Asian Millennials Expect Business to Solve Important Social Issues and Empower Gen Y to Drive Change Together

The digitally savvy Asian millennials use social media to call attention to the issues they care about and recognize that citizenship is a strong differentiating factor for brands

Shanghai, September 17, 2014 – MSLGROUP, the flagship strategic communications and engagement consultancy of Publicis Groupe, and the largest brand and reputation advisory network in Asia and Europe, recently released ‘The Future of Business Citizenship’ report, a 17-market study of millennials’ views on citizenship and the role businesses play in tackling critical macro and micro issues.

MSLGROUP’s global study on active citizenship found that overall, 73% of the 8,000 millennials surveyed worldwide felt that government can’t solve societal issues by themselves, and 83% percent want to see corporations actively involved. More than 86% of millennials surveyed in Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Singapore expect businesses to be actively involved in solving important issues such as economy, environment and healthcare; in China, the world’s largest population of millennials, as much as 92% of millennials demand business involvement. The increasing involvement of businesses with social issues is seen as a key factor for success.

Commenting on the landmark study, “The Future of Business Citizenship”, Pascal Beucler, Chief Strategy Officer for MSLGROUP explained that millennials — the largest, most diverse and influential generation to date — are “game changers” in their expectations of  business with distinct ideas on how companies should behave.  He said, “The overwhelming majority of millennials believe corporate involvement in tackling issues such as economy, health and environment is a key factor to build a successful outcome. Millennials look to businesses not only to lead, but to actively engage them in the process. This opens up huge opportunities for businesses worldwide to re-set in the face of declining consumer trust. ”

With Asia boasting the world’s two largest populations of the millennials, China with approximately 382 million and India 306 million, the voice of Asian millennials is too important to be ignored. A relatively new concept in Asia, active citizenship is not yet clearly defined across the board and leaves room for corporations to make their mark if they are looking to engage Asian millennials. Chinese millennials believe active citizenship means “doing what you can to get involved”; while their counterparts in India define citizenship as personally voting in elections and Singapore advocates a volunteering culture. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, Hong Kong Gen Y believe strongly in active citizenship and practice through participating in the community and volunteering; while Japanese millennials don’t have clear views about citizenship nor do they believe they can make a difference in the world. There are also age (younger millennials vs. older) and gender differences in how millennials view and exercise citizenship.

Despite the lack of a shared definition, nearly all millennials questioned in Asia, except Japan, perceive brands that are socially active to be forward thinking and responsible. This indicates that citizenship is a strong differentiating factor for brands. More than 88% of Indian and 83% of Chinese Gen Y would recommend a brand to friends or family because of its citizenship efforts. The report suggests that business who are looking to engage members of Gen Y should identify something tangible and measurable within the broad range of critical societal issues and focus on specific actions where company’s core competencies can help drive greater impact. Asian millennials also expect companies to become more sophisticated, innovative and creative in their citizenship efforts and ensure that the programs produce visible and quantifiable results.

Furthermore, to help them get involved, a great majority of millennials in Asia demand paid time off from their employers and demand companies to “make it easy” for them by providing opportunities for them to get involved in meaningful citizenship engagement. It is imperative for businesses to help millennials understand how and where they can get involved in a company’s citizenship initiatives.

Market-specific key findings include:

  • China: Environmental problems and dissatisfaction with education and healthcare are of tremendous concern to Chinese millennials. The problems in China in these areas are so severe that millennials are compelled to care. Therefore, active citizenship to Chinese millennials means being a part of solving these tough issues. Noteworthy, China is unique in that millennials overwhelmingly want to hear about companies’ active citizenship in the news (69%), the highest of anywhere in the world. Coincidentally, millennials are the most digitally savvy generation. In countries such as China, social media is an important channel for Gen Y to call attention to issues they care about.
  • India: An overwhelming percentage of Indian millennials (93%) want to do something to get involved in making the world a better place and believe they can. They are also found to be the most confident and optimistic about their future and the country’s economic situation. Similar to its Chinese peers, Indian Gen Y also want to learn about a company’s social initiatives through traditional channels such as TV, radio and print as well as through the Internet and social media
  • Japan: The least optimistic globally, Japanese millennials (over 70%) do not feel they can make a positive impact on the world. This pessimism and lack of concern for citizenship is deep-rooted owing to the fact that Japanese millennials grew up in the context of a stagnant economy over the last 20 years. They believe companies should focus on the economy and the environment, but first have to do well in business.
  • Singapore: The concept of active citizenship is not new to the millennials in Singapore – in fact it is mandatory. Action-oriented and task-driven, Singaporeans value volunteering by giving their time to help others. However, juggling work and family, nearly half of Singaporean millennials said they would be more encouraged to be better active citizens – either through year-round volunteer activities arranged by employers (49%) or through time off from work to volunteer (49%).
  • Hong Kong: Hong Kong millennials view citizenship with high importance and priority in their lives. They are vocal in sharing and exchanging views, especially about things that work and don’t work. There is an opportunity for companies to equip employees and/or subject matter experts with knowledge tools or training in effective citizenship programs.

Scott Beaudoin, global director of MSLGROUP’s Corporate and Brand Citizenship practice, commented, “By 2018, millennials’ earnings and spending power are projected to outpace those of baby boomers – little surprise that marketers are obsessed with them. The study findings demonstrate a clear path for corporations looking to engage with this influential generation: Business Citizenship is the new platform on which strong consumer, employer and stakeholder relationships can be established and built.”

Read the report here:



An analysis of the study findings revealed four emerging themes that are shaping tomorrow’s field of ‘Business Citizenship:’

Theme Implications for Business
  1. New Mindset: What vs. Why

Millennials believe what companies actually do is more meaningful that why the do it.  This is an evolution from even the recent past when it was enough for business to have a clearly thought out ‘purpose’ at their core.  Today millennials in most countries expect companies to be active citizens, game-changers.

  • Mobilize your resources to implement a plan you can clearly articulate and promote.
  • Invite people to participate and publicize the results.
  • Do more than give money away; encourage people to become advocates.
  1. New Focus: Micro vs. Macro

Much previous research into what issues millennials care about has highlighted macro issues such as health, the economy and sustainability.  Millennials questioned in MSLGROUP’s study say it’s not that simple: they care about specific micro issues.  Globally, inflation and high prices came out top of the list of concerns, followed by environmental pollution, having enough money to live right and pay the bills, healthcare costs and recession.

  • Pick something small, tangible and measurable.
  • Change it for the better, then repeat.
  • Focus on specific actions where your core competencies as a business can help drive greater impact.
  1. New Priority: Impact vs. Ego

Contrary to the myth that Millennials are self-absorbed, respondents are happy to set personal interests aside, and support companies and brands in whatever areas they can make a difference.  To illustrate this point, inflation and high prices are Millennials’ top concerns. However, when asked where they want business to focus their efforts, globally they ranked this issue #28. Their third, fourth and fifth highest concerns (having enough money to live right, healthcare costs and recession/unemployment, respectively) fall far down in the rankings of where they expect businesses to put their resources. Their choices for business are instead quite pragmatic, and include protecting the environment, sustainability of the planet and, as noted, environmental pollution.

  • Separate what Millennials care about and what business should focus on.
  • Find a cause or issue relevant to your industry, that you really understand and are sure you can affect.
  1. New Contract: We vs. You

 Millennials believe business has a responsibility to help solve the world’s problems, but they don’t expect them to do it alone. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they want to personally get involved in making the world a better place.  Vocal in their opinions of what companies are doing and not doing, the more Millennials believe their voices will be heard, the greater their involvement will be. Sixty-nine percent want companies and employers to make it easier for them to do their part, such as donating a portion of product proceeds to causes they care about, giving them time off to volunteer and providing activities they can participate in.

  • Provide plenty of opportunities for people join in.
  • Make it as easy as possible for them to really make a difference.
  • Go where they already are across social platforms and channels to engage most effectively.