Social Giving in The Built Environment Sector

In recent years, Singapore’s Built Environment (BE) sector has been plagued with much negativity relating to various social issues ranging from workplace safety to workers’ welfare. The problem could be attributed to the sector’s conflicting agenda between completing projects as soon as possible and upholding social welfare. In 2016, I set out to uncover what could be a sustainable model of engagement between the BE sector and social sector as part of my final year dissertation Bachelor of Project and Facilities Management. What opportunities of purposeful community service can tap on the existing assets and expertise of the BE firms? How do we explore the means of making community engagement more practical to BE firms? To answer these questions, I carried out a research with experts from both the BE and social sectors to understand the issues and perceptions of social giving within the sector. Here are my three key findings:

1. The Power of Leveraging on Networks and Expertise

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) does not have to be “extra work”. In speaking to the BE firms here in Singapore, I found the uniqueness of the capabilities each BE firm has and their existing business networks are in itself good leverage points for engaging in purposeful CSR work.

Businesses can offer skills-based volunteering opportunities, to engage employees to give back. An example of an opportunity can include leveraging on the skills of a painting contractor for a social organisation.

2. The Potential Fit of Ex-Offenders to The BE Sector

A finding that was raised in interviews with both employers and current ex-offender employees revealed the good potential fit of ex-offenders to the BE sector, distinctly for their resilient personality in part due to their rigour life experience.

With the established hiring support structures available in Singapore for this community group, ex-offenders might actually present a great manpower source for BE firms to tap on and help to mitigate some of the manpower woes the sector is facing as a whole, hence creating a win-win for both sides.

3. Adopting a System Thinking Mindset

Findings from my work with the BE sector point that firms need to adopt a system thinking mindset and operationalise social elements across business functions.

The process may require firms to review the purpose of their business and go back to the question of “why they do what they do?”. It should be emphasised that communities should be viewed and treated as social assets and not always as being in need of help.

This shift in perception would change the way how CSR initiatives are developed and help firms go beyond compliance to running sustainable initiatives.


Yeo Zhen Wei is a recent graduate from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Project & Facilities Management. With a strong belief in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability issues, he seeks opportunities to contribute in these areas. Interested to hear more about his research or want to discuss opportunities ? Reach him here or on Linkedin.

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