Branding the Church and good governance towards mission

When good governance is coupled with an awakening for spreading the message of the Gospel, the Catholic Church’s mission will be alive and sustained.

Oct 07, 2022

I read with interest the Editor’s Note about the Catholic Church’s missionary legacy in Malaysia (HERALD, August 14, 2022). The editor had highlighted the state of Catholic-based institutions and charities in Malaysia which were established more than 400 years ago when missionaries reached the shores of our nation. Coincidentally, the month of October is recognised as World Mission Month by the Catholic Church.

The editor compared Catholic-based organisations with that of Taiwan-based Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, or Tzu Chi Foundation, as it is commonly known. The foundation’s Malaysian chapter was formed in 1995, and within 27 years has established clinics, dialysis centres, kindergartens, educational centres and recycling centres all over Malaysia. If you have not read the Editor’s Note, do read it. It is available in the Herald Malaysia website.

This message reminded me of an environmental conversion programme that I had attended in March. During the programme, members of Tzu Chi Foundation shared with participants on how to kickstart recycling initiatives in their respective parishes. Towards the end of the programme, the highest-ranking Catholic in attendance was invited to address the participants. At the podium, he commented that Tzu Chi Foundation “has gone miles ahead of the Catholic Church even though we have hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages”. He added that the Catholic Church is now catching up with Tzu Chi Foundation and expressed hope that the Church will now collaborate with the foundation. I don’t know whether this person said what he said to please members of Tzu Chi Foundation who were present, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. I was compelled to reflect on whether the Catholic Church had indeed been left behind or failed in its missionary outreach.

A simplistic view on branding
One of the reasons the Catholic Church may not be seen as doing enough charitable works (in comparison with other faith-based organisations) could perhaps be a matter of branding. Taking Tzu Chi Foundation as an example, the main thing I observe is uniformity in the organisation. The physical establishments such as clinics, dialysis centres, kindergartens, educational centres and recycling centres under their care are branded as Tzu Chi, and this name follows through everywhere – on their buildings and signages, and in their social communication platforms. Uniformity is common in Tzu Chi, even in their attire. Whenever they have activities, Tzu Chi members turn up dressed in blue coloured collared t-shirts with white coloured slacks. Members of the fairer sex have their tresses coiffed up into a bun with not a hair out of place.

Catholic-based organisations, on the other hand, don’t subscribe to that kind uniformity. Instead, churches and organisations such as educational institutions, hospitals and charities are known by different names. To illustrate my point, let us look at the KL Central District where the following churches are located: Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Church of St Anthony, Church of the Holy Rosary and Church of Our Lady of Fatima. Schools such as Convent Bukit Nanas, St John’s Institution and La Salle Brickfields are also located in the district. Each of these churches and schools have their respective names on its building. There is no common name to indicate that these organisations are part of the Catholic Church. Could this lack of visibility be one of the reasons causing us to perceive that the Catholic Church lacks physical presence, and therefore have slacked off in its missionary outreach? Now, imagine if all these Catholic-based buildings and organisations use a standard name and logo indicating that it is a member of the Catholic Church. Would there be a wider awareness of the physical presence and good works of the Church? Branding is important to safeguard an organisation’s visibility and physical presence. This is why brands like AirAsia, Coca-Cola and Maybank spend millions to ensure the consistency and integrity of their brand.

Having shared my simplistic view on the want of branding in the Church, do you think the Church has been left behind in its outreach programmes compared with other faith-based organisations? There is no doubt that the Church is reaching out to the less fortunate through parishes and ministries such as the Parish Integral Human Development Ministry, Society of St Vincent de Paul, Archdiocesan Office for Human Development and Caritas Malaysia. However, there is still lots more that can be done and many areas for improvement. In order for the Church to do more, the key lies in good governance.

Good governance in commitment towards mission
Last month, I attended the Malaysian Banking Conference 2022 at Shangri-La, Kuala Lumpur. The theme for the conference was Banking on Change: Turning the ESG Momentum into Action. During the conference, leading sustainability experts from various industries had insightful discussions on ESG-related topics that were focused on climate change.

Three acronyms that were highlighted during the conference were Joint Committee on Climate Change (JC3), Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). JC3 is a platform that was established to pursue collaborative actions for building climate resilience within the Malaysian financial sector. TCFD was formed to develop recommendations for more effective climate-related disclosures. GRI is an independent, international organisation that provides standards for sustainability reporting. Interestingly, the committee, task force and reporting initiative underscores the importance of governance as an integral part of an organisation’s climate-related commitment.

Similarly, good governance should be an integral part of the Church’s commitment towards mission. Perhaps the Church should consider introducing programmes and courses on governance for members of the clergy and lay leaders alike. When good governance is coupled with an awakening for spreading the message of the Gospel, the Catholic Church’s mission will be alive and sustained.

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She works for a Japanese bank and is responsible for its Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She serves in various church ministries and charities and can be reached at: [email protected])

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