Leaving no one behind: Grab’s Social Impact Team

Social Impact is usually not a term thrown around the office in most tech companies. However, at Grab, social impact is embedded into all that we do, so much so that there is a dedicated team to ensure we make impact checks and balances at scale.

So we sat down with Clarissa Chang, Grab’s Regional Social Impact (Strategy) Manager, to chat about her work on the impact of tech on society, the difference between social impact and corporate social responsibility, and what it means to leave no one behind.

Clarissa Chang: Regional Social Impact (Strategy) Manager


What is the gist of Social Impact at Grab?

C: “The notion of social impact at Grab is not new. Grab was born out of the desire to solve a social problem — a safe transport option for women in Malaysia.

However, at the core of everything we have done and continue to do today is safety, trust and accountability to deliver on our commitment to improve quality of life of the 640 million people who live in Southeast Asia, and over 8.5 million microentrepreneurs and micro businesses who are our partners.

Simply put, we want to make an impact at scale and solve everyday problems that people in Southeast Asia face.


What is the team currently focusing on?

C:  “To deliver impact at scale, we stay true to Grab’s ethos of fostering partnerships with governments, the social sector and other like-minded companies.

I think right now, it’s about strategising how we can encompass all of those pillars, set clear targets, then hit all of those targets company-wide. Our goal is to ensure that social impact is part of every Grabber’s DNA — it should be clear, established and viable enough for our all Grabbers to be at the forefront of it.”

Launch of McKinsey’s Leadership Development Program with the Young Leaders of Indonesia


It sounds a lot like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Should there be a differentiation between Social Impact and CSR?

C: “We do struggle with helping people understand the difference between Social Impact and CSR. In the few short months I’ve been here, I’ve seen many people excited about doing good — a trait in the makeup of a lot of Grabbers. However, our impact would be greater and more meaningful when prioritised.

Going back to our roots, social impact simply put is to ensure that Grab’s products and services create both business and social value at the same time, to better serve our communities. CSR on the other hand is donations, volunteering or philanthropy or charity, which are not aligned with the business impact we want to create.

Our goal is to run programmes within all teams at Grab to ensure social impact is embedded and part of our modus operandi, as opposed to creating completely new programmes that have no direct correlation to our services.

We are a young impact-driven company and our priority today is to improve every Southeast Asian’s life through our products and services. So despite the many requests and projects coming in that are CSR-driven, our priority is to focus on how we can build upon the already socially relevant core of Grab’s business and enhance it as a force for good.


In light of the direction the Social Impact team is taking to leverage Grab’s services, how would you reconcile the disparity between the impact of new tech versus the humanist side of social impact?

C: “I think that’s exactly the issue in what we’re trying to present to the community — the fact that people think there’s some irreconcilable disparity between the two. People sometimes forget that Grab was founded on the principles of serving communities, and we have not strayed from that.

Grab is only 6 years old, and we have achieved so much in the past 6 years — through the lives we’ve changed and the cities we are now a staple part of. Although some may see tech as unfriendly toward those at the bottom of the pyramid or negative in general, it doesn’t have to be the case.

We’ve got over 8.5 million drivers, merchants and agents on our platform, and these are over 8 million lives we have directly touched. We have disrupted the way people see employment and offered alternative solutions with lower barriers of entry, increased opportunities and flexibility unlike anywhere else. These are things that shouldn’t go unnoticed and be categorised as purely tech initiatives when there’s social impact as well.

Beyond that, we are made out of a community of people who care about the legacy we are leaving behind. People may lose sight of the humans behind and within Grab, the very folks who are smart, motivated and compassionate people building good tech and building tech for good.

The Social Impact team in Manila for their Q4 goal setting


Why do you think this misconception (of prioritising technological impact over social impact) exists at Grab?

C: “Post-merger, we’ve received feedback regarding Grab’s fares, driver service quality, customer service and app experience. However, we did not actually change our prices and have explored other methods of making rides more affordable.

Looking back over what we’ve achieved over 6 years, I believe we’ve actually done so much good, and it’s because of our tech and the passion and hard work of each and every Grabber, that we’ve managed to accomplish so much to serve our communities better. I believe we are actually paving a new identity of what a socially-conscious business can look like.

I am very encouraged by the people I work with. The leadership team are not just visionary and supportive but also extremely humble. When I speak to my colleagues and the different teams I engage with, you can really tell that Grabbers care about the community. It is my hope that we can win the hearts of our community back, and see more of the compassion be shown from them to our hardworking team members too. ”

Social Impact presentation at the INSEAD Alumni Forum


What projects can we expect to look out for from your team in the upcoming quarter?

C: “We’re actually building something really exciting right now called Pay-It-Forward. Giving is such a Southeast Asian thing to do, starting with our parents to the religions we follow. Collaborating with the tech team, we are looking at how we can make our app a giving app such that communities can come together to pay forward any of Grab’s services for anyone in need in their own community.

We can use Pay-It-Forward to show the difference between CSR and Social Impact:

We are utilising our app to enable our users to support their local community with the services they need and the products we already offer, which is a sustainable model in the long term and requires everyone to come together.

On the other hand, a sponsorship model, for example, would be CSR where the beneficiary community would only receive service as an afterthought or bi-product of hitting profitability first.”


Any final thoughts?

C: “I believe this project can catalyse the impact and reach of Grab’s social impact initiatives. With the end goal of making a name for Grab, to become more than an everyday app, but also the ‘Giving App’.

Overall, we’re looking at providing upskilling opportunities, increasing engagement, and finding more ways to improve the quality of life of our users and our communities. This makes it so much easier for the millions of users on our platforms to give back to the community, and subsequently, for millions more to feel the impact of the work we do.”

The work that the Social Impact team does create real-time change in the region, and big-time impact in the lives of our users and their communities.

If you think that you have the heart to make a change and impact our region positively, come join us.

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