CSR cornerstone of firm’s success

A team from Taylor‘s University showing their design that symbolises one of the Rukun Negara pillars.

A team from Taylor‘s University showing their design that symbolises one of the Rukun Negara pillars.

FOR a company like multidisciplinary design firm Veritas Design Group, its corporate social responsibility (CSR) goes beyond just ringgit and sen.

It focuses on sustainable efforts that continue to shape the company’s reason for being – commitment to design excellence and social responsibility towards the built environment.

“We don’t just donate money or write cheques to orphanages and old folk’s homes. If we do so, before we know it we’ll have no money left in the CSR fund and achieved nothing,” said Veritas Design Group founder and president David Mizan Hashim.

“So we’re very focused on what we need to focus on, and I believe that’s what makes the fund quite effective.”

Veritas was established 30 years ago, providing integrated architecture, master planning, interior design, landscape design, quantity surveying and environmental consulting services.

It has presence not only in Malaysia but in the US, the UK, Vietnam, India and Australia too, while the office in Dubai, UAE, is expected to reopen soon.

Volunteers painting a mural on one of the buildings to brighten the environment around Tasik Sri Aman in Puchong.
Volunteers painting a mural on one of the buildings to brighten the environment around Tasik Sri Aman in Puchong.

So it comes as no surprise that its CSR arm, the Veritas Fund for Excellence (VFE) that was created in 2004, strictly focuses on three pillars -- education, design and environment.

Education is an important aspect because Veritas is always on the lookout for young talents as they bring new ideas to the industry.

The VFE encourages design students and teachers to excel in various design fields by assisting them with scholarships, grants, study trips and community projects, to name a few.

“We need to stay at the cutting-edge of design, so anything that has to do with design will be something we focus on,” Hashim emphasised.

He also said that their CSR initiatives must centre on protecting the environment.

“Reducing energy in buildings is very much a part of what we do. We have a role and responsibility to do what we can to ensure buildings are designed to the best level of energy efficiency.

“If we think a building or project will prove disruptive to its local environment, we will advise clients on what to do to protect nature,” he elaborated.

Veritas observes the same “big picture” practice for its CSR agenda.

Hashim (second from right), Veritas architects and senior management with one of the teams at the Unity Project showcase.
Hashim (second from right), Veritas architects and senior management with one of the teams at the Unity Project showcase.

“When there is a request for funds, we look at the three focus areas of education, design and environment. Does the proposed project satisfy all three? If it’s a yes, then we’ll write a cheque right away.

“If it ticks two out of three, there’s a good chance. But if it only focuses on one element, then maybe not,” he said.

Yearly, the company contributes up to five percent of its profits to VFE, he revealed, adding that there would always be an average of RM100,000 a year channelled to the funds.

VFE has a committee of seven people who do more than just vet applications for funding; they initiate and do a lot of outreach projects as well.

“Late last year and earlier this year, we worked with Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) to upgrade the area around Tasik Sri Aman, Puchong. The lake had a lot of environmental problems.

“Together with some university students, we planted about 100 trees and shrubs at the lakeside. We also painted outdoor murals on the cafe and facilities centre next to the lake to make the environment more cheerful,” said Hashim.

Veritas also worked with students of design from various education institutions such as Taylor’s University, HELP University and Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.

“We had a design competition for ways to enhance the lake, and estimated the cost for the work at RM100mil. We presented it to MPSJ and they picked the winning design.

“So the next stage is for MPSJ to talk to developers, landowners and companies to contribute funds to implement the students’ ideas.

“I like that it’s a sustainable effort because it doesn’t just stop there. It’s exciting to see how the winning idea will kick off and be realised,” Hashim enthused.

“When you focus on a project together, you build a sense of community and camaraderie. Age and race are irrelevant.

“It’s fun, even the people in the community around the lake got involved,” he recalled.

This year, VFE held a design competition for a Unity Project which focuses on the five pillars of Malaysia’s Rukun Negara.

Veritas worked together with the architectural students from Taylor’s University, the strategic partner of the multidisciplinary design firm, to come up with their take on the five pillars.

The competition culminated in a showcase held at the Shalini Ganendra Fine Art in Petaling Jaya, where five teams displayed their nine-foot high pillars. The winning team won cash prize and an internship with Veritas.

Hashim said they were currently working on a project at a school for dyslexic children in Jalan Ampang.

“We aim to make their home more environmentally friendly by planting trees and building a fish pond, walkways and garden besides painting the walls of their classrooms so they’ll have a cheery and conducive learning environment,” he shared.

In 2015, VFE initiated the “Adopt a Park” programme, which was gifted to Kuala Lumpur City Hall.

Private companies were invited to support the creation and maintenance of pocket parks around the city for an agreed number of years as part of their respective CSR programmes.

Veritas adopted a pocket park in front of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, it included installation of walkways, artwork, garden lights, shady trees and ornamental shrubs.

The company also took on a project in 2009 to rehabilitate dilapidated low-cost flats throughout Selangor, starting with the apartment block in Taman Maju Jaya which housed 59 families.

The project was carried out by Petaling Jaya City Council, in collaboration with Veritas and community-based charity Rumah Air Panas.

Aside from the RM100,000 contribution, architects from Veritas designed and remodelled the building to solve issues including wiring, leaking roof and the stench from the septic tank.

VFE had also conducted beach-cleaning and other tree-planting activities in previous years.

CSR, for Hashim, is what he calls a virtuous cycle because they are a business.

“We feel that what we are doing with VFE ends up bringing greater value to the company.

“If we work with students, we get to meet the most talented young graduates and be the first to grab them when they graduate. They’ll be the future leaders at Veritas.

“When we showcase our design interest, enthusiasm and capability, people start to think of Veritas.

“A lot of our clients now are looking for consultants that understand environmental and sustainability issues.

“If we’re not in front of that discussion, then we’re nowhere.

“So we’re building our brand with our CSR initiatives. When our brand is built better, we get more business, then we have more money to give to the VFE.

“VFE feeds the brand and the brand feeds the VFE; that’s why we’re very focused in what we do,” he concluded.

Veritas Design Group is the Star Outstanding Business Awards 2016 (SOBA) Silver Award winner for the Best in CSR category.