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Leaving no one behind on road to progress

“...The rules of engagement have changed. Organisations know that they can thrive only if the communities within which they operate also thrive,” says Mr Sengupta.

“We devote 10% of our annual partnership profits to charitable causes. We also provide pro bono services to those who otherwise cannot afford legal representation,” says Ms Ho.

“Visa is also working with the financial institutions and non-financial institutions to ensure everyone in Singapore can have access to a digital payment card.” says Mr Chatterjee.

“Sustainability ... is very much part of our corporate strategy as we believe our reputation and long-term success depend on how we create positive change in our society,” says Mr Yuen.

Roundtable participants:

  • Jayajyoti Sengupta, Head of Asia-Pacific and Japan, Cognizant
  • June Ho, Partner, Corporate, TSMP Law Corporation
  • Kunal Chatterjee, Visa Country Manager for Singapore & Brunei
  • Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO of Consumer Singapore, Singtel and Chairman of Singtel Touching Lives Fund
  • Moderator: Vivien Ang, BT

The advent of digital era and advancements in technologies are transforming Singaporeans' daily lives in ways that are unfathomable just decades ago. Some companies share how they are adapting - and at what cost - as Singapore progresses towards becoming a Smart City.

The Business Times: As Singapore races to become a Smart Nation, how does your company ensure that no one is left behind?

Jayajyoti Sengupta: Under our CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme "Smart Nation. Caring Nation", we collaborate with clients, VWOs (voluntary welfare organisation) and community partners in Singapore to help scale digital in such a way that no one is left untouched by the transformative potential of digital technologies. There are three parts to our Smart Nation programme. The first is to spark the joy of digital among students and communities through our STEM Outreach programmes by showcasing the spectacular potential of emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and blockchain in transforming lives and giving wings to dreams.

The second part is to reach out to seniors and handhold them as they navigate the digital divide. We dream of an inclusive Smart Nation, where seniors wholeheartedly embrace technology instead of fearing it. The third part involves volunteering our core professional skills in technology, design, consulting and project management to help individuals as well as VWOs and community organisations become more efficient and impactful.

June Ho: We focus on three groups of beneficiaries that we feel are underserved: children and youth at risk, the elderly and transient workers.

In relation to the elderly, we recognise that the government's drive for a cashless society - which has reached even hawker centres - has left seniors who grew up using notes and coins feeling daunted just paying for daily necessities. So last year, our Handprint Committee partnered with the Tembusu Senior Activity Centre and the South East Community Development Council to run a digital clinic outing at Kallang Wave Mall for more than 30 seniors to empower them with basic skills for navigating the digital age.

Our lawyers and staff taught the beneficiaries how to use e-payments, sign up for Wireless@SG, take selfies and wefies with their smartphones and communicate via WhatsApp group chats. The beneficiaries were brought on a grocery shopping trip where we taught them how to use self-checkout counters. They also enjoyed a good cup of kopi at a cafe where we showed them how to pay with the NETS Flashpay that we provided them with.

Also recognising that the elderly is a particularly vulnerable class in the digital age, we educated them about online and offline scams to ensure they don't lose their hard-earned savings for fake lottery tickets or divulge personal information in "official surveys" etc.

This year, our Handprint projects will guide selected groups of elderly through end of life issues such as filing a lasting power of attorney and advance medical directives online.

Kunal Chatterjee: At Visa, our mission is to be the best way to pay and be paid for everyone, everywhere. This says a lot about our focus in ensuring that everyone has access to making digital payments. We are also aligned with the government's focus to ensure that nobody is left behind in this digital journey.

There have been concerns that as Singapore races to become a smart nation, there will be pockets of the population that will be left behind, such as the elderly segment. Hence, we partnered with People's Association (PA) last year on a strategic partnership, to promote the Seniors for Smart Nation programme organised by PA. As part of this engagement, Visa will hold learning sessions at its learning centre, Visa University, to educate seniors about digital payments, with hands-on trainings as part of the programme curriculum.

Yuen Kuan Moon: As a leading communications technology company, we recognise that Singtel can play a significant role in enabling digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide for vulnerable segments of society.

We collaborate with partners to make sure that our communities are not left behind as we move into a digital future. Some of these initiatives involve teaching digital literacy to children, youth and seniors as well as empowering persons with disabilities and employers in assistive technologies that can support productivity in the workplace.

For example, we run Silver Mobile Workshops where our staff volunteers and partners help train seniors to use smartphones and popular social media and apps safely. In addition, the Singtel Enabling Innovation Centre which was established in 2015 equips persons with disabilities with contact centre and IT skills, enhancing their employability and ability to lead independent lives.

As operations at Singtel change as a result of new technologies, we ensure that our workforce are equipped with the digital skills needed to make the transition. We invested S$9 million in staff learning and development to upgrade our skills last year.

The Business Times: What are the new gaps that have been emerging in the digital age, and how is your firm tackling the issue?

Jayajyoti Sengupta: The digital age, while being transformational for businesses and communities, can appear daunting to many. For students, the gap is in the application of technology to solve real-world challenges. It is critical to introduce students to digital concepts in a real-life and engaging manner. For seniors and persons with disabilities (PWDs), the gap is in accessing technology and understanding it well enough to make it work for them. The ability of digital to transform the lives of seniors and PWDs is phenomenal, but it requires effort to make them conversant with today's technology.

Similarly, VWOs and non-profits can take a huge leap forward with better access to and understanding of digital technology. Through our Outreach programme, we advocate and enable active volunteering in each of these areas to bridge digital gaps. Through our core business work with clients, we ensure that applications built using new technologies are accessible and inclusive to communities that need them the most.

June Ho: We recognise that in this rapidly changing economic and social landscape, the elderly are very often (and too conveniently) left behind. We at TSMP have chosen to bridge this gap through our Handprint efforts which consistently focuses on the elderly.

By educating them and equipping them with skills to traverse the digital landscape, we hope to provide easy-to-follow guidance in this digital age to the elderly to help them tackle issues ranging from simple daily transactions to more complicated (yet essential) end of life planning.

Kunal Chatterjee: Visa conducted a research on senior citizens last year, to assess their current payment behaviours and attitudes towards new technology. Based on the research, we found that majority of the senior segment in Singapore are connected to the Internet, and smartphone adoption is also high.

In addition, the senior citizens are aware of social messaging apps, ride- hailing apps and payment-related apps in the market. In terms of usage, most of them are regular users of social media and messaging apps.

However, we found that there is a huge gap between awareness and usage of payment-related apps. Hence, we believe there is a need to educate the senior citizen population iin terms of digital literacy - such as teaching them how to shop online, how to use their mobile devices to download ride-hailing apps and more.

Financial education is a key pillar of focus for Visa, and we continue to roll out financial literacy programmes across the region, to educate consumers on the importance of money management including concepts such as savings, budgeting and spending wisely.

Yuen Kuan Moon: Today, technology has enabled businesses to reach a wider audience and make a bigger impact, but also resulted in a rise in negative cyber activities such as cybercrime and bullying. That's why cyber security is one of our key priorities as a business, but even more so as our social agenda.

With consumers spending increasingly more time on digital devices, we have been championing good digital citizenship through targeted initiatives for children, parents and other vulnerable segments of our community. We have adopted a comprehensive approach to promote digital inclusion and the safe, responsible and effective use of digital technology and media, investing some S$8 million since 2013 in digital citizenship programmes for schools to teach students.

For example, we nurture digital intelligence among primary school children through #DQEveryChild, a programme with our partner, the DQ Institute. Another Singtel initiative,, provides parents with expert information on how to guide their children in cyber wellness.

But we recognise that education alone is just one aspect. Our co-funding of Help123, a one-stop cyber wellness counselling platform in partnership with NCSS, provides an additional level of support for youth, as well as their parents and teachers.

The Business Times: How can corporates (big or small) ensure that no one is left behind in the digital age (and to help the vulnerable)?

Jayajyoti Sengupta: It is evident that the world around us is moving faster than our ability to respond to it. The confluence of disruptive technologies has made skilling at scale to unleash the full potential of technology a key, but formidable challenge.

Organisations must support this requirement both internally as well externally - internally by reskilling and upskilling their own employees to power greater innovation, and externally by driving initiatives to empower more people with the skills and knowledge required to benefit from the opportunities presented by new technologies. Making digital technologies more accessible and inclusive is the way to go.

June Ho: We do not underestimate the potential and contributions of the Millennial generation, many of whom have life goals that extend beyond success in their careers. We have tapped into their networks to identify and reach out to segments of the community that may need a helping hand.

This also leads to a virtuous cycle: many of the trainees and graduates whom we recruit are attracted to work for us because of our giving DNA.

Kunal Chatterjee: Firstly, I think that corporates - regardless of their size - can take the digital participation pledge by Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) which showcases their commitment to help Singaporeans acquire digital skills, and also adopt technology within their own companies.

Secondly, they can channel their corporate social responsibility efforts towards the digital inclusion agenda. For example, Visa has taken on digital inclusion as one of our key pillars of focus for our CSR efforts in Singapore.Our partnership withPeople's Association on the Smart Nation for Seniors programme has provided volunteerism opportunities for our employees to teach senior citizens in Singapore digital skills, and impart their knowledge.

Yuen Kuan Moon: Collaboration between companies can amplify sustainability efforts and enable us to make a much bigger and positive impact. Singtel works with an ecosystem of partners in Singapore and in the region such as non-profits, government, other companies and social enterprises to address social issues such as education, social service support and health care. In 2016, we launched Singtel Future Makers, an annual accelerator programme that aims to establish a community of support for social enterprises that leverage technology and innovation for social impact. Singtel staff contribute to this community by mentoring and volunteering at workshops to share their experiences and insights.

  • The Company of Good by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) aims to empower organisations to give back strategically, sustainably and impactfully. Find out how your organisation can do good better at

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