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Managing Morale and Manufacturing Masks - COVID-19 with New World Group


Catalyser Series: Corporate Social Impact in the time of COVID-19

Amidst all the commercial uncertainty and disruption due to COVID-19, there are also amazing stories of corporate citizenship and community impact around the world. Through a series of virtual interviews, Catalyser showcases stories from leaders and organisations that continue to invest and innovate in corporate social impact.

We hope these stories will uplift and inspire you and companies to continue to change the world from your workplace.

Navigating the new normal for working, and innovating business models to create corporate shared value, are key takeaways from our interview with Ms Ellie Tang, Head of Sustainability at New World Group.

About Ellie’s role and New World Group

Ellie founded the sustainability function at New World Group, a diversified conglomerate based in Hong Kong, with businesses including infrastructure, property, transportation, retail and health care, employing over 27,000 staff. Under Ellie’s leadership, New World Group set a Sustainability Vision 2030 around three pillars of “Green, Wellness and Caring”, enabled by a fourth pillar of “Smart”.

How has COVID-19 impacted the New World Group’s business and workplace operations?

Greater China and Hong Kong was the first region to be hit by COVID-19. As New World Group manages shopping centres and retail operations, it had to quickly adapt to comply with public health and social distancing regulations. 

For Ellie’s sustainability team, one of the focus areas is “assuring staff that the company cares about staff wellbeing”. They swiftly implemented programs to comprehensive sanitise and ventilate buildings, and office staff were provided “anti-virus” packs with hand sanitisers, masks and disinfectant. Where possible, flexible office arrangements were put in place and digital communication tools leveraged to maintain communications and productivity. 

What are some internal programs to engage staff at this time?

Ellie emphasised the importance of motivating staff to reflect and rethink internal business models. Seeing this as a time to learn and embrace digital growth, New World Group launched extensive e-learning modules such training in customer experience, design thinking, promotion of ESG policies and virtual cross-functional learning sessions, for staff at all levels to feel connected and boost creativity. 

New World Development's key leadership approach is "thinking longer term rather than sacrificing the company's most valuable assets, its people, to respond to the short term shock" of COVID-19.

What are New World Group’s key COVID-19 community initiatives?

New World Group’s response focuses on public health needs and leverages its unique business strengths, culture of innovation and community commitment.

From the onset of the outbreak, the company sourced thousands of masks globally and distributed them to underprivileged groups in Hong Kong. In March, New World Group CEO Adrian Cheng announced a HK$10million investment in a nanotechnology company and the establishment of two production lines in Hong Kong to produce masks locally. The new facility built by the New World Group team on a company site is on track to start operations in late April, with capacity to manufacture 200,000 masks daily for adults and children. Ellie mentioned the pride in creating such a responsive and meaningful example of “creating shared value by demonstrating the Hong Kong spirit and reviving its industrial heritage”. 

Part of the innovation is producing masks specifically for children, which New World Group identified as a neglected but critical market in order to safely return to regular schooling. Another novel aspect is New World Group’s partnership with 8 local NGOs to provide the masks for free to socially disadvantaged people such as the elderly. Partner community organisations distribute cards to eligible beneficiaries to access free masks from vending machines located throughout Hong Kong. The company is also working with embassies of impacted European countries to donate 1.5 million Hong Kong made masks.

What are some leadership themes and lessons from these times? 

Even though the business outlook is tough, a key leadership theme of New World Group’s approach is “thinking longer term rather than sacrificing the company’s most valuable assets, its people, to respond to the short term shock” of COVID-19. 

Ellie highlighted her leadership emphasis on seeing this period “as a time to learn and grow, rather than to just focus on fear and shortage”. 

New World Group’s story showcases swift and innovative responses to tackle local community challenges that draw on the company’s existing business strengths and digital strategy.