5 June 2018, Singapore – Singapore-based Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) kicks off its annual conference today at Suntec City, bringing together over 1000 delegates from 40 countries the largest gathering of social investors in Asia. Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Ms Grace Fu opens with keynote address this morning. In line with the UN’s World Environment Day today, the program will include Climate Sessions such as Sustainable Finance & Impact Investment, Financing Solutions to Climate Change and Social Investment in Forest Ecosystem. See climate fact sheet here.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
THE SINGAPORE STORY – DOING WELL, DOING GOOD AND DOING RIGHT
2. Thank you AVPN for choosing Singapore for this meeting. On behalf of the Government of Singapore, I would like to warmly welcome all of you, coming from 46 nations, to the largest AVPN conference with more than 1,000 attendees. I am excited and encouraged to see many resourceful and influential people here, putting your hearts and minds together, with a common mission to make our world a better place.
3. If you are new to Singapore, your first impression of us may be our “hardware” – the greenery that lines the city, our skyline, our world-class airport. If you are more familiar with us, you may start to appreciate our “software” – the efficiency, safety; the diversity in our ethnicity yet maintaining racial and religious harmony; the pro-business, pro-people policies. What I would like to focus on today is our “heartware”. In the face of technological advances that disrupt our businesses, our jobs, the way we communicate with one another; in the face of an aging population that will change the societal structure and dramatically increase the need for social services; in the face of globalisation that may result in uneven economic progress for segments of society; our challenge is to activate and strengthen the social compact in the face of increasing social and technological divides. I believe this is a challenge faced by many countries and I would like to share our perspectives on meeting this challenge in the hope of generating some ideas for your discussions later.
Lessons from the past
4. It is important that as we look at challenges ahead, we start by understanding our past. Singapore turned 50 in 2015, and as the number shows, we are a young nation. It was a bitter sweet year for us. While we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, we mourned the passing of our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who led us to become an independent nation. Singapore was founded on the ideals of a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious city state where everyone is equal, regardless of race and religion, free to practise his or her rituals, customs, faiths in a secular state. We are a Republic.
5. In ancient times, the Greek classified their people into 3 groups: the Individual, the Tribesman and the Citizen. The individual – Idiot (from the root word ‘idios’ meaning private) lived only for himself and for selfish gain and pleasure. The Tribesman lived for his clan and kinsman. But the Citizen lived not just for himself but for the greater commonwealth or common good. Individuals were born but a Citizen was made. Becoming a citizen, becoming a nation, is to be on a journey. Singapore embarked on this 50 years ago, starting as many individuals and disparate tribes from many places and emerging as a nation of Citizens.
6. The world marveled at the miracle of this city state emerging from third world to first, from a malaria-ridden swamp to the clean, green and efficient cosmopolitan city we see today. With very little to begin with, like many other countries that were ravaged by war and newly liberated from their colonial masters, Singapore today has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, an internationally recognised public education system, and even an Olympic gold medal.
7. Singapore succeeded because Singaporeans understood what it meant to be citizens and recognised our mutual responsibilities and obligations to each other. We became one people. Singaporeans chose to make our diversity a source of national strength and not division. A strong society is one where diversity is inclusive, and where its communities engage one another with mutual respect and co-operate for the common good. We imagined a Singapore where every child has the opportunity to succeed, every elder is accorded respect, and where no neighbour is left behind. We aspired towards a Singapore where everyone progresses together, and looks out for one another.
8. While past achievement does not guarantee future success, some critical factors continue to be applicable in the realm of building social capital and maximising impact.
A Fearless Imagination
9. First, be bold in imagining a better future. Singapore would not be what it is without boldness in vision. Who would have believed that a little red dot of 700 sq km could become a cosmopolitan City in a Garden, housing more than five and a half million people with high home ownership of more than 90%, clean potable water at a turn of the tap and with all used water collected and recycled.
10. We continue to be bold in our aspirations for a better society. We dream of a Singapore for all ages, where government partners the community to create a caring, empowering and safe environment for our rapidly aging society. We hope for Singapore to grow as a Giving Nation with a volunteer in every household, and to double our volunteerism rate from one in three today, to 70% in five years’ time. We believe technology can empower and enable citizens to do good by providing time, money and resources to meet needs of their neighbours and build stronger social bonds. To this end, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC)’s Giving.SG portal has grown over the last few years to more than 150,000 members who use the platform to find volunteering opportunities and to donate towards a worthy cause. Over S$100m has been directed to charities through Giving.SG, with over S$50m in the last two and a half years. Looking ahead, we envisage a ‘digital village (or kampong)’, connecting people, opportunities and catalysing social good through the digital space.
A Commitment to Collaborate
11. Second, collaborate to achieve impact. Collaboration is hard work – but we must do it. The meeting of minds and joining of hands can be a long drawn process but we must make progress towards it. It is only through partnership that we can solve big problems more effectively with our resources, and with greater impact in terms of outcomes.
12. An excellent example of collaboration between the public, private and people sectors is our library@Chinatown. Opened in January 2013, it was Singapore’s first themed library on Chinese arts and culture that was co-developed and managed by the community, for the community. Housed within Chinatown Point Mall, the mall owner (CP1 Pte Ltd) sponsored the development cost of the library. A religious organisation (Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple) sponsored the library’s operating costs. The National Library Board supported the library’s collection and public programming while volunteers run the Library in their special library@Chinatown purple volunteer T-shirts. In three years, volunteers at the library doubled to 80. The collaboration allowed the Library Board to set up more libraries, and for the community to gain ownership of a library that benefits the neighbourhood.
13. Collaboration across the people, private and public sectors is key to achieving impact in the social sector. Corporations could step up and partner government and NPOs to do more for the community. Recognizing that there are important stakeholders other than shareholders, corporations should place social responsibility clearly as part of their score card. Business leaders should move beyond conducting ad-hoc, one-off sponsorship or events to incorporating sustained giving programmes as an integral part of their corporate strategy and identity. Companies benefit from the shared public assets of the societies in which they operate and should therefore in return deliver benefit to all these constituencies. There is a Chinese saying “取之社会，用之社会”which means what we take from society, we give back to society. Only in this way, can sustained and inclusive growth be achieved. Social enterprises also play an integral role in the ecosystem, by achieving social impact in an economically sustainable way. They bridge the people and private sectors, and deliver on both purpose and profit. Corporates can help grow the capacity of this important sector, by providing strategic counsel and business mentorship to social entrepreneurs.
14. Recently, the NVPC and the Community Foundation of Singapore started Colabs, this an initiative that brings together the public, private and social sectors to tackle complex social issues together at the same forum. It provides a platform for philanthropists, businesses, foundations, non-profits and sector experts to focus on co-creating solutions for specific social needs. The first Colabs series on children and youth catalysed two foundations, an MNC and local non-profits to form a collective venture to help disadvantaged youth transit from school-life into work-life, with an initial pledge of more than half a million dollars. It is a targeted phrase in youth and education, which needs very targeted outcomes to plug gaps, that sometimes impact the effectiveness of our programmes. So we know that there is a gap, the gap needs more than just financial resources; you will need expertise, networks and opportunities and that’s where the collaboration of various sectors make impactful interventions. Two other areas are also being explored – one on the engagement and employment of persons with disabilities; and another on seniors. By bringing resources and expertise together, the platform allows for better coordination, clearer focus and customised solutions that the beneficiaries require.
15. On a wider scale, we initiated SG Cares as a national movement last year, to activate citizens’ participation and galvanise all hearts and hands that want to do good. At the individual level, SG Cares appeals to everyone to contribute through their preferred causes, going beyond the social sector. At the organisation level, SG Cares builds capability in different sectors by growing volunteering opportunities and matching needs and resources more effectively by identifying gaps and avoiding overlaps. By pooling our strength and resources, we will be able to better meet the needs in our community.
Never Give Up
16. Third, to do well, do good and do right – we must be relentless, tenacious, and never give up.
17. Two years ago, at the Rio Paralympics, I witnessed this indomitable spirit in an inspiring young individual. Yip Pin Xiu is a para-athlete who in spite of her muscular dystrophy, broke her own world record to win the 100m backstroke event, and secured a gold medal for Singapore. This was her third attempt at gold at the Paralympics, and she succeeded. She has said that her sporting journey has been tough but because of her perseverance, we all got to hear Majulah Singapura, our national anthem, in Rio.
18. The work of social change is hard. Often, resources are channeled towards the next new product or technology that will make more economic sense. The social sector needs to garner the attention of the society and attract creative minds to invest in innovation in this sector. A smart phone with the newest app is useless to a pair of wrinkled hands unless another pair of warm hands, a pair of listening ears and a great dose of patience are there to guide the aged user. This sector needs you, and many more out there to join you, to champion the cause of inclusive growth, relentlessly, so that we can all progress together.
19. In closing, I want to thank all of you again for joining us at this conference. To address the world’s most pressing challenges, we need leaders like you who want to do your part as responsible global citizens and leaders. The Citizen in Ancient Greece acted in the interest of the commonwealth. And as global citizens, our work in philanthropy needs to take a global perspective. If we work together and leverage one another’s strengths across cultures, countries and creeds, we can all build a better world together.
20. It is my hope that by the end of the conference, each of us will have renewed our sense of purpose, reaffirmed our roles in our communities, and have at least one new partnership that will, in time, transform our societies for the better. I wish all of you a successful conference and fruitful discussions over the next few days. Thank you.