sites the children access when surfing the Internet. Intangible but valuable So why are companies ploughing so much into CSR? Proponents of CSR say the returns on such investments may be intangible but they are no less valuable. The amount invested in its CSR project is "not relevant", says Jon Eddy, DiGi's chief technology officer. He declines to say just how much DiGi is forking out for the Amazing Malaysians project. What is important is the project, which is preserving the heritage of Malaysia by engaging the youth, he stresses. He shies away from describing the CSR project as a branding exercise. "We are not selling SIM packs during any of the Amazing Malaysians programmes," he says. The company wants to do something other than what it knows best, and it wants to work with the youth, who form a big part of its market and the population, he says. "We are associating ourselves with the youth, to inspire the youth." Eddy, an electrical engineer by training, recalls how he took an interest in engineering after attending a talk when he was still a student. He hopes students participating in the Amazing Malaysians project will, likewise, be inspired to play a role in preserving local heritage. "We would like the students to take this idea and do something about it. We hope at least a few of them will be inspired to be architects one day." Says Dave Stangis, director of corporate responsibility at Intel Corp: "More important than making sure we maintain a positive image is to be an asset in our communities, meaning that our success should also be mirrored in the communities where Intel operates. "Thus, we provide assistance in areas we are good at and where our business and our employees can relate to, like education and safety and health and protection for the environment." Kumaran Singaram, managing director of Cisco, says CSR is part of the company's "triple bottom line" approach, which involves profits, people and presence. "Profits are one traditional and valuable metric, which helps measure our financial performance. People are equally important. Strong, mutually beneficial relationships with partners, customers, shareholders and the people who work for, with and near us are essential to our business." Tay Lay Kuan, head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), defines CSR as the manner in which companies relate to stakeholders in a responsible and ethical way. ACCA Malaysia organises the annual Malaysia Environmental and Social Reporting Awards, recognition for companies' efforts in CSR reporting. Stakeholders, he elaborates, go beyond shareholders, employees and customers. The government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the community in which the company operates are also stakeholders, he explains. NGOs are part of the reason companies feel the need to be visibly responsible in conduct. These organisations brought to public attention and condemnation, practices such as child labour, poor work conditions and environmental degradation, Tay says. "The traditional view is that businesses exist for the sole purpose of making money," he says. But businesses realised that to sustain such a goal, they need to take care of environmental and social issues as well, he adds. "Yes, of course, the motive is still to be in existence but to do it in a socially responsible manner." But, it's not all altruistic. "Some companies also see CSR as part of their branding strategy," says Tan. Earth Summit While companies doing their bit for the community is nothing new, CSR today is said to have emerged as a result of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, when the United Nations proposed an international code of conduct for transnational corporations. The proposal fell through because of lack of support from governments and corporations. It turned out that in anticipation of the summit and rising calls for corporate accountability and sustainable development, the latter had joined forces in 1991 to form the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, advocating a voluntary, rather than mandatory approach to CSR. Despite the visible good works, CSR is not without its flaws. Critics of CSR argue that companies should focus on maximising profits for shareholders rather than doing charity with what is essentially shareholders' money. Others dismiss CSR as publicity stunts. The rewards of CSR are never easily quantified, nor do they necessarily translate into higher margins, ACCA's Tay says. "You don't do it to increase profits but to sustain your business, protect your market share and improve branding," he says. At the same time, he adds, the cost of CSR efforts does not put a serious dent on the company's coffers. Win-win result Whatever their motives, more companies appear to be hopping on the CSR bandwagon. At the same time, different groups in the community, from school children to the elderly in old folks' homes, could actually do with some support. This demand from both sides prompted Mirella Soyer and Brian Lariche to form The Liaison Combination (TLC) five years ago to match companies and their CSR interests with the appropriate community-based organisation. One of their clients, a foreign bank, commissioned TLC to develop a financial education workshop for secondary school students. The two-hour workshop discusses issues such as financial planning, how credit works, the danger of chalking up huge credit card debts, get-rich-quick schemes and even multilevel marketing. Students get to learn something that is not part of the regular syllabus, Soyer says. At the same time, the workshop is a strategic move for the bank, she adds. These young people could be its future customers and the bank wants customers who are financially savvy and reliable, she says. "If there are non-performing loans, that's going to hurt the bank." Despite what critics say, it looks like some CSR efforts that are well executed are doing good for both companies and communities.
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