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Dipa Swaminathan on what we can each do for Singapore’s migrant workers
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Dipa Swaminathan on what we can each do for Singapore’s migrant workers

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A woman with short hair and a white top smiling warmly, radiating positivity and joy.

Dipa Swaminathan is a force of nature. At 49, the Harvard-educated lawyer is an assistant general counsel for SingTel and the founder of ItsRainingRaincoats, an organisation created in 2015 to support migrant workers in Singapore and champion their cause. As the recipient of the President’s Award for philanthropy and volunteerism in 2017, Swaminathan knows a thing or two about advocating for a marginalised group—in particular, one that has built our nation from the ground up while bearing the harshest brunt of the fallout from COVID-19.

“Migrant workers are not franchised and lack voices in the broader community,” shares Swaminathan. “The avenues available to us are not to them. They are often scared of speaking up for fear of getting their permits cancelled—which can happen within 24 hours.” The vulnerability of their situations are why migrant workers in Singapore are often forced to tolerate poor living conditions—leading to consequences like the one we have seen this year.

“Migrant workers lack many of the comforts that we are so accustomed to. They are expected to live in close proximity to each other and have limited spaces that they can move around in. In these conditions, the impacts of COVID-19 were felt harder by these workers. ItsRainingRaincoats had to ramp up its efforts overnight as the
pandemic started to spread in the migrant worker community and we did so with tremendous speed thanks to our volunteer ranks doubling and the outpouring of
support from the community,” she adds.

Alongside her tireless efforts for this oft-overlooked group, Swaminathan is now embarking on a new project with The Community Foundation of Singapore. Known as “A Greater Gift’’, the campaign focuses on the true value and lasting impact of a legacy gift. A legacy gift is a method of planned donation—essentially, leading to long-term, sustainable support for a cause you believe in.

As an ambassador for this initiative, Swaminathan opens up to Vogue Singapore about the importance of this movement, her advocacy work for migrant workers in
Singapore and her poignant hopes for their future.

What led you to start working with migrant workers in Singapore? Is this something you have always been passionate about?

Working with migrant workers started almost by chance. I was driving home in a thunderstorm one day and saw two migrant workers crouching under a cardboard sheet to remain dry. I took them home and gave them food and drinks and dry clothes to change into. Several weeks later, I received a call from the police saying one of
the men had been charged with a suicide attempt and the only number he had was mine. He had tried to take his life because he hadn’t been paid for three months and had loansharks hounding his family back in India. I knew it was an act of desperation, and emailed the Police Commissioner incessantly until charges were dropped.
The experience made me realise that you can’t change the world but you can change the world for one person.

We must shift our perception that migrant workers are dirty or societal outcasts. We need to correct perceptions in our own circles and speak up on the issue when the opportunity arises at the dinner table or different social settings.

Another experience that changed the game for me was when I saw a group of migrant workers working in the rain, wearing garbage bags to try and remain dry. I called their employer and insisted that it was their duty to provide for their workers, susceptible to the constant rainy conditions in Singapore. I threatened to flag it with newspapers, share it on social media and report it to the Ministry of Manpower. While the employer hung up on me, the next day, I saw that all the workers had been
provided with raincoats.

Which parts of your work with migrant workers do you find most important?

It is incredibly rewarding to be able to bridge conversations between migrant workers, volunteers and other Singaporean residents, as well as galvanising support from the corporate sector and schools. Connecting different parts of the community helps us to build a bigger support platform for migrant workers, helping them integrate
into the broader community.

For example, during the height of the pandemic, ItsRainingRaincoats mobilised hundreds of volunteers to distribute 600,000 hot meals, 120,000 care packages, and helped 12,000 workers with mobile data top-ups so they could remain connected with their family. We also co-authored a mental health booklet in partnership with the
Singapore Medical Society of Ireland and coordinated fundraising efforts for families of deceased or terminally ill migrant workers.

Tell us a little bit about the “A Greater Gift” initiative

“A Greater Gift” is a three-year initiative led by the Community Foundation of Singapore to highlight that legacy giving is critical to providing long-term support and
sustainability to the causes we care about the most. The campaign is to encourage everyone living in Singapore to leave a legacy. Whether its time, money or
resources,
those who are able to do so will have an enduring and positive impact on those in need within the community. I’m proud to have been selected as a brand ambassador for the campaign, to highlight that anyone can give back.

Aside from the impact of COVID-19, what is one other problem facing migrant workers in Singapore right now?

One main problem for migrant workers is that they are often not paid on time. At the end of the day, they are here to earn a salary without exploitation. If we can
achieve this, it’s the first step towards fair treatment.

How do you think we can rectify the stigma and seclusion that migrant workers face?

There is a plethora of issues that put migrant workers on the back foot when they come to Singapore—there is a large number of them, they have issues with language, they are usually here alone without their families and are far from home.

Change needs to happen within each of us—within our hearts and instincts. We must shift our perception that migrant workers are dirty or societal outcasts. We need
to correct perceptions in our own circles and speak up on the issue when the opportunity arises at the dinner table or different social settings.

The most soul-crushing thing for me is when I hear of a migrant worker death.

Seeing the harsh conditions and difficult circumstances that migrant workers are in must take an emotional toll. Do you ever experience compassion fatigue? How do you take care of yourself and what keeps you going?

I do experience compassion fatigue and I need to give myself time to wind down. There were many days this year at the height of the pandemic where I didn’t have
time to attend to my personal day-to-day needs like even taking a shower. My phone never stopped ringing as I attended to countless migrant workers seeking help.

There is a saying that if you don’t fill your well, you can’t draw from the well. And for me, I keep my well filled by exercising, going on staycations and spending lots of
quality time with my husband and two teenage sons with tons of tennis action. We are also avid Formula 1 fans.

Going into 2021, what is your biggest hope for how the lives of migrant workers in Singapore will change?

I hope fewer of them succumb to workplace fatalities—the most soul-crushing thing for me is when I hear of a migrant worker death. I hope workplace conditions and mental health improves for them. I hope that we don’t hear our phones ringing as much—because then we know that we’ve made improvements for them and for us as a society.

Find out more about “A Greater Gift” at legacygiving.sg. Support ItsRainingRaincoats with a donation or a Christmas gift for migrant workers.

Source: Vogue

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 https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

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

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

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Events

FutureChina Global Forum: CFS CEO Advocates for the Integration of Philanthropy into Wealth Management Strategies

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Catherine Loh Speaking

What is the civic responsibility of wealthy individuals and corporations?

What are the ways they can include philanthropy in their wealth management strategies to create a lasting impact on society?

These thought-provoking questions were discussed in a dynamic panel session titled “Strategic Philanthropy – Enabling Wealth for Lasting Impact” at the FutureChina Global Forum 2023, which was attended by over 800 business leaders. The panel comprised CFS CEO Ms Catherine Loh, Mr Feng Lun, Founder of the Vantone Group and Chairman of the Yufeng Group; Mr Laurence Lien, Chairman and Acting CEO of Asia Philanthropy Circle; and Mr Lionel Li Xiaobo, Founder and Chairman of the Li Foundation, and was moderated by Mr Zhou Zhaocheng, Chairman of Super Hi International Holding Ltd.

Catherine highlighted that even in an affluent society, certain needs and gaps would require philanthropic support. Besides supporting basic needs, philanthropists can also provide catalytic capital for innovative programmes, anticipating the problems of the future and solving them, for example, the Lien Foundation funds research to delay ageing and reduce the number of years people spend living in ill health.

She emphasised there are many ways civil society can work with the government and charitable organisations to solve complex social issues together. Other than financial donations, philanthropists can also contribute their expertise, corporate resources, and mentorship to create solutions. 

She highlighted that as part of the recently announced government-led initiative Forward SG, CFS will lead a collaborative effort aimed at strengthening Singapore’s social compact. Under the collective, diverse stakeholders will come together, pooling their expertise and resources to tackle issues such as social mobility, employment disruptions caused by technological changes, the implications of an ageing society, and other pertinent issues.

Are you passionate about supporting causes you care about? Let us help you understand the needs and recommend relevant programs. Find out more at https://www.cf.org.sg/giving/ways-to-give/


The FutureChina Global Forum is Asia’s most prestigious bilingual international forum, attended by more than 800 distinguished business leaders, public figures, experts, and thought leaders from Singapore, China, and neighbouring areas. The 14th edition, themed “Pathway to Clarity – Charting the Future”, brought together 37 leading experts to dissect developmental trends driving China’s economy on 27th October.

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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 https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

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

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

Opinion

Sustainable Philanthropy Matters: The SDGs in SG

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John Doe
poster about sustainable philanthropy: the SDGs in SG

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.

In our previous article, we took a brief look at the history of philanthropy and sustainability. Here, we will examine the relatively newer Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their paramount relevance and importance today. The SDGs were adopted as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Additionally, the SDGs could and should serve as a guide to the next steps in Singapore’s social, environmental and even philanthropic evolution. Donors can create a greater impact with their giving by ensuring alignment with the SDGs.

Introducing the SDGs

When it comes to the 3P’s, People has long been seen as the more important P as compared to Planet (let us not talk about Profit!).

Of the eight Millennium Development Goals established in 2000 by the UN, only one was environment-related. Even in the first-ever Global Philanthropy Report, published relatively recently in 2018 by the Hauser Institute for Civil Society (Johnson, 2018), education was the most popular cause of choice for foundations around the world, with 35% focusing on at least one aspect. Health and social welfare also featured largely as priorities. Only one region, Latin America, had environment and animals as a focus and even then, at only 23.8%.

The 17 SDGs, birthed in 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, catapulted the idea of sustainability into everyone’s consciousness in vivid colour. It illustrated that sustainability encompasses many facets of society as well as the natural environment, with an infinitely long-term view of providing for future generations.At first glance, many of the SDGs seem to talk about social aspects anyway, but the beauty of the SDGs is that each goal is inextricably linked to several others. For instance, an initiative ensuring that farmers get paid decent wages while tapping on technology to grow food that is organic and pesticide-free aligns to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 12.

SDGs in Singapore

Delving deeper into the 169 targets of the SDGs, one realises that quite a few of them may not seem to apply to Singapore. As a highly developed and modern country with a high GDP, 100% literacy rate and no real primary industries like mining, forestry and agriculture, we can claim to have already met many of the SDGs’ targets.However, it is the spirit of the SDGs at which we should look, and it is then that we realise that there is definitely more that we could do.

Let us examine SDG 1, No Poverty. Singapore claims that the first two indicators do not apply as we have no poverty line, national or international (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2021). Yet, it is clear that cases of relative poverty still exist in Singapore (Ng, 2018). The problem can be simply explained by the high cost of living in Singapore (ECA International, 2021), our high Gini coefficient (World Population Review 2021) and the majority of the households having an income below the national average (Dayani, 2021) but the fact remains that the problem exists, and we need to address it within the Singaporean context.

Thankfully, besides the Government’s efforts to reduce social inequality (Lai, 2019), Singapore has had a long history of philanthropists (Ooi, 2019) who have seen to the needs of their country’s people through their generosity. Fast forward to today, and even the man on the street can be a philanthropist, with easy, direct access to many charity channels and donation portals online.

Everyone Has a Role

Ultimately, this democratisation of philanthropy is a good thing. Accomplishing the vision of “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”, requires the concerted achievement of each and every SDG.

Given the intricate interconnectivity of the SDGs, tackling any project that aims to deal with them would be a daunting task if attempted alone. Just as social issues are complex problems requiring multifaceted approaches by multiple stakeholders, so it is with the SDGs.

The 17th SDG, Partnership for the Goals, actually posits that we all have a role to play. Governments and agencies can only do so much. It is recognised that corporations and individuals alike all have responsibilities towards achieving the environmental growth and strengthening of Singapore (and the planet too, come to think of it). As the late philosopher McLuhan said: “There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew.

Eyes on the Prize

In the previous article of this series, we shared that everyone, whether individual, group or organisation, had reasons to give. It is important to avoid whitewashing or greenwashing (basically, paying only lip service about being philanthropic). Giving back to the community and/or the environment should not be about meeting reporting requirements or ingratiating oneself with the local people.

It can, admittedly, be tricky juggling one’s desire to do a particular act of charity with what said charity might actually want to achieve, or even what the eventual care recipients might really require. With over a decade championing philanthropy in Singapore, CFS deeply understands this need for balance between the desires and objectives of the donors, charities and care recipients. Yes, even if those care recipients are the flora and fauna around us. Visit here to find out how you can add value for People and Planet, today and tomorrow.

To learn more about CFS’s Corporate Sustainability efforts, please read more 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.

References

  1. Department of Statistics Singapore. 2021. Government of Singapore. Singapore. https://www.singstat.gov.sg/find-data/sdg/goal-1
  2. Ng, Cindy. 2018. Commentary: So this is what the face of poverty looks like. Channel News Asia. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/this-is-what-the-face-of-poverty-inequality-looks-like-804881
  3. ECA International. 2021. Singapore drops in global Cost of Living rankings, but remains among top 10 most expensive locations. https://www.eca-international.com/news/june-2021/singapore-drops-in-global-cost-of-living-rankings
  4. World Population Review. 2021. Gini Coefficient by Country. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/gini-coefficient-by-country
  5. Dayani, Dinesh. 2021. What is Singapore’s Average Household Income And Why It Is Different From The Salaries We Earn? Dollars and Sense. https://dollarsandsense.sg/singapores-average-household-income-different-salaries-earn/
  6. Lai, Lynnette. 2019. Parliament: Inequality has many causes and needs to be tackled practically, not ideologically, says Desmond Lee. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-inequality-has-many-causes-and-needs-to-be-tackled-practically-not-ideologically
  7. Ooi, Yu-lin. 2019. Singapore’s Earliest Philanthropists 1819-1867. Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy. https://bschool.nus.edu.sg/acsep/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2019/08/PA-WP8-Singapores-Earliest-Philanthropists-1819-1867.pdf
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News

The Straits Times: She helps pupils with special needs cope in school

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portrait of Madam Tutek Alauyah Amir

by Nur Syahiidah Zainal, 3 October 2016

Just as school starts to wind down in the last quarter, Madam Tutek Alauyah Amir’s work picks up speed.

Her mind skips ahead to new pupils entering Tampines Primary School next year – specifically the ones with special needs like dyslexia, autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – that she is gearing up to help.

For her dedication, the 56-year- old, an allied educator for learning and behavioural support at the school, won the Leading Foundation Teacher Award (LFTA) last year. The LFTA, started in 2014, specifically recognises early childhood and special needs education teachers who have made a difference to their pupils. Read more.

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News

The Straits Times – PR gives back by boosting senior welfare

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Mr Govind Bommi posing infront of the camera advocating for giving back to the community with elderly people in the back

After 20 years in this country, which he now calls home and where he was able to start and grow a successful business in water filtration, Mr Govind Bommi thought it was time to give back.

He called his lawyer in 2015, and said he wanted to start his own charity fund.

“My lawyer asked me whether I was ready to put in the time and resources to run my own trust fund,” said the 71-year-old permanent resident originally from Bangalore, India. “He asked me not to rush into it.”

The lawyer asked him to contact the Community Foundation of Singapore instead.

He told the foundation he intended to support eldercare services as he felt an affinity for a sector with growing needs.

“I am also a senior, I feel I can do something.”

Mr Bommi is married to a Singaporean. He came to Singapore more than 20 years ago to work for a multinational and decided to settle down here. He has two children and five grandchildren who are living overseas.

Foundation staff took him around to view nursing homes and rehabilitation centres.

A visit to the Metta Day Rehabilitation Centre in Tampines left an impression. “The centre helps seniors discharged from hospitals get back on their feet. Their work is meaningful,” he said.

In March 2016, Mr Bommi set up a $250,000 fund under the care of the foundation to support the centre.

He has since pledged to increase his donation to $1 million over several years to support programmes run by the centre.

Besides making the donation, he also visits the centre every Thursday morning as a volunteer to keep the seniors company. Having the foundation run his donation fund gives him more time to volunteer at the centre, he said.

“Making a one-time donation is easy, but committing time to volunteering is harder.”

When asked why he volunteers then, he replied with a laugh: “Volunteering is more fun.”

Read more.

Photo: The Straits Times

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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 https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

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

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

admin bluecube
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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

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