This article expands on views expressed at “Organizational Resilience”, a webcast session organised by IFSWF on 23 April 2020. GIC serves as a Board Member of IFSWF, a global network of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) that meets and exchanges views on issues of common interest.

Why is organizational resilience relevant for GIC?

As Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC’s mandate is to preserve and enhance the long-term international purchasing power of the reserves under our management. The reserves play three critical roles for Singapore – a rainy day fund, an endowment fund and a stability fund. The COVID-19 crisis has clearly highlighted how important the reserves are, given the magnitude of the government’s relief package to support households and businesses. For Singapore, a country with no natural resources and a highly open economy, the reserves are a strategic resource for the country’s future.

Additionally, GIC’s long-term investments contribute to the communities that we operate in. Organizational resilience is fundamental to GIC’s investment mandate and purpose, and enables us to sustain performance, particularly through these challenging times.

How would GIC define organizational resilience?

For GIC to invest well through the cycles, resilience is needed at two levels.

For the enterprise – we must ensure our leadership, organizational structure, operations, technology infrastructure and processes enable us to deliver good performance and facilitate business continuity, through crises and across our 10 offices.

For our people – it is key that everyone plays a part to deliver our mandate. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our people need to adapt as we work and live under unprecedented lockdown conditions. There are also the added stresses of managing high volatility in the markets and safeguarding the health of our loved ones. While many of our staff had gone through past crises, there are others who have not. Lessons will be learnt as we navigate the path forward.

Importantly, we need to uphold our values, and strengthen the physical, mental and emotional well-being of our people during such difficult times. We believe our people can emerge from this crisis more united and grounded in our values and purpose.

What is GIC’s organizational response to challenging situations such as covid-19?

At GIC, we continue to emphasise the importance of our five investing principles and PRIME values, as well as deepen our purpose as an organization, and at the people level. Our five investment principles guide our efforts to strengthen organizational resilience:

Specific to the COVID-19 crisis, our organizational responses can be grouped into three key areas:

Lastly, we need situational leadership at every level during times of uncertainty in order for our people to thrive. Our leaders need to look beyond well-trodden paths to identify new opportunities, and adapt to today’s changing realities. It is key that they recognise it is not ‘business as usual’ and leverage diverse skills and perspectives. Today, more than ever, possessing an openness to learn from others and using these collective insights will lead to better decisions.

What are some of the lessons learnt so far in the COVID-19 crisis?

In the beginning when the outbreak was limited to specific regions, GIC was sufficiently prepared as we had considerable business continuity planning and playbooks for different types of crises, including cyber security, natural disasters and even pandemics. However, like others, we could not have predicted a situation where operations across multiple regions would be curtailed so drastically and all at the same time.

Due to our early and continuous investment in technological solutions such as cloud computing, we were able to adapt quickly to large-scale telecommuting. This not only demonstrates the relevance of one of our key investment principles “Prepare, Not Predict”, but also highlights just how unpredictable crises are by nature and the need to be agile in response. Such ‘white swan’ events could become more common over time.

Given GIC’s purpose and long investment horizon, the resilience of our people, processes and systems are necessary for us to navigate and cushion the impact of such events on our global operations, portfolio and business. After COVID-19, there will undoubtedly be additions to our future playbooks. What will remain constant is our focus on our mandate, as well as our commitment to GIC’s values and the well-being of our people.