Stories Of Impact
Healing and hope for migrant workers
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Stories Of Impact

Stories Of Impact

Healing and hope for migrant workers

John Doe
John Doe
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Our decade-long partnership with HealthServe has helped Singapore’s only medical charity for migrant workers bring healthcare, mental health support and social assistance to this underserved community. CFS is commemorating 15 years of giving and this story is one of a three-part series that highlights the strong relationships CFS has fostered with charities over the years. 

They have helped me with everything. If I ever had a problem at the hospital, with my company or dormitory, they would step in. Here, I don’t have family. But HealthServe has helped me like family.

Like many migrant workers, Shah* came to Singapore to provide a better life for his family in Bangladesh. But soon after he arrived, he was struck with inflammatory bowel disease, causing gastric issues, skin problems and chest pain. All this came on top of the devastating diagnosis of his father’s cancer and his wife’s stomach ulcers. 

Shah was under immense pressure to take on loans to pay for multiple mounting medical bills in excess of $16,000. The financial and emotional stress caused his health to worsen. He is not alone in facing unexpected hardships while trying to provide for family back home. Close to one million low-wage foreign workers reside in Singapore. Access to affordable healthcare is limited for many of them and none were prepared, mentally or physically, for the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Joining forces to help an underserved community

Thousands of migrant workers were quarantined in cruise ships, hotels and dormitories when Covid-19 hit Singapore’s shores. Many struggled mentally, feeling helpless. Others needed medical care. These hardships became the catalyst for the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) to join hands with our long-time charity partner, HealthServe, and help this underserved community. CFS decided to pool donations into a Collective Impact Fund called the Sayang Sayang Fund. With a grant from this fund and other funders, HealthServe was able to deliver much-needed medical attention, mental health support and social assistance to approximately 7,500 workers. For these foreign workers on the margins of society, HealthServe offered healing and hope.

Alongside these grants, CFS supported HealthServe with grants from the KrisFam Fund and the Kampong Spirit Fund. The KrisFam Fund grant enabled HealthServe to treat workers with serious chronic health conditions and extend financial aid to those in need while the Kampong Spirit Fund grant allowed the charity to provide the migrant community with meals and groceries amid the on-off pandemic lockdowns in 2021. For beneficiaries whose illness or injuries made it impossible for them to work, the much-needed help and donations came as a huge relief. In all, HealthServe made about 470 visits to foreign worker dormitories across Singapore.

The continuation of a long and rewarding partnership 

HealthServe started as a small clinic providing medical and dental services to the vulnerable migrant-worker community in 2006. Today, HealthServe offers a range of expanded services comprising mental health programmes and counselling, casework support for injuries and salary-related issues, and other forms of social assistance, much of it supported by grants and donations facilitated by CFS.  Our partnership with this unique charity goes back to 2013.

Over the past 16 years, HealthServe has remained mission-focused in serving low-wage migrant workers who fall through the cracks, even as we tackle constant challenges and headwinds such as post-pandemic dips in both donations and volunteers. Only with your continued trust and support can we do more. We look forward to actively leading every migrant worker in need towards a life of health, well-being, and dignity, with you.

Dr Benjamin Kuan, CEO, HealthServe Ltd

HealthServe’s commitment to migrant workers’ holistic health, well-being and dignity aligns with our focus on promoting mental well-being and healthcare to marginalised communities.

“CFS has helped educate donors and stakeholders about the plight of this very underserved segment of society. As a result, HealthServe’s mission is more well understood,” says Dr Benjamin Kuan, CEO of HealthServe. “The partnership between HealthServe and CFS has grown, with CFS shifting its vision to long-term outcomes, aligning with HealthServe’s goal of preventive care, which is also in line with the nation’s Healthier SG strategy.” 

Philanthropic support is critical

Largely volunteer run, HealthServe operates with a small staff team and hundreds of medical and non-medical volunteers and interns. Fundraising can be a challenge, especially now that reduced charitable dollars tend to go towards causes supporting Singapore citizens post-pandemic. Philanthropic support from CFS donors therefore remains crucial. 

“Over the years, CFS has demonstrated its ability to form strategic partnerships to deliver funds to the community in the fastest and most effective way and HealthServe is confident that our partnership with CFS will remain relevant in serving the underserved segments in society,” says Dr Kuan.

We are proud to maintain a long-term partnership with HealthServe and are committed to working with other like-minded charities to bring greater support to Mental Well-being as a cause and to create greater impact for the underserved communities.

CFS is celebrating our anniversary throughout 2023—15 years of empowering donors to make a meaningful impact. Since our inception in 2008, we have received over S$292 million in donations in Singapore and disbursed over S$157 million in grants to over 400 charity partners.  

To discover how you can make a difference, please visit 

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Sustainable Philanthropy Matters: Navigating the SDGs with Philanthropy

John Doe
John Doe
poster about sustainable philanthropy: navigating the SDGs with philanthropy

In this three-part series ‘Sustainable Philanthropy Matters’, we explore the surprisingly intimate relationship between philanthropy and sustainability and how the practice of one can in fact, lead to the advancement of the other. Both of these issues are close to our hearts here at CFS and we want to share how our philanthropy can help preserve our planet, our communities and our future.

Philanthropy has traditionally been aimed at supporting societal needs. In recent years, the increasingly pressing demand for climate reformation requires the influx of tremendous funding to support the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from R&D and technological applications to conservation and community efforts. Beyond the responsibilities of governments and businesses, philanthropy has a huge role to play. While this may sound novel, it actually is not and, in this third and final instalment of Sustainable Philanthropy Matters, we examine how philanthropy can help stem the tide of climate change.

The Interconnectedness of Sustainability

At first glance, the 17 SDGs might seem a little daunting, like some miniature Periodic Table meant to scare students. It may help to see this as one concerted effort to effect long-lasting change, to ensure the sustainable survival and thriving of both People and Planet.

This holistic approach is evident in that all the SDGs are, in fact, interconnected. In the last article, this was explained in a sustainable farming example. Besides these issues, the SDGs also help us to realise the borderless world we now live in. For example, rampant slash-and-burn agriculture in Indonesia (BBC News, 2019), droughts in California (Bernstein, 2015) and declining wild salmon populations in the Atlantic (Forseth, Barlaup, Einum, Finstad, Fiske et al, 2019, page 2) all have one thing in common: they affect communities in Singapore.

The first spells an annual onslaught of respiratory problems as haze blankets the country while the latter two impact our food supply, namely oranges and smoked salmon.

Everyone’s Cost to Bear

Those three problems are just some of the innumerable issues worldwide that the SDGs seek to address. A glance at the big picture shows that achieving the SDGs has a hefty price tag of an estimated $5t to $7t, although the silver lining of this is that that achievement could open up $12t of market opportunities (United Nations, 2022).

However, the localised impact demonstrated above makes it abundantly clear that we all have a stake in ensuring that those goals are achieved. Singapore’s enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NCCS, 2022) towards the SDGs, executed through initiatives such as the Green Plan 2030 (SG Green Plan, 2022) and 30 by 30 (SFA, 2021), cannot be achieved by the public and private sector alone. It requires individuals’ combined efforts, through practice and philanthropy.

The role of and need for philanthropy is even greater when we consider the Singaporean Government’s stance to avoid being a welfare state and instead, offer tiered and limited safety nets for those in need (MOF, 2020). While there is certainly a need to address the SDGs in the local context—such as those relating to poverty, hunger, health and education—Singaporeans are required to help themselves in this meritocratic system.

Partly because this is clearly easier said than done, a small sum is deducted from employees’ wages in Singapore that goes towards four racially-oriented Self Help Groups. So unless one opts out of this scheme, every salaried resident in Singapore is already involved in some form of philanthropy. 

Charities, Charities Everywhere

Of course, that sum is a miniscule drop in the large scheme of things, with $25.69m for the CDAC$8.54m for Mendaki$18.87m for SINDA and $0.78m for the Eurasian Community Fund, against a national total of $2.9b donations in 2019 (MCCY, 2020, page 4). Many non-profits and voluntary welfare organisations and their care recipients still rely on the goodwill of philanthropists.

While there are thankfully many generous donors out there, there is also a baffling number of charities and IPCs (Institutes of Public Character, which are held to even more stringent governance standards): 2,281 at the end of 2019, to be exact (MCCY, 2020, pages 13 and 17). Just like the SDGs, more charities are related to addressing societal needs than environmental ones.

That line is blurring today with countless examples: a centre for autism implementing an urban farming programme, a society that safeguards the cleanliness of our waterways for the local wildlife and citizens alike, and tree planting exercises for the public by the Garden City Fund.

Yet, there are still a lot of untapped opportunities. We need to develop programmes and build the capability that will allow our social sector to effectively address the SDGs in the local context and with environmental considerations. That requires funding — for research, pilot programmes and training.

A Touch of Philanthropic Professionalism

In breaking all this new ground, it is prudent to apply a layer of Governance checks over the Social and Environmental orientations and objectives of all the organisations and programmes.

Thankfully, one does not need to worry too much about Governance here in Singapore. Local regulations require charities and IPCs alike to be transparent about their operations, activities and finances.

As a winner of two accolades for transparency and governance at the 2019 Charity Governance Awards, CFS is ever-cognisant of the importance of balancing the outputs and outcomes of charities and their activities with their strategy and operational methods.

If you would like to know more about how CFS can help you source for, identify and evaluate programmes that both meet your philanthropic preferences and address the SDGs, please visit here.

To read the other 2 stories in the ‘Sustainable Philanthropy Matters’ series, please click below:

This article was written by Adam, a Principal Consultant with CFS and an experienced sustainability practitioner. He is an advocate for sustainable practices. His colleagues are still wondering how his monthly household utilities bill is only around $70.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CFS or its members.


  1. BBC News. (16 September 2019). Indonesia haze: Why do forests keep burning?
  2. Bernstein, Sharon. (2015). California citrus farmers pull up trees, dig reservoirs to survive drought. Reuters.
  3. Forseth, T.,  Barlaup, B. T., Einum, S., Finstad, B., Fiske, P, et al. (2019). Status of wild Atlantoc salmon in Norway 2019.
  4. Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. (September 2020). Commissioner of Charities: Annual Report 2019
  5. Ministry of Finance. (Updated 25 November 2020). Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review: Social Safety Nets.
  6. National Climate Change Secretariat of Singapore. (28 February 2020). Singapore’s Enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution and Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy.
  7. SG Green Plan. (Updated 28 January 2022).
  8. Singapore Food Agency. (Updated 17 December 2021).
  9. United Nations. (Accessed 16 February 2022). FAQ: How much will the implementation of this sustainable development agenda cost?
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Charting your legacy

John Doe
John Doe
CFS CEO Catherine Loh giving a speech

I think we can all agree every individual has something unique to give back and offer to society. And yet, when thinking about legacy, how often do we realise that every action we take, however large or small, is actually creating our legacy? Perhaps some of us believe legacy giving is only for wealthier individuals, or that legacy giving can only be defined in financial terms.

It’s important to realise legacy is much more than just financial in nature. Your legacy also includes your personal or business values, the values you have inculcated in your children. It encompasses the giving of your time, expertise and even your resources to empower someone in need. Think about creating a legacy as living a life of generosity, in ways that make meaningful social impact while aligning to your values.

If you’re passionate about a cause, you don’t need to wait until you’re richer, older and retired to start thinking about taking action. Today, with technology, new giving channels and opportunities for collaboration with a wider community are already available and being created each day. As a donor in this exciting era of knowledge-sharing, there are many opportunities to learn about causes you care about and how you can contribute.

For some of you, you might be moving on from ‘success’ to ‘significance’. “How will I be remembered in a hundred years’ time?” “How can I leave a better world for future generations?” As two prominent families shared at our recent CRIB x CFS Legacy and Impact event, leaving a legacy also means preparing your next generation to become responsible stewards of your family’s culture of giving. This often means setting up a framework and sharing your family’s values, so that your children are empowered to continue the good work you have begun.

If you’re wondering how you could start to plan for legacy giving, here are three key ideas to help you along your journey:

Start the conversation
Identify your interests, values and the impact you want to make, so that you can find a focus for your giving.

Consider your structure
Setting up a fund helps to structure your philanthropic activity, improve strategic decision-making and better measure outcomes.

View philanthropy as a journey of learning
Learn more about issues on the ground, what the real needs are, and what are more strategic ways to make a change.

Many of our donors at CFS began from a place where they may not have had extensive histories in giving, but they have embarked on a journey to learn how they could chart their legacy, one action at time. I hope you will discover how philanthropy can be your way of life.

Catherine Loh
Community Foundation of Singapore

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Stories Of Impact

Migrants Emergency Assistance and Support (MEANS) Community Impact Fund – Helping migrant worker in need

John Doe
John Doe
A woman tenderly assisting another women lying in a bed, providing care and support to ensure their well-being.

The MEANS (Migrants Emergency Assistance and Support) Community Impact Fund helps migrant workers who are legally employed in Singapore under R passes, work permits or special passes. It provides immediate and short-term financial assistance to disadvantaged migrant workers by covering:

  • Medical care to ill or injured workers who are abandoned, abused, under threat or under fed by their employers or whose medical care is not covered by their employers.
  • Shelter and basic necessities to injured workers or those seeking redress against unfair employment practices such as violence at work or contract violation.
  • Transport cost for workers who need to go to the various authorities (like Ministry of Manpower or the police) to resolve their cases regarding unfair employment practices as well as workers seeking employment while assisting in investigations.

Photo: Tom White Photography

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The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at


The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road



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Donor-advised funds can make a meaningful impact in Asia

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John Doe
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Such funds give donors more say in the philanthropic process, and can lead to donors being tipped off about underfunded causes. These funds also make it possible for non-millionaires to do their bit.

WHAT do Jack Dorsey, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg have in common in terms of their charitable giving?

All of them have used donor-advised funds (DAFs) in short. DAFs are popular in the United States, with over US$140 billion sitting in these accounts. In Asia, DAFs are relatively new with only Singapore, China, South Korea and Japan setting them up.

What exactly is it? In a DAF, the donor transfers money or other assets to another entity called the sponsoring organisation. While the sponsor legally owns the assets, the donor is given a huge say in determining when the fund is disbursed and causes to support, hence the name “donor-advised funds”. Typically, the sponsoring organisation will provide advisory services to the donor on how to effectively utilise the funds.

At this juncture, a reader may ask what is the difference between a DAF and an organisation like the Community Chest in Singapore, which raises funds for multiple charities?

The major distinction is the role of the donor in the DAF, as compared to the donor making an outright contribution to charity. In a DAF, the donor is an active participant, working in collaboration with the sponsoring organisation, in disbursing funds.

Let us say, we have a philanthropist who wants to make a S$1 million contribution to educational causes. While S$1 million is certainly a lot of money, it is insufficient to set up a private foundation due to the administrative costs involved. A donor who uses a DAF may direct the funds to support worthwhile causes in education, while being properly advised.

In many cases, the donor is a wealthy person who may not be familiar with what is happening on the ground. Therefore, the sponsoring organisation adds value by providing advisory services.

In this example, the sponsoring organisation may, after doing due diligence, recommend that the donor disburse funds to underfunded causes like pre-school, technical and special-needs education.

DAFs can also function as an emergency fund for a “rainy day”. For instance, there could be an emergency societal need like children living under Covid-19 lockdown conditions, who are now deprived of sponsored school lunches. Money from DAFs could then be channelled to fund food vouchers for their families during home-based learning.

In fact, this was the cause championed by The Recess@Home programme spearheaded by the Community Foundation of Singapore, a DAF.


A DAF is attractive to donors because of the many benefits it offers.

First, the DAF gives the donor a greater role in the philanthropic process. This sense of satisfaction that the donors get may encourage them to give more to charities in future and set up a private foundation. In fact, in setting up the first DAF in Singapore in 2008, then Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan, described it as a “starter kit for foundations”.

Second, the donor is supported by DAF sponsors, who are intimately aware of the needs of the community. Therefore, the funds can support the causes that are desperately in need.

Third, the DAF, if properly used, may achieve maximum impact by making contributions to underfunded areas. Fourth, the donation to a DAF need not be a cash gift, but may take the form of company shares or other non-cash assets. Finally, some countries provide requisite tax breaks to donations to DAFs.

The biggest advantage of the DAF is democratisation of philanthropy from the ultra-high net worth families to individuals who have a modest sum to donate. A heart-warming example is the story of the late Kim Gun-Ja, who set up a fund with the Beautiful Foundation, a South Korean DAF. Ms Kim, a sex slave under Japanese rule, donated all her assets save for funeral costs to set up the Grandmother Kim Gun-Ja Fund to support college tuition for orphans. In Singapore, a DAF may be set up with a minimum sum of S$200,000.

Recently, DAFs have come under trenchant criticism in the United States; some quarters have called it a form of “zombie” philanthropy. The main critique is that donors enjoy tax breaks while disbursing too little to charities. Some have called for a law that mandates the DAF to pay out a certain percentage annually. While this criticism of DAFs is legitimate in the United States, it may not apply to DAFs in Asia, where tax breaks are not the primary motivations behind philanthropic giving.


There is anecdotal evidence, at least in Singapore, that the level of disbursements to charities is quite high. For example, the two DAFs in Singapore, the Community Foundation of Singapore and SymAsia Foundation Limited, show a high payout rate to charities. The Community Foundation of Singapore has collected S$192 million and disbursed S$114 million in grants. SymAsia Foundation Limited stated in its 2020 annual report that it collected S$170 million and disbursed S$120 million. In fact, donors are conscious that they ought to disburse more to charities.


There is currently a campaign in the United States called #HalfMyDAF, where donors are committing to granting half of the money sitting in their DAFs to charities. During this pandemic, there are reports in the United States that payouts from DAFs to charities have indeed been higher, even as critics push for the payouts to be even more accelerated. In contrast to the cautious and structured giving inherent in DAFs, there is McKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, who upended the philanthropic world by donating US$6 billion in 2020.

With proper governance, DAFs yield a net-positive over the Asian philanthropic space, compared to an informal channel of giving that relies on one’s family and business contacts. A DAF provides a structured and cost-efficient vehicle that democratises philanthropy and identifies societal needs that are underfunded. It is hoped that there would be more properly governed Asian DAFs set up, with high payout rates to charities to tackle difficult domestic and pressing transnational problems of our time, like climate change.

To find out about donor-advised funds, read more about it here.

This article is written by Professor Tang Hang Wu, CFS Board Committee Member and a professor of Law at the Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University.

This translated article was originally published by The Business Times.  

Credit: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.  

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