New role of family business: Collective legacy, value and succession

The World Economic Forum’s central focus this year was the imperative task of “Rebuilding Trust”. I believe that businesses need to step up to rebuild trust and take the lead to create solutions to the sustainability challenges we face today. To do this, reform is needed to shift businesses’ focus to becoming purpose-led for-profit organizations.

The Emergence of the Marketing Economy has Led to a Deterioration of Ethics and Morality

In our supply-driven economy, an emphasis on capacity has shifted from being market-driven, that serves the market, to a marketing economy enslaved by materialism. This in turn has seen businesses maximize profits by unconsciously capitalizing on humanity’s greed and craving for luxury.

This model that benefits a select few at the expense of the majority, has exacerbated wealth gaps and reinforced a mindset of individual power over collective well-being—a separating and dualistic you or I model. And with greed and ignorance driving economic activities, ethics and morality have declined. This has weakened relationships throughout the social fabric, and is now threatening the sustainability of all life.

Family Business Is Uniquely Positioned to Lead Change in this New Era

Family business has more control over its future than big corporations. Conglomerates’ ultimate investor shareholders are often distanced from the business, through layers of fund managers, whose shareholders or stakeholders may yet be another fund, making it difficult for them to think about long-term investing. Return on investment is used as the measurement of success, and this shapes the behavior of businesses. Consequently, companies naturally focus on profit-maximization with shorter term horizons.

Family business on the other hand, especially multi-generation family business, is positioned to lead business reforms, and navigate this complex terrain, as it prioritizes succession, value and legacy, inherently long-term concepts with a direct connection to the future of the firm. However, as more family businesses have been consolidated into corporations, many have adopted shorter term investment outlooks managed through family offices. Despite this trend, family businesses still have a significant impact on global economic activities, as they contribute to about 70% of the global economy.

In the new era, family businesses can build a collective legacy – by collaborating and co- creating solutions to benefit humanity as a whole to build a well-being and flourishing economy. They must initiate business reforms, return ethics and morality to the forefront of corporate decisions and catalyze the shift in the market economy.

Family Business to Steward Ethical and Sustainable Practices

In this context, family businesses emerge not only as economic entities, but are also ideally positioned to take the lead in stewardship of ethical and sustainable practices. Legacy and wealth protection have long been what inform family business strategy and decisions, stemming from a unique blend of family and business – the practice of a relational approach. Family businesses are motivated and organized to pursue legacy orientated goals, enabling them to prioritize sustainable practices and long-term profitability over immediate financial returns.

Therefore, family businesses are inherently more aligned with a responsible and conscious market approach, where the focus is on preserving and enhancing well-being for future generations while also creating wealth. They embody stewardship, viewing their business not just as a means to an end but as a legacy to be nurtured and passed from generation to generation.

Family is the first place where we learn what love is and how to nurture and express it. This is naturally intertwined into family-run businesses, promoting a mindset that fosters a culture of care and responsibility, which in turn encourages practices that are inclusive, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.

Family businesses’ success largely depends on maintaining a delicate systemic coherence with three roles: the family office to serve the well-being of the family, the family business to serve the well-being of society, and finally family philanthropy to serve the well-being of humanity.

It is this constant value-add to the system that has a positive impact on society at large and in turn holds the family together through a shared purpose and benefits.

Embrace ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) for Impact

Wealth that lacks a higher purpose can result in negative consequences, such as division, ignorance, and even conflict. The remedy for this is to embed purpose into wealth. Therefore, it is up to the family to decide how they want to influence their company to direct their wealth to improve the lives of not just themselves but the broader community, too. They should embrace long-term thinking and support ESG practices and impact investments to bring business ethics and morality back to the market economy.

There is increasing pressure on businesses, from the public and the private sectors, to account for their value and relevance in society. A threat to societal order has raised questions about businesses’ ethics, which technological developments have increased the transparency of unsustainable business practices, and society is taking them to task.

In the contemporary era, family businesses hold a collective legacy akin to that of humanity, embodying existential significance. Today, the invisible hand within the free-market system is naturally returning order to the system through ESG regulations and directing investment for impact and philanthropy. This has long been propagated by Adam Smith in his book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which calls for enlightened self-interest.

It is imperative that family businesses embrace long-term thinking and support ESG practices and impact investments to enact positive changes in business morality within the market economy. This shift is critical to trigger a reversal of the current social contract driven by greed to one that is led by love and care.

Contributed by Chavalit Frederick Tsao
March 2024

This article was originally produced for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 at Davos, Switzerland.

Accelerating the green transition: Time for action leadership, beyond thought leadership

The urgent need to address climate change and accelerate a green transition, is imperative for our shared future, as indicated by the World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy report that approximately $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature. 1 As a holistic system, we bear direct responsibility for the degradation of the natural world, and the recent GAEA Agora discussion at the Forum emphasized the importance of a nature-based solution.

In my opinion, considering the systemic nature of our world and the intricate interplay of ecological systems, it seems plausible that by addressing a major environmental challenge like climate change, nature may autonomously devise solutions for other interconnected issues.

It is important for global leaders, especially CEOs and corporate leaders, to appreciate the urgency of this green transition. However, we must also attend to our motivation and courage to act and contribute to the cause. Love for life is the impetus to act and have an impact on a sustainable green transition.

Motivation of the Driver Behind the Wheels of Green Transition

Global temperatures are likely to reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if they continues to increase at the current rate, causing extreme and irreversible climate effects. 2 This is not a phenomenon for future generations to worry about, but an urgent situation calling for immediate action – a collective commitment for coordinated, systemic action. There are many conversations and movements at many levels and in multiple locations. However, a notable absence are conversations that discusses the motivation behind the green transition. In their absence, we risk green washing and depriving the transition the attention it truly deserves.

I would offer the analogy of the car and its driver. Policies, processes, technology are crucial, but they are tools similar to a car’s components. No matter how good the car, its’ performance is ultimately in the hands of the driver, who chooses how to act – when to engage the accelerator and how to navigate the journey. What propels the driver to speed into the uncharted future and what fuels their courage? In this analogy, finance is the fuel that propels the vehicle, while the motivation of the driver is analogous to love. The resultant outcome, akin to the vehicle’s trajectory, is contingent upon the quality of leadership exhibited in navigating towards sustainable change.

Love as the Catalyst for Change

Recent developments in quantum science brought about a paradigm shift that bridge the materialism of the external system with the spirituality of our internal world, and mark a significant departure from conventional perspectives. A journey into our internal world will shift how we see the world and what meaning we give it – opening up new possibilities and choices available to us. When we make different choices, we have new experiences. This sparks a shift of consciousness. As we find coherence between the two systems, the “I” becomes inseparable from the “we”, activating love from inside and allowing us to naturally care for the outer world.

It is in our nature to love, and when we see that the essence of everything is connected, we naturally seek connection and alignment. Essentially, we are relational creatures, and when we discover our true nature, all of our actions will be informed by love and care, helping us to contribute to solving the shared challenges of humanity. This is the green transition. Without love, there can be no care, and without care, there will be no connection and insufficient motivation to act to add value to the world.

Love is the core of well-being and the fuel for courage and leadership. It is important to instil awareness within our institutions, where the drive falls on the shoulders of their leadership, to step up to be CEOs of Love.

Philanthropy, is another expression of love. The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek “philanthropia,” which simply means “love of humankind.” Philanthropy is not an institution or a cause for momentary gratification, but rather it is a culture, a way of living, a lifestyle. It is a commitment to living with compassion, a form of love in action. The time for transformative change is now, and each one of us can contribute by embracing love as the driving force for a greener, more sustainable world.

Start from Plant-Based Eating: A Tangible Change for All

Jane Goodall’s closing session at WEF 2024, was profoundly impactful, setting the stage for the discourse that followed. There is a tangible action we can individually undertake to add-value to a collective commitment – a transformative step toward a healthier future for both us and for the planet: the promotion of plant-based eating and a re-evaluation of our food system.

One noteworthy initiative is the adoption of a predominantly plant-based diet. Research indicates that shifting to a plant-based diet can have significant environmental benefits, including a 49% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions associated with meat and dairy production in agriculture. Additionally, this transition can mitigate biodiversity loss, with animal agriculture being a major driver of deforestation and species extinction, promising a more sustainable future for global food security. 3

It is practical and accessible to everyone – one small step for the individual and ONE BIG STEP for humanity and nature, marking a pivotal contribution to both personal well-being and the broader health of our Earth.

The call to action is clear – a demonstration of a holistic and systemic approach, rooted in love for life, is essential for accelerating the green transition. We need to disseminate this awareness to both institutions and households alike. Recognizing the interconnected elements, embracing the quantum reality, and acknowledging the role of internal motivation are pivotal.

It is time to start acting to truly make impact. It is time for actionable leadership, and the time is NOW!

Contributed by Chavalit Frederick Tsao
March 2024

1 World Economic Forum, Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy. New Nature Economy series. 2020 Jan.

2 IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 3-24.

3 Gibbs J, Cappuccio FP. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 13;14(8):1614. doi: 10.3390/nu14081614.

This article was originally produced for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 at Davos, Switzerland.

Chavalit Frederick Tsao on how family businesses can promote sustainability and philanthropy goals

Fourth‐generation shipping tycoon and passionate proponent of conscious entrepreneurship Chavalit Frederick Tsao says family businesses are uniquely empowered to change capitalism for the better

Chavalit Frederick Tsao ushers us into a meeting room in his handsomely decorated office spread across two floors of prime real estate in Singapore’s central businessdistrict. He is wearing a vivid blue suit cut from what appears to be a wool‐silk‐linen cloth, accessorised with a belt bearing a golden peace sign. “I grew up in the 1960s,” he explains. “Anti‐authority, the hippie movement, communal living, free love, great music. Then gradually, we moved into the ‘Me’ era. Wall Street. Greed is good! Consumerism. Globalisation. Full‐blown market economy.”

With an accent that reveals his cosmopolitan upbringing—born in Hong Kong, raised across Southeast Asia, college‐educated in the US—Tsao speaks in concise sentences, a mix of whispers and exclamations. (His cadence and philosophical tone are reminiscent of Bruce Lee: “Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless, like water.”) He also frequently finishes statements with a cry of “Right?” or “Correct?”. Tsao seems eager to get your buy‐in; it’s like he wants to bring you around to his unique perspective on things. “When we change our world view,” he says, “how we change our way of seeing informs how we think, how we feel and how we respond.”

Tsao’s own outlook was forever altered following a spur‐of‐the‐moment visit to a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine 30 years ago. He recalls: “I went in to see this doctor. I was a young man then. I was not sick. It was just curiosity.” There, Tsao was exposed to the ancient Chinese practice of qigong. “This is interesting,” he thought. “Better do some more research.”

Intrigued by his discovery when he first began exploring qigong exercises, Tsao says: “I could feel the qi moving. ‘Wow, it’s a miracle. Something is moving. This qi thing is real! Let’s study some more.’ Then, as I practised qigong, I started doing meditation.”

Meditation took Tsao on a journey inward, leading him to question the materialism he would have been surrounded by throughout the 1980s, and during his privileged boyhood. “I found out there is no reality except your mind,” Tsao says. “There’s no reality outside. Everything external is just information flow.” This revelation profoundly influenced his approach to both business and life.

In 1995, taking the reins of his family company at the age of 37, Tsao manifested a new reality for the firm, initiating the transformation of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group—or IMC Group for short—from a straightforward shipping company into an international conglomerate with diverse interests across a range of sectors, including investing, lifestyle, well‐being and, recently, the “happiness economy”. While expanding IMC Group, Tsao was acutely aware that for the company to operate responsibly in the contemporary era, sustainability had to be securely integrated into its corporate culture.

He acknowledges the environmental impact of the shipping industry, a field his family has long been involved in—their business dates back to the Qing dynasty, in early 1900s China—and applauds the regulatory steps being taken by governments and industry bodies such as the International Maritime Organization, which has set the ambitious goal of reaching net‐zero greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by 2050. In a world where environmental concerns often conflict with free‐market principles, it is a little unusual for a capitalist to advocate stricter regulation. Tsao explains his stance, stating: “Even in a free market, just like society, you still need [the] police to stop the bad guys from taking advantage of our freedoms. Right? You still need rules and regulations.”

Recognising the importance of regulation in curbing the negative aspects of unchecked capitalism, Tsao mentions that he “actually lobbied for more laws” during his years as the chairman of the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (or Intercargo for short), a voluntary non‐profit association that represents the interests of dry bulk shipowners, managers and operators. His objective: to ensure that all shipping companies are on a level playing field and working towards the same sustainability goals.

Tsao says that under the current model, those with the greatest spending power tend to dominate. “Think about it. Pharmaceutical. Wall Street. Big tech. Media. Military. Do they get regulated in the US? No, because they have big lobby funds,” Tsao argues. To ensure fairness, sustainability and businesses acting in the best interests of mankind (as opposed to simply serving shareholders), stronger regulation is required.

Our current environmental and social challenges, such as poverty, inequality, pollution and climate change, “all that is created by the free‐market economy, which is very powerful”, Tsao says. “We have enough to share, almost $100 trillion of GDP globally, divided by eight billion people. We have more than enough for everyone. But not enough to satisfy greed. It’s a distribution problem, right?”

Tsao is the founder and permanent honorary president of the Family Business Network (FBN) Asia as well as the chairman of the Council of Wisdom at FBN International. In his view, family‐owned businesses are uniquely positioned to bring about the type of meaningful change the times require. “Around 70 per cent of GDP is controlled by families—60 per cent of employment and two‐thirds of companies,” he points out. Family businesses, he adds, have the capacity to easily adopt and promote sustainable practices because they can make decisions independently, without having to bow to the profit‐driven demands of shareholders. He stresses the need for family businesses to evolve and align with sustainability goals, drawing a parallel between their sustainability challenges and those of the world. Tsao asserts that sustainability is rooted in love, and that embracing love is the key to both personal and global sustainability. As he poetically puts it: “If you are love, you are always sustainable. If you are fear, you’re never sustainable.”

When asked about the challenge of maintaining family wealth across generations—the subject of an upcoming book he is currently completing—Tsao underscores the values of legacy and prudence. He observes that every family business globally shares these values, but their interpretation can be limiting. Legacy, he suggests, should go beyond personal ego and become a catalyst for creativity and entrepreneurship. Prudence, while crucial, should not be fuelled by a crippling fear of losing wealth.

The fourth generation in his family to run the company, Tsao acknowledges that he, too, grappled with this fear when he took over the family business. “I was worried and fearful,” he concedes. “No one wants to be the generation that loses the family fortune.”

This terror of failing to maintain a family legacy (and falling into the trap of “three generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves”) frequently stymies the evolution of a business. Tsao argues that a family‐owned organisation cannot be kept preserved in aspic; its stewards must embrace change and innovation, and remain entrepreneurial. “You can only sustain and flourish if you evolve,” Tsao says. “Correct?”

One of the critical challenges faced by family businesses is the potential for internal conflicts over wealth distribution and power dynamics among family members. Tsao attributes such conflicts to ego‐driven self‐interest. He says families must shift their mindset from self‐centredness to one of service and purpose. “If we agree to serve a purpose, we won’t fight because our self‐interest seems very mundane when we serve something bigger,” Tsao states. This shift towards a purpose‐driven approach fosters harmony within the family and a greater sense of fulfilment.

The way we live our lives inevitably colours how we run a company or function as an employee, Tsao believes. “You can only have a good life if purpose is your driver,” he says. “A purpose‐driven life will lead to a purpose‐driven business.” This philosophy underscores the idea that businesses should focus on more than just profits; they should also consider their societal and environmental impacts. This is an easier task for family‐owned firms, whose leaders are not subject to shareholder pressure. “Somebody has to kick‐start [the] reform of the market economy,” Tsao says. “If you’re leading a family business, you control the business, so you have destiny in your own hands.”

Instead of viewing themselves as owners of the business, today, Tsao and his family see their role as that of stewards or caretakers. This approach prioritises service and self‐cultivation over wealth accumulation, Tsao says. “So the family is using the wealth to serve humanity. And in the meantime, they evolve, which begets wisdom. And with wisdom, they can protect that wealth better,” he explains.

Philanthropy is a big part of this dedication to serving humanity, but Tsao would prefer we rethink the concept, returning to its etymological roots in the Greek words “philein”, meaning to love, and “anthropos”, meaning humankind. “Philanthropy is not giving, OK? It’s not charity. None of that,” Tsao says. “The love of humanity is philanthropy.” When you think of philanthropy in this way, it becomes a way of life, rather than standalone acts of charity or benevolence. In Tsao’s view, a joint commitment to philanthropy—to caring for your fellow human being—can help foster a common cause as well as unity among the stewards of a family business. “It’s not something you’re doing for anybody else. No, you do it because that’s the only way you’ll have a good life,” Tsao reckons.

When asked about how he gauges the effectiveness of a philanthropic initiative, or the successful deployment of family capital in impact investing, Tsao flips the question on its head. “If you take success out of your life, you’ll be happier. Somebody asked me, ‘What’s your idea of happiness?’ I said, ‘Take the idea out and just be happy.’ That’s called being.”

Regarding the growing emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in financing, Tsao does not find it surprising. He sees this shift as a necessary course correction for a world currently driven by greed. “It’s the law of energy. It’s the Dao. You can actually predict the cycles,” he suggests. “I predict we’re going into this new great period of time because it’s so bad now, it’s like a counter. The pendulum is going to swing in the opposite direction. We’re so greedy now that people will start to look for wellness and happiness. Like the United Nations says, we need to create not a GDP, but a GNH: a Gross National Happiness.”

In the realm of technological advancements, Tsao is excited about various fields, including life sciences, biotechnology and human augmentation. Again, he steers clear of fear. He believes that science and technology are inherently neutral and can be used for good or bad purposes. “Nuclear energy is great, but making nuclear weapons, that’s not a good idea,” he says by way of example. When harnessed for the benefit of humanity, innovation tends to lead to positive outcomes, Tsao says. “Any new technology has always created more jobs.” He allows, though, that in tech, “there’ll always be bad guys, just like in the market economy. They’ll be around. It’s up to the good guys to make sure that we collectively stop those who are greedy, who are evil.” While he acknowledges the existence of bad actors, Tsao has faith in the inherent goodness of most humans. “In my life, I meet many people, and I rarely see bad people. Most people are genuinely quite good. Maybe just scared. Insecure, perhaps. But most people don’t have ill intentions,” he says.

The author of several books promoting elevated consciousness in business and a more enlightened approach to leadership, Tsao says he does not find writing particularly enjoyable, but his books serve a practical purpose. Firstly, they are a tool for training IMC Group’s staff, and secondly, they invite dialogue around his ideas, acting as a medium to engage with others and exchange perspectives.

However, he believes that getting a group of people together over cocktails is probably the best way to disseminate ideas. “People echo one another, right? So at a party, I’ll present an idea about wealth management and then when the martinis are working, when you’re serving some nice wine and champagne, everybody becomes quite agreeable to your theory of change,” he says. “Then you move around and talk, and people start talking with one another, and you’ll find that they talk one another into it.”

To similarly influence employees, IMC Group operates the Mindful Living Program, which involves sending staff on lengthy retreats to practise yoga, meditation and the like. Tsao is an active participant. “You don’t go in there and say, ‘We’re going to do a two‐hour stretching session.’ You do it with them,” he explains. “And they say, ‘Well, if this old man can do it, I can do it too’, right?”

As Tsao tells his staff, “the most important thing is [to] find out who you are and live your calling; find your purpose”, and the programme is geared towards exactly that. “We do eight‐day, seven‐night retreats. Non‐stop, whole day. People can actually get into themselves, find out what’s happening inside,” he says. “Very rarely do you have the opportunity to spend a whole week finding out who you are. It’s about being journey‐mates. Travelling together, towards purpose. If our work doesn’t relate to our life, there is no purpose.”

His aspirations for his children and grandchildren are no different to his hopes for his staff, Tsao says. “Find your calling. Live a purpose‐driven life. A lazy life has no happiness. Embrace work. Creativity. Add value to life.”

This article was originally published in Tatler.

Impact investment: Transforming leadership, shaping philanthropy, and creating sustainable business

Impact investment: Transforming leadership, shaping philanthropy, and creating sustainable business

IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group (IMCPAA) is proud to join the Philanthropy Asia Alliance (PAA), a Temasek Trust initiative, as an Action Council member.

Asia’s scale, diversity, and development profile present an unprecedented opportunity to drive impact. The region accounts for over 50% of global emissions, with 60% of the world’s population, and is disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. Solving Asia’s challenges will benefit all, but this cannot be done alone.

Dynamic partnerships are the key to shaping a brighter future for all. Officially launched at the 3rd Philanthropy Asia Summit on 15 September 2023, PAA will build capabilities, capacities, and communities in the philanthropic sector, and harness multi-sector partnerships to catalyse Asian solutions for global challenges.

PAA’s Calls to Action target 3 areas: Climate and Nature, Inclusive and Holistic Education, and Global and Public Health. Its vibrant and diverse global community is over 80-strong and fast-growing, with collective pledges of US$777 million (over S$1 billion).

As an advocate for synergistic collaboration to unlock greater positive change, IMCPAA is excited to lend its expertise, experience, and resources to energise collective philanthropic action in a more coordinated, sustainable, and impact-driven manner.

Noting the symbiotic interrelationships between businesses, governments and communities, Chairman of IMCPAA Chavalit Tsao, said: “We believe that PAA is the next meaningful alliance that would add value to Life and create Impact in the new era of well-being and happiness. We also believe corporate philanthropy would facilitate the integration of Love as part of the social contract of business.”

Watch the video below to learn more about IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group and Philanthropy Asia Alliance’s partnership and aspirations to co-create a more sustainable future:

Asia Business Summit 2023: “Those who can collaborate with the environment will flourish”

Asia Business Summit 2023: “Those who can collaborate with the environment will flourish”

At the Asia Future Summit 2023 from 4 to 5 October 2023, Chavalit Frederick Tsao, Chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group, joined Andreas Sohmen-Pao, Chairman of BW Group, on a panel discussion moderated by Lee Su Shyan, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, to discuss what businesses should do to combat climate change. 

Highlighting the importance for individuals and businesses to “care” as a catalyst for action, Chavalit said: “If a heart is not ‘green’, there will be greenwashing. When we truly care, that is when positive change becomes possible. Humanity is defined by its creativity, and I am confident that we can solve the climate challenge before us if we tap on a new, unifying motivation and create a community of a shared destiny.”

Asia Future Summit 2023 is organised by SPH Media. Held at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, the by-invitation conference featured approximately 20 local and international speakers, and around 300 delegates, with representatives spanning the public, private and people sectors. Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong was both a speaker and Guest-of-Honour for the event.

The conference took place amid the birth centenary of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and addressed topics such as geopolitics, business, and economy. 

To watch the video of the full panel discussion, visit The Straits Times.

In this new era, businesses will transform from being profit-driven to purpose-led

Our world today is entering a new era.

The United Nations (UN) have been advocating a paradigm shift from GDP to Gross National Happiness (GNH) since 2012, championing a new vision of well-being and happiness. The term GNH1 , as conceived by the King of Bhutan, calls upon us to recognise the non-monetary aspects of well-being, including social equity, quality of environment, and cultural flourishing – all integral to comprehensive human welfare.

Whilst our economic system remains somewhat lagging, around the world, multilateral organisations, businesses, and investors alike are waking up to the shifting times. Many businesses, investors, and individuals are evolving from greed and ignorance driven by narrow- self-interest, towards long-term, holistic well-being, powered by enlightened self-interest. This free-market economy is transitioning towards being purpose-driven and no longer focussing on short-term, narrowly defined profits. Indeed, CEOs and business leaders are awakening to their responsibilities to serve as stewards of our times.

Motivations of Humanity Have Evolved Over Time

The dawn of civilisation was marked by humans transitioning through a hunting-gathering phase, into what some may dub the agricultural “subsistence era”, where well-being is equivalent to producing enough to meet our needs for survival. This was reasonable, given that there was often not enough agricultural produce or livestock to feed everyone across local villages.

The rapid growth in agricultural production, taking place between the 14th to 17th centuries in ancient China (Ming Dynasty)2 , the 16th to 18th centuries in India (Mughal Era)3 , and the 17th to 19th centuries in the Anglo-European world4 , amongst others, brought societies to the stage where food and crop production was sufficient for humanity then. Human civilisation then began to grow rapidly, resulting in the development of large-scale production of goods to meet increasing consumption patterns.

A combination of imperialism, the advent of capitalism, and the Agricultural Revolution spurred the Industrial Revolution. As we entered the industrial era, demarcated by three waves of breakthroughs (respectively, mechanical production with steam and water, power, production capacity and technological transformations, and digitalisation), our priorities shifted to producing more and more goods and services at as low costs as possible.

With the progress of technology driving civilisation evolution, we have gradually but surely been increasingly turning humans into machines, whilst machines are becoming more human. In so doing, we have also come to lose sight of our original sense of power of creativity, and, in its stead, focus on production.

In This New Era, Businesses Will Transform from Being Profit-Driven to Purpose-Led.

Today, we have become addicted to short-term material stimuli, where a marketing economy preying on our vanity, indulgence, and greed, has driven us to become fixated on over- consumption. The free-market economy, failing to reflect our enlightened self-interest, has opted instead for a form of the invisible hand that focusses narrowly on short term gains and narrowly defined profit-maximising, thus driving up intense competition and obsessive profit- seeking.

Distributive Inequalities Divide Us, Sustainable Wealth Co-creation Unites Us

The world we live in does not struggle with the pie size. Instead, we are struggling with ensuring that everyone has access to a slice of the pie. In 2023, the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all countries in the world amounts to a staggering 105 trillion USD, with 60.5 trillion concentrated in advanced economies, with a little under 14% of the world’s population. The remaining 86% of the world’s population possess 44.5 billion of our wealth.5 The global GDP per capita was 12,600USD in 2021, comparable to that of China’s. Indeed, on a per capita mean GDP level, there is enough to go around for everyone.6

What we have on hand here is a distribution issue, not a wealth issue. Today, the world economy is predominantly a marketing-driven economy with multinational corporations focussing on quarter-to-quarter performances with short-term financial dividends taken to be the key indicator of board and leadership successes. The fixation upon maximising gains, leveraging on human vanity, has denatured the role of businesses.

Today, businesses are no longer serving society. Indeed, the market is manipulated by businesses, instead of being driven by society. This has given rise to a growing gap between the rich and the poor across the world. Endless environmental resource extraction and exploitation, inefficient oligopolies and dominant firms crowding out smaller players, and corporate practices precipitating the disintegration of social and communal fabric are excused in name of competition.

We need a new paradigm of economics. The so-called social contract businesses are working with today, is not aligned with the interests of the market they purportedly serve. Global challenges from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and ability for collaboration across national, economic, and social boundaries.

The rise and fall of human civilisation have been a reflection of the success and failure of human collaboration. In this new era, we must unite on a common journey, to flourish across eras and throughout time. Humanity must connect with our inner, true selves, and to make ease with the external environs – the times we live in, present a clarion call for new consciousness of life. Business is by far most efficient institution to serve human desires, and it is high time that businesses evolve their consciousness, and focus on adding value, to co-create wealth and foster the well-being needed for all life to flourish.

Enlightened Self-Interest, the Means of Reviving the Social Contract

As a Baby Boomer, I was born in the ‘Hippy Era’ and grew up in the ‘Yuppy Era’. With the advent of unbridled globalisation, came the ‘Greedy Era’. Today, we stand on the cusp of another radical transformation, from the ‘Greedy Era’ to the ‘Happy Era’. In this era of well- being and happiness, a journey towards love and joy is foundational. Around the world, people are waking up to a very simple truth: where there is love, there is joy. True joy can only come from the love of humanity – a willingness to give, to engage in selfless forms of philanthropy, and to celebrate life. The dividend of joy is much more than just money. It is rooted in an enlightened form of self-interest.

The UN shift towards GNH highlights that lasting joy cannot be found through monetary or materialist enrichment. Only loving relationships can generate deep and enduring meaning, from which we derive well-being. After all, the market economy must serve the global human culture of flourishing. This expanded conception of self-interest in Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments, takes our well-being as individuals, as inseparable and embedded within the collective. Our interests are best served when we are well – when our life systems, and hence the universe, are fundamentally coherent. Well-being is coherence between the individuals and society. It is coherence between our internal and external realities. It is the miraculous synchronicity between humanity and nature. Indeed, our awakening to this new economic paradigm is only natural – as the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs7 reveals, upon the achievement of physiological and safety needs, more and more people will shift naturally towards the pursuit of love, esteem, and then self-actualisation.

To unlock this holistic vision of well-being, we need a consciousness shift, one that revives the sense of ethics and stewardship of life. Consciousness is the mother of all capital, which shall give rise to new solutions to our sustainability challenges. Indeed, we all share one common life purpose, to add value to the world. Philanthropy is the expression of love to make impact – it is a way of life, an ethos, a mindset focusing on adding value to the collective of which we are a part. Philanthropy is a practice in and of living, a prerequisite for a life of authenticity and being.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs8 , is a helpful framework developed by the UN. The SDGs are integrated: “one action in one area will affect outcomes in others”, and all goals are anchored in advancing social, economic, and environmental sustainability.9 At the core of SDGs lies the tenet that humanity is well when it finds coherence with the whole life system of nature. When humanity is well, that’s when joy, love, and passion come organically together, steering our politics, societies, and economy towards more enduring stability and harmony. The SDG No. 17, on partnership for the advancement of these goals, is core, as it drives collaboration – to set aside differences, to pool resources and efforts together as one.

How Businesses can Transform to Become Purpose-led

Businesses are drivers of the economy. Therefore, they must lead this transformation through a consciousness shift, to rejuvenate the free market – one rooted in an expanded and comprehensive understanding of well-being. Fear, as a driving force, would only cause businesses to come apart. Hope is the force that brings us to true happiness.

Purpose-led business management would take the lead in the resolution of today’s sustainability challenges, stark inequalities, and large-scale disenfranchisement and alienation. Some pioneering businesses are taking the lead in adding value, making impact, and serving their communities and societies. From the incorporation of ESG, to the rise of green bonds, select investors and stock exchanges are responding to the calling of the new era – that calling is love, the energy that guides consciousness evolution towards solution to all our challenges. Yet more must be done.

The change is already happening. Around us, many are quickly awakening to the reality that change is the only constant – this is the logic of constant evolution. We must co-create, harness the prowess of the market in converting greed and selfish wants into forces for good for humanity – hence enlightened self-interest. We must meet the challenges of the era by transforming the way we think, relate, and empathise with one another. We can be a part of the story of human success – one of organic collaboration, as opposed to vicious competition.

Businesses must first recognise that purpose-led action requires integrating their entireties – from executives and board members through to frontliner employees – with a common purpose, to advance the interests of all, as one connected whole and not as separate parts. The age of separation has given rise to a worldview that artificially drives a wedge between “I” and “You”, “I” and “We”, inducing individuals to see themselves as separable from and independent of the collective.

Through the “I to We” journey, we align our thinking and actions to value add towards collective, communal well-being of the wider community. There can be no “I” without “We”, and we shift consciously as we unite, as “I in We”. Eventually, this spiral of consciousness shift culminates in the epiphany that “I am We”. The individual is the collective. In this state, businesses give and receive joy – this is the new business model for the market economy.

Businesses must also embrace the ascent of impact investment and ESG as a means of transforming their investment and market decisions. When there is systemic coherency, there is clarity in purpose for the individual, who would be driven to add value to life – this is impact. Power is where there is coherence and alignment. In pursuing impacts, businesses should seek to gain greater insights into the outcomes of their own activities through internal assessment reports, open deliberation within companies, and constructive community engagement rooted in evaluating the many dimensions of their holistic impact.

Corporate and C-suite leaders have a responsibility for the well-being of their organisations, foster a culture that values connection, love, and philanthropy as core principles. Candid reflections over corporate culture, management and personnel practices, and the values and mission undergirding the corporation, are most needed in facilitating this shift towards a purpose-driven business model that eventually benefits everyone. When business is purpose- led and not driven by myopic short-termism, we will get real alignment between business with communal needs.

This new world has dawned upon us – regulation, financing, and social pressures are jointly enabling its arrival. ESG is facilitating this transition and impact investment is key in directing business value contribution. The question is, are we ready to embrace it?


This article was originally produced for Bloomberg’s CEO Forum at Asean.

Founder of OCTAVE Institute, Chavalit Frederick Tsao, makes a collaborative contribution towards Halogen Foundation

Fourth generation business steward and founder of Octave Institute, Chavalit Frederick Tsao collaborates with Halogen Foundation to partner in co-creating a cross-generational education system beyond schooling for youth, towards the shared future and destiny for humanity.

SINGAPORE, Aug. 17, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — To drive change and co-create a new era of oneness and holistic well-being, business steward Mr Chavalit Frederick Tsao, Founder of Octave Institute (“Octave”) and Chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group (“IMCPAA”), collaborates with Halogen Foundation Singapore (“Halogen”), a not-for-profit Institution to co-creating the future of youth in Singapore. Octave presented a collaborative contribution of $250,000 to Halogen today during The Halogen Ball hosted by Halogen, and graced by Guest-of-Honour, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Octave is also the presenting sponsor of this event. This marks the beginning of a relationship between Octave and Halogen, to bringing awareness of our youth to humanity’s synchronicity with nature and the flourishing of Life through collaborations between Octave Institute and Halogen Foundation.

Founded by Mr Tsao, Octave is a school of life and management, with focus on business reforms and leadership transformation. Octave helms organisational development initiatives and offers a new leadership approach to well-being and sustainability based on consciousness shift to reframe ethics. As a progressive business steward who believes strongly in Singapore’s potential, Mr Tsao actively seeks opportunities to co-create the future through partnerships with local organisations and institutions. Through the collaborative contribution to Halogen, Mr Tsao aims to pave the way for more opportunities, partnerships and collaborations with Halogen to impact and empower youth in their education journey beyond schooling.

“Global consciousness is shifting, as the world is awakening to the need for unity through collaboration and partnership. The future before us will be very different compared to the industrial era that we are familiar with. As one humanity, we hold the future in our hands; we have what we need within us to co-create this new era. We only need to shift to new consciousness in life and find a common worldview to pave the way for solutions for our common challenges. Youths when awakened to their life purpose and placed on the path to find their calling are empowered to flourish in Life. Together, we co-create a cross generation education system beyond schooling for a shared future and destiny for humanity,” said Mr Tsao.

Advocating for a new world view in latest book, One Choice, One World

Mr Tsao also launched his latest book, One Choice, One World: The Rise of The Well-Being and Happiness Economy, during the same event. In this provocative and ground-breaking work, Mr Tsao presents his bold vision for a new consciousness of life in the era of well-being and happiness, that recognises humanity as a part of one holistic system for all Life.

Mr Tsao advocates for business to be in the forefront of this transformation; that it is well positioned to answer the United Nation’s call to creating a new market economy and shift from the current Gross Domestic Product to Gross National Happiness. Business reform is pivotal, to bring out the nature of business ethics to create a market economy of impact towards well- being of all.

Through his latest work, Mr Tsao calls for all to collaborate and co-create a better future. He hopes to engage leaders in dialogues and conversations to ignite change for the new era.

Mr Tsao is the fourth-generation steward of IMC. With more than 40 years as an entrepreneur and his diverse experiences, insights and knowledge of both East and West cultures that informed his world view, Mr Tsao successfully transformed his family’s traditional shipping company into a multinational conglomerate that serves Asia Industrialisation and globalisation. He is now evolving his business to another level, as he is redefining business sustainability and integrity, to make impact in creating a new era of well-being. It is for this purpose, he founded Octave Institute as a quantum leadership centre that focus on business reforms and leadership transformation.

Mr Tsao commented, “In today’s world, mired in challenges brought about by globalisation and digitisation, we are at a very different juncture. To confront global challenges, we must forge a common worldview grounded in the recognition that humanity is part of the ecosystem for all life on Earth. There is an urgent need for us to co-create a new era of inclusive and holistic well-being. Each of us has a part to play in this paradigm shift that I espouse in my new work, One Choice, One World. Through the integration of Eastern wisdom and Western science, I believe that we will be able to create positive change together. The future is in our hands!”

More information on the book can be found via

Studio 30 50, a unique partnership based Maritime Digital Venture Studio, launches in collaboration with Hafnia, IMC Ventures, Microsoft, DNV, and Wilhelmsen

Studio launches in collaboration with Hafnia, Microsoft, DNV, IMC Ventures and Wilhelmsen Hafnia, along with Microsoft, Wilhelmsen, IMC Ventures and DNV has announced the launch of a new digital venture studio, “Studio 30 50”.

The studio’s objective is to identify new solutions which can address a broad range of ESG topics concerning the maritime industry, while also funding innovative proposals (built by startups) which seek to improve efficiencies across the whole maritime supply chain. Shanker Pillai, Head of Innovation and Change at Hafnia, will be leading the efforts on Studio 30 50.

One of the key targets facing the maritime industry today is to reduce emissions significantly by 2030 while aspiring to be Net Zero by 2050. Studio 30 50 aims to solve both near-term and long-term goals around building a sustainable and agile maritime industry of the future. This is a vision shared by all partners, and the studio aims to attract a new type of talent to the maritime sector in the form of individual founders and early-stage start-ups who have an ambition to solve complex challenges around emissions reduction, building a circular economy, solving social issues and the broader supply chain inefficiencies facing the maritime industry.

Unlike traditional venture studios, Studio 30 50 ’s strength is derived from its partnership and collaboration model. It has been incorporated by partners who believe in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship and are committed to provide the space to test, validate and scale eligible concepts within their own organisations and their wider ecosystems.

Through this venture, Hafnia and its Studio 30 50 partners will help new founders in their journey of raising sufficient capital, bridging the product-market fit, providing a successful point of entry and in building scalable, sustainable business models that offer unique added value in a competitive and strict regulatory landscape.

Axel Tan, Venture Partner, IMC Ventures shared, “The maritime industry is picking up the pace in digitalisation, but to achieve wide-scale impact and sustainability outcomes, an ecosystem approach that aligns interests such as Studio 30 50 is needed. IMC aims to create a positive impact through its investments, and we are thrilled to work with like-minded partners to drive innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Dr. Sharin Osman, DNV Regional Maritime Advisory shared, “Closer collaboration between corporates and start-ups is key for scaling innovations, which will be key for successful transformation and decarbonization of our industry. DNV is proud to support Studio3050 targeting this together with other likeminded industry players, and especially so here in Singapore whom has a consistent strategy focusing on innovation, start-ups and digital investments”.Applications to Studio 30 50 are set to open in April 2023. Shortlisted founders and start-ups will receive an invitation to join the first cohort in June where they will be exposed to the issues facing the industry and prompted to ideate disruptive solutions for new companies. Applicants will be given support in the form of product management, technical know-how, data support, and venture capitalists’ validation.

“A consortium-based venture studio to enhance corporate backed venture building for the maritime industry is something that aligns seamlessly with our in-built philosophy of collaboration. We are looking forward to being an integral part of this new ecosystem, combining talent with deep domain expertise to uncover novel approaches that help drive our industry forward” – says Nakul Malhotra, Vice President, Emerging Opportunities Portfolio, Wilhelmsen.

“Studio 3050 will enrich Singapore’s maritime innovation community through their connectivity to corporates networks to attract more talents, bring in new ideas, raise funding and scale-up support for new founders and start-ups. We encourage more Venture Capitalists and maritime corporates to tap into the large base of demand drivers and solutions providers in Singapore, as well as a rich research ecosystem that is supported by a highly educated workforce, strong protection for intellectual property, and quality R&D infrastructure” – says Ng Yi Han, Director, Innovation, Technology & Talent Development, MPA

Microsoft joins Studio 30 50 as the principal innovation partner in the collaboration and will support all funded startups that will be incubated via its Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub program. The platform offers benefits and credits, gives startups free access to technology across the Microsoft Cloud, tools, and resources they need to build and run their business. This includes the most trusted, secure, open-source friendly and compliant cloud platform, to best-in-class developer and productivity tools including GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise, and Microsoft 365.

Beyond access to technology, Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub will empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow by connecting them with mentors who will provide them with industry, business, and technical guidance to help navigation to their next business milestones. In addition, startups looking to catalyze entrepreneurship, learning and innovation, will have access to Microsoft Learn and a variety of startup and unicorn programs to help them build connections with customers and accelerate their growth.

“Our first-in-Singapore collaboration with leaders in the global maritime space will infuse innovation in data & AI, sustainability and security into all parts of their industry,” said Richard Koh, Singapore Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft. “We are confident that this ecosystem collaboration will empower Singapore to transform the global maritime industry at scale with homegrown innovation on the Microsoft Cloud, while addressing challenges in sustainable energy use, resourcing and process optimization.”

In announcing the program, Hafnia’s Shanker Pillai, Head of Innovation and Change reiterates the urgent need for a collective approach to address change, not only at an organizational level but from anyone with an interest in driving the tomorrow of the maritime industry. Interested participants can consult the Studio 30 50 website, where they can submit their application.

Building a well-being economy: Spotlight on Chavalit Tsao

Author and entrepreneur Frederick Tsao advocates for a new world order, helping readers reassess community, the self, and the role of businesses within the social ecosystem

In One Choice, One World, author and visionary Frederick Tsao argues for a shift in global consciousness from a worldview centered on profit and the individual accumulation of wealth and possessions to one that fosters connection, common purpose, and collective well-being. Tsao’s wide-ranging experiences in life and business—he’s the fourth-generation steward of his family’s business, IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group—have helped inform his worldview.

Born in Hong Kong, educated in the West, and a world traveler, Tsao says his mindset has been influenced by his exposure to diverse cultures. “As a baby boomer and a young entrepreneur, I trekked around the world and became sensitive to diverse cultures,” he says. “I questioned the nature and role of business and seriously considered sustainability and existential questions for my own business.”

In One Choice, One World, Tsao lays out a road map, he says, for “a renewed economic model of social transformation and integration.” Observing how unchecked market economies focus squarely on profit maximization, Tsao envisions a different model that measures progress in terms of the needs and interests of humanity. “We have an ethical challenge before us,” Tsao says. “Business needs to reinvent its ethical role in this new social economic system. The sustainability crisis today is created primarily by businesses; therefore, they need to lead the world out of this crisis.”

While Tsao sees wealth disparity as a symptom of pervasive flaws in today’s economic ecosystem, he is not advocating simply for a redistribution of resources. “I am not chanting the mantra of Robin Hood: to take from the rich and give to the poor,” he says. “Instead, I am advocating for a fundamental revamp of the economic model to facilitate social transformation and integration.”

Embracing and implementing such a model would involve a significant existential shift away from equating happiness with the accumulation of material possessions. While on the surface, these goals may seem idealistic, Tsao points to the United Nations as an example of an economic system that is shifting from measuring the economy’s growth via gross domestic product (GDP) to the recognized economic philosophy of gross national happiness (GNH), first introduced in Bhutan in the 1970s. Under GNH, an economy’s growth and success are measured according to nine domains of happiness and the collective security and wellness of its citizenry. Tsao believes that institutions that adopt GNH, paired with the principles of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), will begin to change the overall health of the economic ecosystem and, in turn, humanity at-large.

Tsao suggests that the interconnectivity between Earth, the universe, and human beings has never been more apparent than in our age of globalization and technological innovation. This fundamental concept—that all of existence is part of a single system—is essential to both personal and societal transformation. “There is one choice,” he says. “Journey into our inner world to find purpose and meaning in life—cultivate our being, which informs our doing.”

While social tensions and political divisions may seem irreconcilable, from Tsao’s perspective, the growth of human civilization has always been contingent upon collaborating on common goals. Emotional responses too often shape perceptions, while true progress emerges from a place of calm neutrality and from embracing commonalities. “We need one common worldview,” Tsao says. “One common ground, for us to have common sense, so we put together common efforts to resolve our common challenges.”

Ultimately, Tsao hopes One Choice, One World will inspire readers to reassess their assumptions about community, personhood, and the role of businesses within the social ecosystem. Transforming business and global economic models requires first changing minds and perspectives. And Tsao is optimistic about humanity’s potential to embrace a new world order—one in which individual needs are met and citizens collectively adopt the role of shared stewards of the planet. At its core, Tsao’s worldview begins with a simple and deeply essential vision: “When I am well,” he says, “everything is well; and when everything is well, I am well—the I and the we are inseparable.”

This article was originally published in Publishers Weekly.