Over many years of being a judge for the corporate responsibility (CR) segment of The Edge Billion Ringgit Club (BRC) and Corporate Awards, it has been both humbling and inspiring to see how much Malaysia’s largest listed companies have contributed to the well-being of Malaysians and the nation.

The CR programmes of BRC companies run the gamut from A to Z, literally. Pick a letter of the alphabet and you will likely find a company involved in a CR programme in an area that starts with that letter.

For instance, “A” is a catch-all for aid, to a plethora of groups and causes in myriad areas.

“C” can stand for conservation efforts such as protecting the Malayan tiger and Sumatran rhino — both of which are on the brink of extinction — or the habitat of fireflies, mangrove swamp rehabilitation, and providing corridors for wildlife movement in oil palm plantations and other developments.

“C” also stands for “circular economy”, which a growing number of BRC members are committing to and a handful are already practising. Increasingly, it also stands for corporate efforts to combat climate change.

“E” of course stands for education. Although the allocation for education is one of the largest in the national budget every year, without the help of our corporate citizens, many children would start a new school year without new uniforms or bags, or pocket money for meals.

I remember the now-retired principal of a school in Kuala Lumpur telling me in 2013 that she kept supplies of biscuits in her office for under-privileged students who would turn up to sit for major examinations such as the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) without breakfast.

It was one reason why The Edge Education Foundation (TEEF) sponsored lunch after school for students who were part of TEEF’s Programme for After Class Enrichment (PACE) at this school and another. PACE was a tuition-cum-mentoring programme at these two Kuala Lumpur schools for low-performing students from low-­income homes that ran from 2013 to 2015. It was funded by BRC member Kuala Lumpur Kepong (see https://teef.org.my/pastprogrammes).

Another principal of a school in Kuala Lumpur told me about a student who had been absent from school for several days. When she finally managed to speak to his mother, she said that he was absent because she could not afford the pocket money for his meals at school.

Education also covers scholarships and BRC members have been at the forefront of those awarding educational aid to students in need, to the tune of millions of ringgit every year.

For university students, there is always a PTPTN (Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional or National Higher Education Fund Corporation) loan to fall back on.

But as TEEF has discovered during interviews for its scholarships over the years, even with a PTPTN loan, some students may still struggle to pay for other needs such as a handphone or a laptop.

When Covid-19 forced schools and universities to switch to online teaching, it threw into sharp relief the digital divide among Malaysians.

In late 2020, TEEF conducted an online interview with an applicant for a TEEF scholarship who did not own a laptop and had only an old hand-me-down handphone, and was struggling to keep up with online classes and assignments (see https://teef.org.my/scholarships). We discovered several other scholarship applicants who used handphones to attend online classes. They had no access to computers at their respective universities as their hostels were closed and they were living at home.

TEEF also discovered that most of the Form Four students participating in “Money & Me: Youth Financial Empowerment Programme”, the foundation’s free financial literacy programme for Form 4 students, were using handphones to access online lessons as well as Money & Me sessions. (Money & Me is carried out in schools in collaboration with corporate partners and Rotary clubs.)

Some were sharing handphones with younger siblings attending afternoon school sessions. As a result, these students were frequently absent for Money & Me, which as a co-curricular programme was of lower priority for parents.

That brings us back to “D” for digital divide. There are BRC members who are engaged in tackling the divide with initiatives such as giving away computers and providing Internet access through centres in rural areas that are equipped with computers and WiFi.

“H” is for health and this was heightened last year by the measures companies took to ensure the safety of their staff, workplaces and the community at large in relation to the spread of Covid-19.

These included not just initiatives to ensure physical but also mental health, with some companies providing care packages for employees who had tested positive.

“H” is also for human rights, such as companies that do not withhold the passports of their foreign workers and those that even provide secure lockers for these workers to keep their passports and other documents.

I could go on down the list but there are too many initiatives and too many companies to name. 


It is also interesting to see how CSR has evolved. This particular award began as the Best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives with a focus on “social responsibility”, before being renamed the Best Corporate Responsibility Initiatives. 

In line with the global move towards environmental, social and governance metrics, since last year, judges have begun to look at what companies are doing in those areas.

Over the years, the understanding and practice of CR by BRC companies has also evolved. In 2011, when the BRC numbered 128 members, one notable shortcoming was the lack of an integrated strategy and focus among many companies, and a tendency to equate CSR with philanthropy alone.

There was a huge gap that separated the few that understood and did CSR well, and companies that saw it as merely ad hoc donations to various causes and projects.

The relative importance of CSR was also seen in the fact that the job of submitting the award forms was sometimes assigned to junior executives.

The practice of CR has improved over the years, driven not just by regulatory requirements and investors’ and society’s expectations that companies have obligations beyond generating profits for shareholders, but also a growing conviction on the part of companies that doing good is the right thing to do.

Fast forward to 2022, and it is heartening to note that the vast majority of BRC members have come a long way in embracing the responsibilities of corporate citizenship. A growing number of companies are making sustainability an integral part of their company strategy, and many more companies are appointing chief sustainability officers.

When it comes to reporting, it is evident that sustainability is moving from the periphery to the front and centre. It is no longer about ticking the right boxes.

We also see more companies stating their commitment to becoming net zero by 2050 and to a circular economy. The recent UN report — which stated that our planet has already warmed by 1.1C since pre-industrial times and will likely reach 1.5C within the next decade, earlier than envisioned — makes it more urgent for BRC companies, especially those which are still at the early stage of their sustainability journey, to consider climate change more seriously because it will affect us all.

A recent report on The Australian website quoted researchers as saying that “Whether they realised it or not, some 7.6 billion people — 96% of humanity — felt global warming’s impact on temperatures over the last 12 months.”

In terms of alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), there is a danger that companies may merely “park” their corporate responsibility programmes under the SDG that best fits instead of the other way around, that is, aligning their CR projects with the SDGs they adopt. As such, it is good to see that some BRC members are beginning to show a paradigm shift where this is concerned.

The success of this year’s four winners of The Edge BRC Best CR Initiatives award was not achieved overnight, it is the culmination of hard work and commitment over the years in their sustainability journey.

And that is what true corporate responsibility is about: a long-term commitment to making lives better qualitatively and not just quantitatively, while ensuring sustainability from an environmental, social and economic perspective.

In that sense, congratulations are due not just to the CR winners, but to all BRC members who continue to do their part to make this country a better place, and to make life better for all Malaysians.

We salute you.

Dorothy Teoh is CEO of The Edge Education Foundation and one of the judges for The Edge BRC Best Corporate Responsibility Initiatives