Responsible Business

How would you define responsible business and who’s allowed to claim it their mission and vision?

Our company organizes international sustainability conferences, convening leaders and decision-makers from all stakeholder groups; governments, businesses, international organizations, development experts, ground-level non-profits, financial institutions and media. The aim is to bring together all stakeholders to facilitate action and outcome -focused discussions for sustainable development, using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as the framework and guideline.

Before every forum, we get some comments and complaints on speakers, sponsors or partners, claimed to not be “responsible” enough, to take part in a “responsible business forum”. The cursed ones typically including  the likes of Monsanto, Bayer, Philip Morris International, Asia Plantation Capital and others. Sometimes also the Nestle’s, Coca-Colas or Cargill’s. 4 weeks before our annual flagship event, the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development Singapore“, the topic is trending again. The international development organizations are most often the ones wanting to define which kind of company is allowed to be on the same panel as they are. Who should be in the room, who can speak with whom.

My passion is to engage the private sector to the development work. To help companies understand how they can sustain their business and create positive impact, creating win-win situations for all stakeholders. Connect them with right partners, providing them platforms for seeking out collaboration and support. I believe the forums we organize provide the right kind of platform for sharing best practices, meeting relevant stakeholders, challenging others and seeking for collaboration.

Shouldn’t it be beneficial to a cause-motivated organization, to have a public, open platform, where they can engage in the conversation and challenge those whose positions or perspectives they don’t support or agree with? Instead of opposing to appear on the same stage with a company whose business they don’t support, use that as an opportunity to question them and challenge them?

It’s a bold move from controversial companies to join such discussions, to come in front of a public eye, willing to reply to criticism and open for discussion.

Equally, those whose business practices or field of operations are causing negative impact, are the ones most in need of open platforms where they can learn more about sustainability. Where they might learn about solutions to apply to their business models that make them more responsible.

Isn’t that what development is all about? Improvement? In the corporate-world, advancing sustainable business practices, promoting proven solutions and encouraging adaptation of more responsible and sustainable business operations?

I appreciate the work of different types of organizations, which help to push the bar up and demand private sector to stand up to their corporate responsibilities. I see the need for the idealistic, perfectionist perspectives. Yet, I find that real progress comes from collaboration, from working together with realistic objectives. I also believe everyone needs to be included in the conversations, invited to share their perspectives and to have the chance for learning from others and to be engaged in dialogue. Listen, and learn, applies to all sides.

 *In case it’s not obvious that my views are my own and that I’m writing solely as an independent person, being alone responsible for my writing, please refer to my earlier post about me owning my views, my words, my opinions. 



Shark Encounters

I saved a shark.

It sounds pretty cool, and was purely amazing. I love sharks, small and large, as they are such gracious, thrilling creatures. And one of them is swimming free in the ocean thanks to me. Or last I hope so, after I cut it out of fishing nets where it had been entangled completely on a  side of a wreck. Poor thing was rather disoriented after the release, and luckily there were other divers near by shooing it out away from the threatening ghost nets.

This baby-shark rescue operation is but a drop in the ocean, and unfortunately mostly we hear about the more negative stories. Or more entertaining ones. This week trending has been the video from Mexico where a great white gets into the cage with a diver, after the bait apparently had been located too close to the door and somehow the incident could happen. Shark got out alive of the cage, luckily, though seemingly with some physical damage. The diver, well he was lucky to survive the encounter as well. The operators (heard yelling “is someone inside”) hopefully won’t – business-wise. Such reckless operations, no sense of responsibility. Not towards their customers, nor towards the animals.

Many people are afraid of sharks but I’m afraid for them. Sharks get killed for their fins, chased out of their natural habitat, and suffer from the loss of biodiversity, warming waters and reduced nutrition. It’s all our fault.

I dream of seeing the great white, but not on its own cost. Not on the risk of it getting harmed.

I look forward to many more encounters with sharks, in conditions where both of us are free. Not me being locked up in a cage, nor with the shark being entangled in fishing nets. And most certainly not with the fin on my plate.

Live and let live.









Just Words

This morning I was watching the US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that unsurprisingly covered the just a few day earlier published tape revealing Trump’s comments on kissing unwilling women and groping them between their legs. As if his words on the tape weren’t bad enough, showing how he thinks as a star he can do anything to women, but his self-claimed “apology” was even worst.

“Just words”. “Locker room talk”.

I can only imagine how insulting and painful listening to such lame excuses is for rape-victims as it’s already humiliating to every feeling human being.

The world has always belonged to white, privileged  men and admittedly far worse things have been said and done. But one would expect a lot more from a US presidential candidate. Even if the person is Trump. A lot more. How about an honest apology, without excuses?

Fortunately in today’s world such talk is less tolerated. Women have grown more confident and know to demand respect. Many men are also standing up to support women and their drive for equality in all aspects. Social media spreads the word, demands for justice.

What made me truly flip with this so called apology or excuse, was the reference to “just words”. Words hurt. Words cause harm. Words are powerful tools.

I was bullied in school and have now spent over 20 years recovering from that time, from those words. It was “just words”, but they weren’t just words to me. Those words caused pain and misery and self-doubt and keep affecting me still this day. I am living a happy life, know how to appear confident and have built a self-esteem, but those words from 20+ years ago will always haunt me. It’s been a long journey of recovery and self-discovery and I’m proud to be who I am today, of how far I’ve come despite the words that tried to prevent me.

“Just words and locker room talk” takes us back to the same old “boys are boys” excuses that violated women have always had to hear, always had to endure and overcome. Women, and men for that matter, have come a long way in our long hard journey towards equality, and I can’t stand another white privileged male trying to rip all those achievements away and take us back to the beginning.

Words are not just words. And joking about a rape or any form of physical assault is not funny. Not in a locker room, no where. Not ever.

And Trump, you claiming that “no one has more respect for women” than you – that is “just words”, without a meaning, without any content, without any justification behind them. I haven’t seen any action to prove otherwise, either.




Good Samaritan

Can doing good be punishable?

I recently participated in a first aid refresher course in Singapore, obliged by my Dive master training but also as I found it meaningful to actually refresh those skills that might come in handy one day. Last time I trained first aid & CPR was for my rescue diver course 5 years ago in Thailand so was about time, and also useful to learn the local guidelines and practices.

One question that came up often was the fact that by trying to help a victim, one might end up causing (more) harm.True, CPR might lead to broken ribs, and moving a victim to spinal injuries. Yet, acting in attempt of saving one’s life ought always be prioritized.

The disturbing point is the concern to get sued for causing harm by trying to help.

It seems a standard in first aid courses to teach practices such as the helper explaining the victim they want to try and assist as emergency first aid responders. This is taught to clarify the helper is not a medical professional but an everyday Joe wanting to assist, equipped with basic first aid skills. The first time I encountered this was in the PADI course in Thailand, which is based on US guidelines. Whilst I understand in the States one must be extra careful with any action they take as getting sued for something is a common norm there, I had never thought that this might be a concern in other countries as well.

To me, if a person is injured, it’s logical to try and help. Do the best you can. It’d never occur to me to expect that the first person running to help out in a need would have to be a medical professional. And even the profis make mistakes. I fear that such concerns of inflicting more harm than good will keep people from even trying to help. Shouldn’t it always be preferred that one does what’s possible and within skills and common sense, rather than ignoring a victim in a fear of potentially making a mistake?

In the Singapore course, the trainer tried to calm these concerns by explaining Singapore having laws protecting such “good samaritans” – good-willed people who are willing to act in hope of being able to help. Although I appreciate the effort to protect good-willed people, it concerns me that we need such common sense laws in the first place. What kind of person would sue a person who acted in a moment of distress, in the best attempt to help?

I want to believe in humanity and the good will of people, were they in the position of a victim or a helper. Because what’s left of us, if we were to stop and consider whether we should help or not? It shouldn’t be a question whether we should help or not, but how we can help.





Can Race Matter?

A few months ago I wrote about my bewilderment on Brunei’s immigration asking about my race upon entering the country. That text has since become my most viewed blog posting, raising interest on the question of race, and on its relevance.

I discussed the question with an Indian friend, to whom “race” is a much clearer topic and present in her everyday life. She’s used to replying to it as she has that question posed to her in plenty of occasions. Living in Singapore however, it’s not perceived a discriminating question but a matter of fact. Same as asking for one’s gender or age.

My friend is right about Singapore attempting to positively be a mixed-race nation. All different, all equal, all mixed up. Singapore asks for the race of people moving in to the country, to ensure they have a nice balance and mixture of races within. They developed an Ethnic Integration Policy in 1989, “to promote racial integration and harmony in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates”

Yet, there’s a clear difference between race and ethnicity. One can only have one race, and is born to it. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with culture and one can have multiple ethnic identities.

Singapore has achieved a population where people identify themselves as ethnic Singaporeans, with multiple races such as Malays, Indians and Chinese. At its best the achievement is appreciation and conservation of different cultural heritages, while being open and accepting of others.

Although asking for one’s race can be meant for good purposes, I’m still torn with it’s negative connotations. In an ideal world everyone would be color-blind what comes to races but the reality is that race just isn’t a neutral topic. When race matters, racism will arise.

I’m supportive of any attempts to preserve cultures and respect and appreciate different ethnic backgrounds for their historical, cultural and identity values. But I can not support categorizing people, and especially not where there might be the slightest connotation for different values for different people. We were not born equal in terms of opportunities and capacities, but all human beings were born with equal value as a human being. No matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.

I dream of a world where race doesn’t matter. If again asked of mine, I’ll thankfully borrow one from the commentator newmanTheHuman, and write down “Human”.


Grown-up Fun

Ever caught yourself looking at kids playing around and wishing you could be as worry-free and just have all the fun in the world? Know those moments when you’re looking at a swing in a playground or a cool toy in a shop and secretly wishing you could just jump at it. Play. Laugh. Have fun?

Well you know what, it’s time to grow-up from being too grown-up. Life’s too short to keep that inner-child hidden beneath the grown-up gown.

I released my inner child last weekend in a trampoline park, where I went with two other grown-up friends, and without any children for cover-up. We got so excited jumping around, tossing soft balls at each other and falling down that we forgot to worry about being grown-ups doing kids’ stuff. We were just having a good laugh. And it felt amazing!

Being a grown-up, an adult, is excellent fun because you get to decide for yourself what you’re gonna do. As a kid, you probably had to beg your parents to buy you that new toy you desired, take you to a fun park or to a playground, and have your parents shouting their warnings at you. As a grown-up, you can climb any tree you wish to, swing as fast as you can and jump around to your heart’s desire. If you catch other people giving you a look of disapproval, so what? They are just jealous you’ve let your inner child out while they are still holding it in.

It can be so much fun being a grown-up, I highly recommend trying it out!

Athletes, who happen to be women

The Rio olympics have raised a lot of social media discussion on sexism and the way women’s achievements are reported and generally spoken of. The media still diminishes the achievements of female athletes – consistently. American Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won bronze in the trap shooting, was in the press coverage referred to only in relation to her famous husband. Another athlete’s husband-coach was credited by a reporter to be responsible for her performance. Another gold medalist with a world record was a secondary news under a male silver-medalist from the same day.

In the Finnish media, the focus in the past days has been on the woman who’s the only medalist for us so far. A boxer with a story. She had only been training boxing for the fun of it, until at the ripe age of 28 and with 2 kids, her coach awoke her passion and she started taking the sport seriously. Disturbing was to see comments on her story undermining the stunning achievement, and the sarcastic requests to highlight men who are fathers as well. Of course mother and fatherhood are equally important but when talking about athletes, becoming a mother is a completely different challenge than becoming a father. Yet, it seems it’s not clear to all that a woman’s achievement and success story could for once be featured in media, instead of that of a man’s.

And what on earth is all this talk about women athletes hair-dos and make-up? Honestly it’s horrible that female athletes have to compete in their looks as well, as if that was more important than their actual performance. I’ve heard reporters in Rio have been actually having discussions on the gymnastics make-ups?

I’m glad the global sporting event is gaining attention to gender roles and equality, and hope the discussions continue past the games and beyond sports. Because in pretty much every field in life women are still lesser-valued than men.

In my current job, as we organize large international conferences, gender equality is a difficult topic. Namely, when inviting speakers our team wants to achieve full gender balance but struggles event after event in achieving the target. We have a certain level of seniority as a guideline for accepting a speaker, and it’s clearly how there are far fewer women in such roles than there are men. There are of course many brilliant women and excellent public speakers as well, but still too few to easily achieve 50-50 speaker balance from both genders. Only panels where all invited organizations / companies straight-forwardly nominate women are panels where gender equality or women empowerment is being discussed. And these are panels where we desperately want men to speak in.

At least, as Rio reporting failures and the responses to those are showing, world is slowly waking up to this. It’s no longer acceptable and “passable” to diminish women’s achievements or give the credit of their success to the men in their lives. Social media, keep it up. We all have a role to play – it ‘s never a funny joke to be sexist.