Oliver Balch tackles key topics in academic thinking and research on sustainability
When senior leaders in Singapore’s investment management industry met last month for their annual conference the overarching theme wasn’t stability or security, as one might reasonably expect given the geopolitical situation. Instead, the audience sat down to discussions on stewardship – pitched, as the recently launched Singapore Stewardship Principles (pdf) put it, as a counterweight to the “prevalent short-term view of investment”.
The business literature appears reluctant to define stewardship precisely. Indeed, it’s one of those terms that almost seems easier to understand by its obverse. Enter agency theory. Tightly bound to economics-based paradigms, agency theorists will tell you that humans are rational actors bent on pursuing their self-interest. Stewards, in contrast, believe greater long-term benefit can be derived from “other-focused prosocial behaviour”, to quote organisational behaviour expert Morela Hernandez.
At an individual level, stewardship involves business decision-makers putting the interests of others (including the environment) ahead of their own. Unlike altruism, however, the payback – in terms of future utility for the company and its owners – are explicit to (although not the essence of) stewardship thinking. Japanese managerial culture, which promotes collectivist norms such as flat, decentralised and team-based systems, is conducive to the development of such stewardship...