Beyond cultural philanthropy: The art of making a difference
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Beyond cultural philanthropy: The art of making a difference

John Doe
John Doe
group of musicians practicing together

Last month’s Patron of the Arts event was a spot of sunlight at a time of gloomy Covid-19 headlines. The fact that Singaporeans – individuals as well as corporations – are still strongly supporting our arts groups in cash donations as well as with in-kind gifts was a heartening takeaway for everyone who cares for the arts and cultural scene in our country.

The annual awards – alongside a similar counterpart in the heritage sector – are a meaningful way to thank those who have been generous to the cultural landscape. And I am sure patrons also enjoy being in the limelight for an evening and being recognised for the vital support that they give to Singapore’s culture.

Cultural philanthropy is important for sustainability in the sector as it complements the grants given by the Government and the income that groups earn from ticket sales, classes and other programming.

However, while awards may recognise more significant donors, in reality, everyone can play a part, and arts companies appreciate all contributions, big or small. The income tax deduction also serves as an added incentive.

But beyond philanthropic giving, there are numerous other ways Singaporeans support the cultural scene. For starters, there are the skilled but unpaid volunteers who help out in many arts companies, serving on the board or on one of the committees. Today, with many arts companies being charities and some even Institutions of Public Character, which can collect tax-exempt donations, the boards have the important role of ensuring compliance with the latest codes of governance.

Fortunately, many of our leading arts companies have volunteers from the corporate world, including bankers, lawyers and accountants, who can contribute their expertise and ensure companies are well run, with funds from donors and grant-givers accounted for.

Sometimes, where necessary, they even mediate the relationship between the artistic team and company’s administrators who manage the purse strings.

Supporting artists’ works

It is also important to remember philanthropic giving typically benefits these arts charities. So any largesse may not benefit the freelance musicians, creative writers and visual artists, unless they receive commissions from the companies.

That is why there is another kind of patron who should be recognised. These patrons visit the artists’ studios, check what they are working on, and acquire or commission new works as a show of support. This is not philanthropy that attracts tax deductions, but such patrons have been instrumental in sustaining the careers of the visual artists, especially in the early days of their practice.

One sterling example of how one individual can make a difference is architect, art collector and former chairman of the National Gallery Singapore Koh Seow Chuan. His support of, and genuine interest in, Singaporean artists from pioneer painters like Cheong Soo Pieng to young contemporary artists, is well known and documented in Singapore’s art history. Singapore needs more committed patrons like Mr Koh.

Corporations, too, can give work to home-grown artists through active commissioning. For example, Raffles Hotel, as part of its reopening earlier this year, commissioned a playwright and theatre practitioners to create a virtual whodunnit set on the hotel’s beautiful grounds.

Co-owning the arts

But why is giving to the arts important in the first place? Why can’t the Government just fund and take care of everything? Well, that is because the arts should be co-owned by the people, even if there is strong government support. This model also ensures a diversity of artistic expressions and encourages more ground-up creations.

For individuals who step up and offer their time, energy and financial wherewithal, I suggest that they are driven by a deeper desire beyond a personal love for an art form. They clearly understand that art created from the community has something unique to say about the world we live in, conveyed through an artist’s sense of aesthetics or personal philosophy.

Such individuals also appreciate how the arts can inspire, restore weary spirits, and bring joy to people. Thus, by enabling artists or arts groups, these engaged individuals enrich the larger community and by extension, the nation.

For those with both ambition and resources, individuals have even galvanised like-minded people with diverse skills to start an arts company. Two relatively new organisations that have made significant strides in recent years are the Jazz Association, which develops and promotes home-grown jazz talents, and Re:Sound Collective, which programmes excellent chamber music for classical music lovers.

This is the spirit we need to harness in the Singapore of tomorrow. Certainly, the Government has signalled that it welcomes more partnerships with the private and people sectors, and no doubt, it has the resources to enable growth. This, of course, means a joint ownership of the arts and the attendant challenges in artistic excellence and audience development.

For those with the interest, skills or financial means but have no idea how to navigate and support the cultural scene, here are some practical suggestions.

The National Volunteer And Philanthropy Centre provides a service that matches skilled volunteers with leadership roles in non-profit organisations, including arts companies. First-timers can always start with event-based volunteerism, or by serving on a sub-committee, before offering to contribute on a board.

For those with more substantial financial means, they can approach the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), which can advise them on how to start a fund to support the cultural scene.

The CFS has helped donors set up charitable trusts with an interest in giving to the arts, among other priorities, on a sustained basis. In particular, newly settled entrepreneurs or business owners from overseas could consider this both to support and better understand the Singaporean cultural fabric.

One area Singapore can do better is in how the Government and an active citizenry can jointly identify the gaps in specific sectors, and establish ways to work together on solutions and co-deliver the outcomes. The Government should not be expected to have its finger on the pulse of every part of society, and indeed may not also be in the best place to respond to every challenge.

Timely questions

For the arts, this is a timely question as the National Arts Council takes stock of its first five-year arts master plan and looks ahead to its next.

Should grooming pop music talent for export or developing community arts for positive social outcomes be a priority? What about adapting our home-grown literature across multimedia or facilitating more translations? And importantly, how can the people sector jointly own these priority areas?

The approach here applies to other parts of society as well – from the social sector to sports and the environment. A trusting partnership between the Government and committed citizens will lead to Singaporeans proactively owning challenges and gaps in specific sectors, encourage experimentation on new approaches while providing greater clarity to private funders and skilled volunteers on where to focus their energies.

Successful partnerships will also reduce duplication and inefficiencies, such as having too many parties with similar missions or chasing after the same demographic to provide services.

As existing non-profit companies make an objective assessment of their future and relevance to their stakeholders, government agencies will also need to reflect on how much more space they can cede to support the growth of the people sector to achieve such strong partnerships.

This will be critical for a resilient citizenry, as society matures and the people continue to grapple with the pernicious impact of a protracted pandemic.

  • Paul Tan is the former deputy chief executive of the National Arts Council and serves on a few boards of non-profit arts companies in Singapore.

If you would like to start your journey of effective giving, visit here.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times here. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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Stories Of Impact

10th Anniversary Edition – S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund: How recipients turned their lives around with the gift of education

John Doe
John Doe
portrait of sr nathan

2021 marks a monumental turn of a chapter for the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund (SRNEUF). The fund that was set up by the late former president S R Nathan enters its 10th year of fruition and continues to fulfill its purpose of providing students financial ease to allow them to flourish in their studies. 

To celebrate this anniversary, students Arshad Supa’at and Danish Said shared how their lives changed for the better through the gift of education. 

Arshad, 33 years old, is currently an undergraduate at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, majoring in Social Work. He was originally studying in Millenia Institute (MI) but dropped out of school in his first year to find a job to support his family’s finances. At that time, his father, Supa’at Sarajoo, suffered from kidney failure, which resulted in him no longer being able to work. 

After completing his national service and GCE ‘O’ level examination, Arshad enrolled in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and started work as part-time as a food deliveryman to help with expenses. Unfortunately, he was involved in a road accident and had to quit his job. With only his mother holding a part-time job to support the family, he could not turn to his family to support his education and living expenses.

His turning point came when he received assistance from the SRNEUF. The monthly allowance it provided allowed Arshad to supplement his school and daily expenses, allowing him to continue his studies whilst he recovered from the accident. He eventually went on to graduate from ITE, receiving the Tay Eng Soon Award and the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship for Encouraging Improvement (LKY-STEP) in 2013. The SRNEUF has changed his life, allowing him to complete his education in ITE when he most needed help.

Arshad shared, “I strongly believe and am confident that education can make us equal on a social level. Regardless of your background or your social or family background, if you do your best, education can open doors for you.”

Danish is another student who has managed to turn his life around due to the aid provided by the SRNEUF.

Danish, 25 years old, had always wanted to do something related to finance, as it is an issue close to his heart. Danish enrolled in ITE at a later age compared to most of his peers as he had previously dropped out from his studies at the Republic Polytechnic when he was younger. He recounted how he had never fully focused on his education then and felt that he had unfinished business with his educational journey. Thus, he wished to prove to himself that he could do it as long as he had the right mindset. 

As the youngest in the family, he feels lucky to have been offered the SRNEUF which provides him with a monthly allowance. This allowed him to focus more on his schoolwork instead of worrying about having his parents bearing his expenses. In fact, he has taken this chance to work part-time as a food deliveryman to cover his own expenses, as well as to help his parents in managing their finances.  Danish aspires to work on his skills needed to be a financial advisor, fund manager or financial analyst, to be able to provide quality advice to help those in difficulty to manager their financial decisions. 

“My interest in finance started when I was little because my family always had to struggle just to meet our daily needs. It made me interested because I wanted to know how I could manage my finances better,” said Danish.

Throughout the years, the SRNEUF has worked with ITE to provide assistance to underprivileged students who require financial help. Since 2012, the SRNEUF has supported needy students in ITE, with a total of 1,848 bursaries disbursed over the years with a cumulative grant total of $2.47 million.

“President Nathan’s life epitomises the spirit of generosity, caring and giving. He was a tireless giver. Known to come from humble beginnings himself, he was always known to have a heart for the less privileged in society. In 2011, Mr Nathan established the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund (SRNEUF) to provide financial support to students for their education,” said Mr Bobby Chin, the Chairman of the Grant Advisory Committee of the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund.

He firmly believed that education was an important social leveller which provides students from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to seek a better life for themselves and their families,” he continued.

To transform lives with your giving, get in touch with us at or read more about it here.

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Stories Of Impact

#MyGivingJourney x Stefanie Yuen Thio: Maximising impact with her purpose-driven philanthropy 

John Doe
John Doe
portrait of stefanie

#MyGivingJourney is a series where CFS features extraordinary women in Singapore and their efforts in philanthropy. This story features Stefanie Yuen Thio, Joint Managing Partner, TSMP Law Corporation and Board of Director at CFS. 

When COVID-19 first hit in early 2020, Stefanie Yuen Thio was appalled that healthcare workers had trouble getting a taxi or a Grab. It didn’t seem fair: front liners in our fight against the pandemic were shunned because people were afraid, they would transmit the virus. So Stefanie decided to do something about it.  

Through her family’s #GivingBack Foundation, she donated $20,000 to start the Sayang Sayang Fund (SSF). One of the fund’s first initiatives was to give out taxi vouchers to nurses and hospital staff. SSF has since ballooned to over $9.6 million thanks to the generosity of Singaporeans and financially helped close to 360,000 people hard hit by the pandemic. But the outreach that remains closest to Stefanie’s heart is helping weary essential workers get a ride home.   

SSF is one of several community impact funds under the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), designed to tackle unmet needs on the ground. Stefanie’s #GivingBack Foundation, meanwhile, is one of a growing number of personal foundations that CFS has facilitated. “CFS provides a guiding hand to people starting on their journey of giving, or those who want to be more purposeful and effective in their donations,” notes Stefanie, who is joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corporation.  

Stefanie chose CFS as it is a cause-neutral, one-stop philanthropy advisory platform. It can set up funds quickly and cost-effectively. It works with over 400 registered charities in Singapore and can enlighten and match donors with the causes they are most passionate about — as well as highlight charities that have the greatest needs. Moreover, it conducts due diligence, which builds trust in giving. As Stefanie sees it, “CFS helps donors to structure their giving for maximum impact and sustainability.”  

The #GivingBack Foundation has centred on children, the elderly and foreign workers. Among the charities, it has funded is Smile Asia, which provides free cleft operations to disadvantaged children in the region. And while Stefanie donates a tenth of her income to charity and the church, she believes writing a cheque is not the only way to contribute. 

She makes an effort to volunteer in person and has involved her son Jonathan from an early age. When he was in primary school, she brought him along on all of her law firm’s charity events. This included learning to cook with intellectually disabled kids and a day out at the Outward Bound School with boys from Boys’ Town. When he was 15, Jonathan accompanied her on a trip to Uzbekistan to serve on a Smile Asia trip. “Now that he’s older, we involve him in discussions on how to allocate funds from the foundation,” she adds. 

Exposing the next generation to philanthropy early will help institutionalise giving, making it less ad hoc and more strategic, she believes. “I would like giving to be a default. So that the question of “can I afford to give?” or “why should I donate when I already pay taxes?” is no longer a legitimate response,” she says.  

She is already seeing this in Singapore. “It’s in the young people. They may not yet have built up a hefty bank balance but they give their time and with their hearts. I see it in older folks who want to leave some of their assets to charity when they pass because they are thinking about their legacy. And for the others, they want to invest in a better world for their children.”   

Begin your own journey of giving with CFS. Read more about the #MyGivingJourney series here. 

This article was written by Sunita Sue Leng, a former financial analyst and journalist, who believes that the written word can be a force for good. She hopes to someday write something worth plagiarising. 

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Stories Of Impact

KidsExcel – Leaving no child behind

John Doe
John Doe
a group of children in a classroom

At a time when after school tuition and enrichment programmes have become the new norm, children from less affluent backgrounds are increasingly disadvantaged by their inability to afford these lessons. This creates an educational landscape that places each child at different starting points by virtue of their socio-economic backgrounds.

KidsExcel is a values-driven, academic and sports enrichment programme that aims to support schools and parents in providing a holistic education for kids. Its mission is to provide a holistic, well-rounded programme that develops healthy minds, healthy bodies and strong character, using sports and academic enrichment to nurture the physical, intellectual and social skills of children.

“KidsExcel seeks to address the prevailing asymmetry in educational opportunities for underprivileged children. The programme aims to develop these children holistically through a structured integration of sports and drama with academic enrichment,” said Victor Pok, Director of Vivakids which runs the programme.

By providing primary school students under the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s Financial Assistance Scheme access to a year-long enrichment programme, KidsExcel hopes to inculcate in students an intrinsic motivation to excel, which will hopefully follow them through their lives.

At a recent site visit to Fuhua Primary School – one of KidsExcel’s school partners – the Community Foundation Singapore (CFS) and its donors bore witness to the work they do. Each week, students spend three hours on academic enrichment and an additional three hours on sports as an added incentive for them to turn up for classes.

At the after school programme, students learn through interactive and engaging lessons that provide effective development opportunities. Math classes saw students engaging in friendly competition to solve problem sums flashed out by their teacher. Speech and drama lessons visibly instilled in them a sense of confidence. Frequent proficiency testing also helped facilitate differentiated lesson plans to suit the varied capabilities of students.

While the sports component was conceived to encourage students’ attendance, it plays a pivotal role in developing them holistically. A range of carefully designed and modified games provides opportunities for the students to learn values – such as teamwork and self-confidence – that are beneficial for their intrinsic development.

And the overall results are encouraging. The programme at Fuhua has seen full attendance since its inception. Through timely and consistent tracking of exam results, statistics from KidsExcel’s school partnerships reflect overall improvements in students’ literacy and numeracy levels.

In a spirited sharing of the school’s experience, Fuhua’s co-ordinating teacher-in-charge praised it as an affordable programme that provides sustainable value-add to students. “I have seen an improvement in many of the students and they really enjoy the time they spend with their friends during the programme. Many of them often come to my office just to ask me if the programme is on this week, the following week, or even in the following year. It really speaks to how the programme has given them something constructive to look forward to. Otherwise they will probably be doing nothing at home or gallivanting at the malls.”

“The support of CFS and its donors has been crucial in realising our aims, providing the platform to engage even more in the future.” said Victor.

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Four teachers recognised for excellence in early childhood, special needs education

John Doe
John Doe
four teachers receiving an award

Ms Sulochanah Kanapathy’s pupil was already four years old but he could not say a word.

But Ms Sulochanah, 47, was determined to help, and taught the child with special needs to speak his first words.

The teacher from Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Kindergarten went the extra mile by conducting home visits, giving the child additional teaching materials, and training his parents to better manage his learning.

That incident from seven years ago drove her to take a course in special needs education to understand children with such challenges better.

On Wednesday (Nov 24), she received the Leading Foundation Teacher Award, in the Early Childhood Educator category, at the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Nanyang Technological University.

Besides Ms Sulochanah, Ms A. Neshanthini Neelamohan, 33, from Sparkletots Preschool @ Braddell Heights Block 246, also received the Leading Foundation Award in the same category.

Ms Wong Jia Min, 34, from Fei Yue Community Services and Mrs Lee E-Lyn, 47, from Methodist Girls’ School (Primary) received the Leading Foundation Award in the Special Needs Educator Category.

The Leading Foundation Teacher Award, established in 2013, recognises excellence in early childhood, special needs and allied educators who have made significant contributions to the well-being and teaching of their students. It is administered by NIE and the Community Foundation of Singapore.

The four were selected through appraisals and interviews by the judging panel, which comprised members from NIE, the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Early Childhood Development.

This year, there were a total of 57 nominations.

Among the winners was Ms Neshanthini,who is a firm believer in ensuring that her lessons appeal to all types of learners.

There is always something for her pupils, be it visual, auditory or tactile. For instance, she often uses food essence to stimulate her pupils’ senses as part of sensory play, she said.

As for Ms Wong Jia Min, she believes parental support is key to a child’s development.

For example, Ms Wong brought in a professional sign language interpreter so that a student with behavioural issues could communicate more effectively with her deaf parents.

Many house visits later, Ms Wong and a social worker noticed a major positive change in the student’s behaviour.

Mrs Lee, on the other hand, uses humour in her classes to allow her students to express themselves and to feel relaxed in a safe environment.

For instance, she records the children’s voices and plays the recordings back during oral practice. She focuses heavily on celebrating small successes and encouraging them.

“I’m not just their teacher, but their cheerleader too,” she said.

The awards are sponsored by The Leading Foundation, which was co-founded by Mr Lim Siong Guan, a professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and a former head of the Singapore Civil Service, with Ms Joanne H. Lim, founder of a communications consultancy.

Mrs Jennifer Lim, Prof Lim’s wife and the guest of honour, presented the awards to the winners, who also received a cash award of $2,500 and a certificate each.

Winners list
Early Childhood Educator category
Ms A. Neshanthini Neelamohan, 33, PCF Sparkletots Preschool @ Braddell Heights Blk 246
Ms Sulochanah Kanapathy, 47, Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Kindergarten

Special Needs Educator category
Mrs Lee E-Lyn, 47, Methodist Girls’ School (Primary)
Ms Wong Jia Min, 34, Fei Yue Community Services

If you would like to begin your giving journey with us at CFS, please read more here

This article was originally published in The Straits Times here. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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