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Crises Will Define 2021 Proxy Voting Season, with a Focus on Human Capital, Board Diversity, Corporate Political Activity, and Climate Change at Virtual Shareholder Meetings

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NEW YORK, Jan. 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The pandemic, racial protests, conflict attending the recent Presidential election, and ongoing concerns about the environment will help to define the upcoming 2020 proxy season, further accelerating trends that have been building over the past few years.

Released today, 2021 Proxy Season Preview and Shareholder Voting Trends (2017-2020) builds on a multi-year analysis of corporate filings across both the Russell 3000 and S&P 500 indexes to provide insights for what's ahead in shareholder voting. The report is complemented by an online dashboard where data can also be analyzed by business sector and company size group. The project was conducted by The Conference Board and ESG data analytics firm ESGAUGE, in collaboration with the leadership advisory and search firm Russell Reynolds Associates and Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance.

Insights and recommendations from this report include:

  • Boards should step up their oversight of human capital management (HCM) and expand company disclosures beyond those required by the new SEC rules, as the pandemic, recession, and racial protests are all focusing investor attention on human capital management (HCM). HCM resolutions focusing on workforce diversity, gender pay equity, and employee arbitration policies increased significantly in the 2020 proxy season. While average support remained below 50%, seven shareholder resolutions on HCM received majority support in the 2020 proxy season, compared to only four in the same period in 2018 and three in 2017, with the highest average support for proposals on diversity (38.2 percent for those on workforce diversity, up from 28.6 percent in 2017). The new SEC rules, and various voluntary reporting frameworks, provide a reference point for disclosures, but investors are looking for more comprehensive disclosure regarding the company's HCM strategy and the board's role. 

“Companies should clarify and strengthen the role of the board of directors and its committees in the oversight of HCM,” said Rusty O Kelley, co-leader of Russell Reynolds Associates' Board & CEO Advisory Partners. “This exercise includes reviewing committee charters and governance principles to ensure they clearly assign responsibilities. It also extends to assessing HCM performance and examining, with a critical eye, the company's workforce policies to eradicate bias that may affect the process for the selection, promotion, and compensation of employees and their managers.”

  • Companies should be prepared to explain how boards are making gender and racial/ethnical diversity an integral part of the ongoing board (and CEO) succession planning process. While this is particularly important for those smaller companies where diversity is still lacking, even companies with some diversity in their top leadership should avoid the risk of being complacent on this important topic and of adopting a check-the-box, compliance approach. In 2020, with many shareholder votes cast before the death of George Floyd and protests for racial equality, proposals relating to the diversity of the board received an average level of support of 36.8 percent, significantly up from the 18.3 percent in 2018. 

“Where more stringent prescriptions (such as the ones set for California-headquartered companies) do not apply, the efforts to improve diversity may include: requiring a diverse slate of candidates for each open position; ensuring that nominating committees, which take the lead in the director recruitment process, are diverse; and considering diversity when making board and committee leadership appointments to help leverage their networks,” said Prof. Douglas S. Eakeley, Founder and Co-Director of the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance.

  • Expect increased support for shareholder proposals, and more comprehensive discussions with investors, on a broad spectrum of political activity. Support for shareholder proposals calling for transparency on political contributions has been increasing, with five resolutions that went to a vote in 2020 passing, while a dozen more barely missed the majority support threshold. While support for proposals on lobbying continued to lag, in 2020 there was renewed public scrutiny of the alignment between companies' stated values and lobbying activities of companies and their trade associations. With the recent attack on the Capitol and votes to block the certification of Presidential electors, companies should conduct a comprehensive inventory of their political activity, policies, and board oversight governing the full range of corporate political activity – financial contributions, lobbying, trade association affiliations, and public statements. 

“Investors have long understood that corporate political activity can be important in supporting the execution of a company's business strategy, but they also see it as a significant source of reputation, business, and legal risk,” said Paul Washington, Executive Director of The Conference Board ESG Center.  “While some level of risk is probably unavoidable, companies need to assure investors that they have a handle on all of their political activity, not just corporate financial contributions, and that there is appropriate board oversight and management controls.”

  • Expect support for climate and other environmental proposals to continue to grow beyond the energy sector. Thanks to the endorsement of larger institutions such as BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street, support levels for climate-related proposals have been increasing, from 24.1 percent in 2019 to 31.6 percent in 2020. While one of these types of proposals passed in 2019, four of those that went to a vote in 2020 received majority support. Even companies outside the energy industries that have not yet done so should consider the benefits of a process to gather information on their carbon footprint, design an emission-reduction strategy, and address the business risks resulting from global warming.

“Companies should consider whether the board of directors and C-suites have sufficient expertise in relevant environmental matters,” said Paul Hodgson, Senior Adviser at ESGAUGE. “While this recommendation certainly applies to carbon-intensive businesses, for which environmental sustainability has a specific strategic significance, the contribution to the oversight role of the board coming from a recognized leader in the field can be a driver of innovation even in other sectors of the economy.”

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to make virtual shareholder meetings a matter of necessity even in the 2021 proxy season. Many lessons can be learned from the experience of the last year, and companies should ensure they adopt technologies and protocols to safeguard shareholder participation.

“This is an opportunity for companies to engage with investors to underscore their commitment to shareholder participation and the measures the company has adopted (or intends to adopt) to facilitate the virtual meeting experience—especially during the Q&A session,” said Matteo Tonello, Managing Director of ESG Research at The Conference Board and the author of the study. “It is particularly important to ensure clarity in proxy statements and other documents disseminated to shareholders on the procedures that should be followed to attend the meeting and ask questions.”

Access the report and online dashboard here.

About The Conference Board
The Conference Board is the member-driven think tank that delivers trusted insights for what's ahead. Founded in 1916, we are a non-partisan, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States. www.conference-board.org

About ESGAUGE
ESGAUGE is a data mining and analytics firm uniquely designed for the corporate practitioner and the professional service firm seeking customized information on U.S. public companies. It focuses on disclosure of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices such as executive and director compensation, board practices, CEO and NEO profiles, proxy voting and shareholder activism, and CSR/sustainability disclosure. Our clients include business corporations, asset management firms, compensation consultants, law firms, accounting and audit firms, and investment companies. We also partner on research projects with think tanks, academic institutions, and the media.

About Russell Reynolds Associates
Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory and search firm. Our 470+ consultants in 46 offices work with public, private and nonprofit organizations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build teams of transformational leaders who can meet today's challenges and anticipate the digital, economic and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment. From helping boards with their structure, culture and effectiveness to identifying, assessing and defining the best leadership for organizations, our teams bring their decades of expertise to help clients address their most complex leadership issues. We exist to improve the way the world is led. www.russellreynolds.com

About the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance
The Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance is a project of the Rutgers University School of Law, located in Camden and Newark, New Jersey. The Center is an interdisciplinary forum for research, analysis, and discussion of current issues in corporate law and governance. The Center serves as a resource for students, faculty, alumni, and the business and nonprofit communities. Its objectives are to identify and promote best corporate law and governance practices and law reform, and to build bridges between Rutgers Law School, the business and nonprofit communities, government officials, and other Rutgers University units. For more information, visit https://cclg.rutgers.edu/

Cision View original content:https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/crises-will-define-2021-proxy-voting-season-with-a-focus-on-human-capital-board-diversity-corporate-political-activity-and-climate-change-at-virtual-shareholder-meetings-301217132.html

SOURCE The Conference Board

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ripple2wave Incubator launches Digital Water Hackathon: $250,000 R&D funds for startups with solutions to tackle Singapore water issues

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SINGAPORE – Media OutReach – 24 February 2021 Ripple2wave (R2WI), together with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), is organizing its first Digital Water Hackathon to grow and nurture high potential startups in the area of water technology. Winners will receive prizes including S$50,000 Startup SG Founder Grant*, S$250,000 potential R&D funding, and up to S$6,000 Alibaba Cloud credits. Winning solutions will also have guidance to expand globally and get further exposure into the ecosystem. Registration at https://digitalwaterhackathon.com closes on 28 February 2021.

Singapore has set its sights on being self-sufficient in water by 2060, while water demand is expected to double in the same time frame. With current technical solutions, such as NEWater and desalination, only 85% of the demand would be met. Infrastructure investments, increasing operational costs required to maintain water systems, manpower constraints, and the impact of climate change are some of the related challenges Singapore’s water ecosystem is facing.

Given this situation, Singapore has invested heavily in becoming a Global HydroHub, continuously evaluating and embracing fresh ideas and perspectives to meet the future’s challenges.1

“The Digital Water Hackathon will contribute to these efforts (a) by raising awareness to the importance and challenges of water management and (b) by attracting talent developing digitally based ideas and solutions,” said Dr. Helge Daebel, Managing Director at ripple2wave, and added: “The digital space has proven to deliver solutions giving answer to the complexities of the water space. Singapore can leverage its reputation, collaborative ecosystem and talent to become a leader in the digital water space. We look forward to deploying our skills by creating, nurturing, and growing related startups.”

The Digital Water Hackathon will run from 6 March 2021 — 24 June 2021. Participants are provided with six problem statements from PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, Optiqua, ZWEEC Analytics and other major water players in the Singapore Ecosystem.

*Subject to Fulfilment of Startup SG Founder Eligibility Criteria


1 https://www.pub.gov.sg/watersupply/singaporewaterstory

About the Digital Water Hackathon

The Digital Water Hackathon runs from 6 March 2021 — 24 June 2021. It provides participants with six problem statements from PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, Optiqua, ZWEEC Analytics and other major water player in the Singapore ecosystem.

Participants will be able to enter the hackathon under two main categories:

(1) Entry: first-time entrepreneurs looking to solve problems in the digital water sector whose solutions are at the conceptual stage and

(2) Advanced: local or international teams with existing solutions ready to be deployed.

The programme will include a one-week Bootcamp and a 3-month long deep mentoring sessions by experts and business mentors. Participants will get the opportunity to present their solutions at the Singapore International Water Week 2021 in June this year.

More information and details about the problem statements can be found at https://digitalwaterhackathon.com.

About ripple2wave

Ripple2wave (R2WI) is a Singapore based incubator building emerging water technology leaders to serve global markets.

R2WI is a joint venture between VFT Ventures(Singapore) and Emerald Technology Ventures, a globally recognized Cleantech Investor with a twenty-year investment history. Part of this history has been a unique traction in the water space including successful exits to major industry players (SUEZ, XYLEM and BASF). Meanwhile, VFT successfully commercialised technologies from A*STAR through ZWEEC Analytics.

R2WI is supported by Enterprise Singapore and PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency to create a unique ecosystem for emerging water technology startups.

www.r2wi.com

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PrimaDollar to focus on supply chain trade finance and larger clients, MODIFI acquires its SME export trade finance business

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  • PrimaDollar today announces that its business will, from now on, be wholly focused around its increasingly successful supply chain trade finance technology platform.
  • MODIFI becomes the leading digital trade finance platform supporting SMEs globally.

MUMBAI, INDIA & AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS – Media OutReach – 24 February 2021 – PrimaDollar has made the strategic decision to focus on its category-leading supply chain trade finance platform. This is an enterprise, SaaS, technology solution that enables large and mid-sized importers to take control over how their international suppliers are funded and paid. With the increasing success of this platform and focus on larger clients, PrimaDollar’s board has determined that its existing export customers, who are typically SMEs, will be better served by moving across to one of the dedicated export trade finance specialists operating with a similar geographic footprint. PrimaDollar selected MODIFI after a full market review.

The sale of PrimaDollar’s export trade finance business to MODIFI has now completed. The transaction only relates to future business, with PrimaDollar retaining its current outstanding trade finance book.

MODIFI provides trade finance to businesses across the world on a single digital platform. The company has offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, New Delhi, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Dubai. With digital onboarding and a paperless platform, customers can get working capital in a matter of days. MODIFI pays exporters’ outstanding invoices and covers the risk of buyer defaults.

Tim Nicolle, CEO of PrimaDollar, commented that “We believe that MODIFI is the international digital trade finance company best placed to ensure that our export finance customers across South and East Asia will continue to receive exemplary service and a reliable source of low-cost liquidity in support of their international trade. We continue to be excited by the enormous growth potential open to us in trade finance — potential that has increased substantially during the pandemic. We are expanding quickly and expect to be an ever-growing part of the trade finance landscape.”

Nelson Holzner, CEO and Co-Founder of MODIFI, commented “MODIFI is delighted to take on PrimaDollar’s export trade finance customers in a deal which is fully aligned with our mission to enable global trade. This is a significant milestone for MODIFI as it establishes us as the leading global digital trade finance platform supporting small and medium-sized exporters and importers. In the next few weeks we’ll be working hard to ensure a smooth transition and provide our new customers with excellent service to support their growth”.

About PrimaDollar

PrimaDollar is a UK-based fintech with offices across South and East Asia, focused on making international trade finance work more efficiently for importers and exporters. PrimaDollar’s category-leading technology platform enables larger and mid-sized importers to take control over how their international suppliers are funded and paid. Major importers around the world are moving onto the platform enabling their international suppliers to trade on open account but with a low-cost option to get paid at shipment. Processing trades across our platform typically saves importers up to 2% or more on landed costs compared to the alternatives of using a letter of credit or asking suppliers to accept long deferred payment terms.

About MODIFI:

MODIFI is solving global Trade Finance for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). Founded in 2018, MODIFI is tackling a $20 trillion industry in which 50% of requests for Trade Finance by SMEs are rejected by banks, resulting in a funding gap of $1.5 trillion annually. Through its paperless online platform, the company empowers businesses to grow, fostering strong international partnerships and benefitting local economies. To see how small and medium-sized businesses can benefit from MODIFI’s digital Trade Finance, visit www.modifi.com or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Hong Kong Design Centre Supports the Injection of An Additional $1 Billion into CreateSmart Initiative to Promote the Creative Industries in 2021-22 Budget Address

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HONG KONG SAR – Media OutReach – 24 February 2021 – Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC), a non-governmental organisation founded in 2001 serving as the Hong Kong SAR Government’s strategic partner in establishing Hong Kong as a hub of design excellence, fully supports the injection of an additional $1 billion into the CreateSmart Initiative, which would be used to “continuously drive the development of the creative industries”. This was mentioned in the 2021-22 Budget Address delivered by the Financial Secretary, Mr. Paul Chan, today.

HKDC Chairman, Prof. Eric Yim, remarked, “The ensuing global pandemic has greatly accelerated the trends of digitalisation as well as innovation across all industries, which need to be backed by human-centred design to help us all thrive under the new normal. We fully support the government’s commitment to advancing the creative industries, as a thriving design culture is important for Hong Kong to take advantage of the new innovation opportunities arising from the pandemic.”

Amid the Government’s continual support for the development of the cultural and creative industries (which design is one of the creative industries), HKDC would strongly urge the Government to recognise the strategic value of design for creating economic value and enhancing societal well-being.

The strategic use of design and design thinking, accompanied by R&D and innovation and technology development, would enable enterprises — particularly SMEs and start-ups — to compete and grow in the digital economy. There are also ample opportunities for design to contribute to Hong Kong’s innovation and technology development, STEM education, the growth of multi-industry start-ups and local tourism, and enriching the quality of life for its citizens.


HKDC welcomes the injection of an additional HK$1 billion funding to the CreateSmart Initiative. It will continue to advance its design and innovation public mission to help create economic value and societal wellbeing.


About Hong Kong Design Centre

Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC) is a non-governmental organisation, and was founded in 2001 as a strategic partner of the HKSAR Government in establishing Hong Kong as an international centre of design excellence in Asia. Our public mission is to promote wider and strategic use of design and design thinking to create business value and improve societal well-being. Learn more about us at www.hkdesigncentre.org

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