Five Questions about SRI – Weekly Expert Interview with Geoffrey Williams, CEO, OWW Consulting, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – November 12, 2010

Each week Emerging Markets ESG publishes an interview entitled, “Five Questions about SRI.”  The interview features a practitioner’s insights about SRI in emerging markets and through Emerging Markets ESG shares this expertise with a wide global audience.  The goals of Five Questions about SRI are fourfold:

  • To reflect on what SRI in emerging markets means to practitioners;
  • To collect a catalogue of examples of SRI in practice in emerging markets;
  • To raise awareness about SRI in emerging markets; and
  • To enable SRI practitioners in emerging markets to network with peers around the world.

This week’s interview is with Dr. Geoffrey Williams, FRSA / FMIM, the Chief Executive Officer of OWW Consulting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Dr. Geoffrey Williams, FRSA / FMIM is the Chief Executive Officer of OWW Consulting, a leading international provider of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) solutions and Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) research in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.  With headquarters are in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and offices in Singapore and Jakarta, OWW Consulting provides advisory services; CSR and non-financial risk assessments and audits; CSR assurance services, CSR reporting in accordance with international guidelines; CSR training, coaching and mentoring; responsible management leadership; strategic CSR programs and implementation advice; stakeholder engagement initiatives; and sustainability management software solutions with SAS® Institute.

Emerging Markets ESG:  How would you define socially responsible investment (SRI)?

Geoffrey Williams:  Socially Responsible Investment is about finding ways in which environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues add value to standard financial analysis. Integrating ESG into normal portfolio analysis helps us to identify opportunities and mitigate risks.

Emerging Markets ESG:  What distinguishes SRI from mainstream investment?\

Geoffrey Williams:  Mainstream investment focuses primarily on financial indicators and responses to news events. SRI tries to evaluate financial factors in the context of wider non-financial issues that affect the sustainability of financial performance.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Which extra-financial theme – environmental, social or governance – is the most challenging for companies in Malaysia to manage?

Geoffrey Williams:  The most challenging issues for companies to manage are environmental because these are of more concern to international stakeholders than local stakeholders. Creating a balance between environmental and social needs from economic development is a difficult issue.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Which extra-financial theme – environmental, social or governance – is the most challenging for investors in Malaysia to analyze?

Geoffrey Williams:  Governance issues are challenging for investors to analyze because what we read in company reports and even in the newspapers doesn’t always reflect the reality in practice. Information flows to shareholders, especially minority shareholders, are often quite sparse.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Which trends in corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting have you observed in Malaysia during the past five years?

Geoffrey Williams:  There has been a marked improvement in CSR Reporting in Malaysia since the introduction of mandatory CSR Reporting regulations for listed companies in 2006. International guidelines such as the GRI are now the standard format but there is still some way to go and even some of Malaysia’s largest listed companies (including the stock exchange itself) do not have separate CSR Reports.