On 8 March, I was honoured to host KPMG China’s SHE Inspiring Talk Series International Women’s Day panel, featuring Juliana Chan of Wildtype Media Group; Francis Ngai of Social Ventures Hong Kong; Leanne Robers of She Loves Tech and Brianne West of Ethique.

Speaking with this group of amazingly talented and accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders was a strong reminder of the ongoing trend towards building impact and purpose-driven businesses across Asia-Pacific, particularly among the younger generation.  In hearing about the great work that the panellists are doing – from Brianne’s efforts to reduce waste in the cosmetics industry, to Juliana’s efforts to combat gender stereotypes in the science world, to Francis’s efforts to support impact-driven Hong Kong start-ups, to Leanne’s mission to support female tech founders – it is clear there is a growing desire in the region for businesses to not just work towards driving financial success, but also help to lift others up along the way.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been an important reminder of the importance of purpose within organisations, and for me, the passion of start-up founders to build a better world through enterprise best embodies this philosophy. Last year, KPMG China published its third edition of our Transforming Hong Kong Through Entrepreneurship joint study with Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund.  In our research, we found that nearly two-thirds of Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs we polled agreed that a key role for their organisations is to find solutions that address societal needs. This is a powerful message that start-ups in Hong Kong are motivated by not only financial rewards but also the opportunity to fill a need in our society and drive positive change.

In this journey, investors can play a powerful role to drive change with the capital and influence they bring. Our study noted a growing trend in impact-led investment and venture capital aimed at Hong Kong start-ups.  In particular, there is a growing recognition among investors that social impact and shareholder returns are not mutually exclusive and can be achieved in tandem. As this ecosystem continues to mature, developing quantifiable and collectively accepted ways to measure social impact is a key area that needs to be addressed in order to fully realise the benefits.

To maximise their impact, organisations also need to work from within to embrace diversity and inclusion.  A large volume of research suggests that appointing more women to senior leadership positions directly correlates with better business performance.

A study from Calvert Impact Capital of the performance of 160 portfolio companies over a 11-year period found that companies with greater gender diversity (higher proportions of women compared to men) in boards and leadership positions outperformed others in three metrics: return on sales, return on assets and return on equity. Despite this, research by the International Finance Corporation and others suggests there continues to be a significant gender gap in venture funding for women-led businesses.

Creating truly diverse and inclusive organisations requires the presence of strong role models and a culture that empowers individuals, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. It also requires business leaders to lead from the top and create a diverse and inclusive work environment from recruitment, remuneration to talent development and senior appointments.

In advocating for change, KPMG has also embraced these values internally as an organisation. KPMG globally has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2030 and issued our Impact Plan.  In connection with these initiatives, KPMG China has also published its latest Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report and Inclusion & Diversity Report reflecting our ongoing commitment to use our knowledge and experience to enable our people and clients to pursue a diverse, inclusive and sustainable future for all.

Let’s keep the dialogue going. If you’d like to discuss any of these issues more in detail, feel free to get in touch with me.

Irene Chu
Partner, Head of New Economy and Life Sciences, Hong Kong
KPMG China