Meet Singapore’s newer philanthropic foundations: They give millions, seeking to spark social change
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Meet Singapore’s newer philanthropic foundations: They give millions, seeking to spark social change

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Lew Chee Beng (left) founded the Lew Foundation in 2015, while Chua Thian Poh and his siblings set up the Chua Foundation in 2015.

Self-made businessman Lew Chee Beng, 73, is giving away a substantial part of his fortune through a foundation. Since he founded the Lew Foundation in 2015, it has donated more than $12 million to charitable causes. Mr Yeo Puay Hin, the foundation’s executive director and Mr Lew’s son-in-law, said of his father-in-law: “He came from humble beginnings, so it’s about gratitude – to give back to society and helping those who are disadvantaged.”

The Lew Foundation was the 16th-largest philanthropic foundation here, giving out $2.8 million in donations in 2019, according to a recent report on the largest foundations here. Mr Lew, who has four children, built his wealth from a range of businesses, such as Soon Huat Goldsmith and pawnshop chain Shing Heng Group. The foundation’s main focus is to help the vulnerable elderly and young people, and it does so through supporting healthcare and social services serving these two groups. For example, it is supporting about five nursing homes, fulfilling Mr Lew’s late mother’s wish of setting up a nursing home.

The Lew Foundation is one of the newer foundations listed in a recent report by Soristic Impact Collective, a consultancy, that shed light on the largest philanthropic foundations here in terms of expenditure. The research found that foundations set up by some of Singapore’s richest men are among the top 10 biggest givers out of the 91 foundations here. The Lee Foundation, founded by the late rubber tycoon Lee Kong Chian in 1952, topped the list, disbursing $52 million in donations in its latest financial year. 

In total, the 91 foundations spent over $264 million in their latest financial year to support a variety of causes, from education and healthcare to people with disabilities and environmental causes. And beyond the big bucks the foundations are giving away, what is noteworthy is that about 40 per cent of the 91 foundations were registered as a charity since 2011, a Straits Times check found.

Soristic’s principal consultant Pauline Tan said the growing number of the very wealthy here and a growing interest in philanthropy are driving the rise in the number of foundations set up in the past decade. There is also a growing ecosystem to support philanthropy, she said.

This includes the Asia Philanthropy Circle, a platform for Asian philanthropists to collaborate and address social problems, and The Majurity Trust, which provides philanthropic advice and grants.

Among those registered as charities in the past decade are corporate foundations, such as Keppel Group’s Keppel Care Foundation and Changi Airport Group’s Changi Foundation. The Keppel Care Foundation was ranked 13th on the Soristic report, while Changi Foundation took the 20th spot.

Then, there are individuals who made good in life who set up foundations in the past decade.

They include the Chua Foundation (29th) and the TL Whang Foundation (57th). Property magnate Chua Thian Poh, founder of Ho Bee Group, and his siblings set up the Chua Foundation in 2015. The TL Whang Foundation, registered as a charity in 2019, was started with donations by Mr Whang Tar Liang and his family. He is the younger of two brothers who built up Lam Soon Group, known for its consumer goods such as the Knife brand cooking oil.

How philanthropy is practised here has changed, with more foundations and donors looking beyond giving out cheques to seeking to create a real impact or bring about social change. Many of them are a lot more invested in the projects they fund, from being involved in the design of the programme to measuring its impact, said those interviewed.

The Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) chief executive Catherine Loh said: “Donors are becoming more focused on strategic philanthropy, as opposed to outright charity. They see their donations as social investments that will bring about social change.”

“As such, they are more willing to provide longer-term support and willing to give a longer time horizon to allow change to occur.”

CFS enables donors who pledge at least $200,000 to set up a donor-advised fund. It manages the money, advises donors on the needs in the community and disburses the funds according to their wishes.

At the Quantedge Foundation, set up in 2015, its three full-time staff engage its community partners and beneficiaries to understand their needs, identify programmes to support, and assess the outcomes achieved.

Mr Suhaimi Zainul-Abidin, the foundation’s director, said: “We believe that philanthropy is uniquely positioned to take on calculated risks with innovative, untested approaches to solving social issues, so as to encourage experimentation by the social sector, demonstrate the viability of new ideas and drive longer-lasting change.”

Senior staff of Quantedge Capital, an investment management firm, donate annually to the Quantedge Foundation – “giving more in years when business is good and bonuses are high, and less in leaner times”, he added.

The foundation’s core focus is improving social mobility.

He said: “If we do not, collectively as a society, recognise that this is an issue that we should pay particular attention to, we may well sleepwalk into a stratified, divided society in the future.”

For example, Quantedge Foundation initiated talks with the Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Technology and Design to co-design and seed-fund an initiative, where financially needy Singaporean students will get a full financial aid package that makes their entire university education tuition free.

It also worked with a charity, Playeum, to pilot a series of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths workshops as an after-school developmental programme for children from lower-income families.

Since it was registered as a charity, the Quantedge Foundation has disbursed $7.4 million in grants and committed to giving another $8 million or so more.

The Soristic report ranked the Quantedge Foundation 22nd on its list, disbursing $2.3 million in grants in 2019.

Mr Suhaimi said: “In today’s knowledge-based, technologically driven capitalist society, the winners win by such a large margin that it is not quite right to keep all the gains without sharing some with the wider community.

“One of our hopes is that wealthy individuals, families and companies will find resonance in what the Quantedge Foundation is doing, and in time, give back to the society in their own way.”

If you have an interest in strategic philanthropy or would like to start a donor-advised fund with us, 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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CFS wins two awards at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards 2019

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CFS posing with their awards at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards 2019

CFS wins two awards at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards 2019: The Charity Governance Award – Special Commendation for Governance and Management – and the Charity Transparency Award

CFS is honoured to have won the Charity Governance Award – Special Commendation for Governance and Management – as well as the Charity Transparency Award. Conferred by the Charity Council, we were privileged to be amongst a select line-up of outstanding charities that were recognised for exemplary disclosure and transparency practices at the Charity Governance Awards dinner on 3 December 2019.

About the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards 2019

 A total of 67 charities, including CFS, were conferred the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards for their overall excellent transparency and governance practices.

In addition, CFS was among the seven charities that won the Charity Governance Award

The Charity Transparency Award was first launched in 2016, to recognise charities with good disclosure practices that the Charity Transparency Framework recommends.

Inaugurated in 2012, the Charity Governance Award recognises charities  that have adopted the highest standards of governance, in line with the Code of Governance for Charities and IPCs. 

Exemplary governance and management practices

CFS is governed by a board of eminent professionals, selected via a rigorous process, who serve pro bono. They work closely with CFS’s management to steer the organisation in realising our strategic vision.  Our Board has set up several committees, with recognised experts as members, to ensure the organisation is run optimally with transparency, aligned with our mission and purpose. Since our inception, CFS has continuously invested significant resources to exceed expectations in governance, compliance and management. Part of the training process for board and staff is to highlight the importance of acting according to the highest standards. 

Sharing our lessons

Over the past years, our Board and staff have worked hard to ensure that we maintain these high standards across the organisation and in daily work. CFS’s steady growth in the last decade is testament to the trust donors and partners have placed on us, as well as the dedication of our staff.

CFS is honoured to attain this accolade and will be happy to share our experience other charities going forward. We found it especially useful to work closely with our auditors, who have provided valuable guidance and support. Charities can also draw on the helpful resources provided by the Commissioner of Charities and the Charity Council in Singapore, which we highly recommend. 

Looking ahead 

We are thankful to our partners and donors who trust our professional expertise to meet their giving goals. We are so grateful to our Board of Directors and committee members for their dedicated oversight and support.

“Ours is a business built on trust.  Good governance is integral to our success and that of our stakeholders. We will not rest on our laurels but continue to improve and innovate to ensure continued confidence in CFS,” said Catherine Loh, CEO, CFS.

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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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The Peak Power List 2016 honours 10 leaders in philanthropy and social enterprise

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Congratulations to CFS Board member Keith Chua and donor Lim Siong Guan of the Leading Foundation on being selected for The Peak Singapore Power List 2016. This year, The Peak honoured 10 leaders in philanthropy and social enterprise who have worked tirelessly towards building a sustainable future for the public good.

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Stories Of Impact

Karim Family Foundation: Donor-Advised Fund Raises $200,000 to Support Local Sports Champion Loh Kean Yew 印尼富商林益洲家族基金拨20万元奖励骆建佑

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In December 2021, 24-year-old Loh Kean Yew became the first Singaporean to win the Badminton World Federation World Championships in Huelva, Spain. 

With his unyielding fighting spirit and humble personality, Loh took the spotlight and became a sporting legend. Loh’s commitment to his sports attracted the attention of many – including those around the world and region.

Underscoring his rising popularity in Indonesia, the Karim Family Foundation, set up by the Indonesian-Chinese tycoon Bachtiar Karim’s family with The Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), awarded Loh with a donation of $200,000 for winning the Badminton World Federation World Championships. 

The Karim Family Foundation wanted to congratulate Loh, now ranked as the world’s number 15 in men’s singles, for his win and hoped that the cash would motivate him to continue pursuing his sporting dreams. 

The foundation contacted the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) through the Singapore Press Holding Media Trust’s Chinese Media Group and under the stewardship of CFS.

Bachtiar Karim is the Group Executive Chairman of Singapore-headquartered oil conglomerate, Musim Mas. Musim Mas is an integrated palm oil firm run by Bachtiar Karim with his brothers, Burhan and Bahari. In 2021, according to Forbes, the Karim family had a cumulative net worth of around US$3.5 billion (S$4.7 billion), ranked 10th richest in Indonesia.

Through the decades, the Karim Family Foundation has donated to local charities and has had a focus on sports development, arts and culture, education and mental health sectors. The businessman is known for his philanthropy, having gifted S$2.27 million to his alma mater, the National University of Singapore, to start a professorship in sustainability in its business school in 2010 and another S$5 million to various causes, including the Singapore General Hospital and the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, in 2020. Despite his justified bragging rights, the businessman himself prefers to keep a low profile with his philanthropic work.

On behalf of the Karim Family Foundation, Chayadi Karim, son of Bachtiar Karim and the main manager of the family fund, told Lianhe Zaobao: “We have always believed in giving back to society. The purpose of the Karim Family Foundation Fund is to support all kinds of meaningful social activities. This time we want to reward Loh Kean Yew, and we hope that youths will set him as a role model. I think Loh Kean Yew is amazing. Badminton competitions are very fierce, in addition to skills, winning also depends on strong willpower. I have observed this young man for a long time, and I admire his never-say-die fighting spirit.”

Chayadi Karim expressed his and his family’s support for Loh in nine words: ‘play badminton well, play badminton well, play badminton well (好打球,打好球,打球好)’, hoping that Loh will continue to give his best and play well without worries, bringing back more glory for himself. “It also proves that it is good to play sports, not just a hobby, but also as a career. It inspires more young people to devote themselves to sports, so that the standard of sports in Singapore will continue to improve,” Chayadi Karim adds.

Bachtiar’s daughter, Cindy Karim, another key administrator of the fund, said: “Our family is inspired by Loh Kean Yew’s tenacity, and it is also touching that he remains humble after such an impressive achievement. Through the Community Foundation of Singapore, we will try my best to inspire more youths to be future ‘Loh Kean Yew’s in Singapore.”

Commenting on the award, Loh who is currently playing in India for the India Open, told Lianhe Zaobao: “After I won the World Championships, well-wishers and sponsors such as Mr Karim sent me many rewards and encouragement, and I feel touched and immense gratitude for what I received. For athletes, this is a recognition of our hard work and sacrifice. Giving my best for my country has always been my number one priority. Knowing that there are so many generous people out there who are very supportive and encouraging local athletes is great and very important to me. There are so many people who have helped me in my life that I can’t thank them individually. I would not be on the podium without the support and encouragement of so many.”

Lawrence Leow, President of SBA, said: “We are deeply grateful to Mr Karim for his care and support for Kean Yew. Kean Yew’s performance on the court has inspired the imagination of a new generation of badminton fans and conveys an important message. Even though we are a small country, with the support of the many, we can still achieve good results.”

The Badminton World Championships is an event that only counts points and does not offer bonuses. The competition is not part of the “Major Games Award Programme” of the Singapore Olympic Council and therefore, Loh Kean Yew did not receive any monetary rewards despite his glorious return home.

On top of the latest S$200,000 awarded to Loh by the Karim Family Foundation, SBA revealed last week that Loh has been rewarded with an amount over S$250,000, combining a donation from local business people and public crowdfunding. Chinese sports brand Li-Ning, a sponsor of SBA, is also negotiating a long-term sponsorship contract for Loh, worth over six figures.

Previously, five local businesspeople in Singapore also raised S$50,000 for Loh after he was conferred the title of world champion and awarded the gold medal. The five businesspeople are Ang Kiam Meng, executive director and group chief executive officer (CEO) of Jumbo Group, Daryl Neo, co-founder and CEO of DC Frontiers, Dora Hoan, group CEO and co-chairman of Best World International, Eugene Ang, managing director of JK Technology, and Wei Chan, managing director of Pine Garden’s Cake. 

Subsequently, Chan, who led the first fundraising, set up another donation fund called the ‘Low Kean Yew Encouragement Fund’ via Ray of Hope earlier this year to allow contributions from the members of the public to contribute. Chan started the new initiative after many members of the public approached him hoping to show their gratitude in a similar way. Collectively, at the time of this writing, the two funds have raised over S$210,000. 

If you too, would like to support a meaningful cause of your choice, please read more here.

This translated article was adapted from the feature within Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 here. Source: Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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Stories Of Impact

Heart Of Goodness: The Vocal Prowess Of Stefanie Yuen Thio

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She stands out for her irreverence. Her saucy humour. Her no-holds-barred views on a gamut of issues from cryptocurrencies to shady KTV business owners. However, right now, flanked by vibrant Pop Art in her living room and two energetic dogs, Stefanie Yuen Thio is in “pensive mode”. In fact, she is downright disturbed.

As part of the Singapore Together Alliance for Action (AfA) to tackle types of online harm, the corporate lawyer has just come from a discussion about the growing harassment women face. “It’s not just sexual grooming and revenge porn,” she says. “Women, more than men, face a higher incidence of gender-based abuse on the internet such as cyberstalking, trolling and violent threats, and teenage girls are even more vulnerable. 

“We need to take a stand. It’s time the community took control,” she says. AfA is a government-led initiative, tapping youths, tech companies and academics, as well as corporate figures such as Yuen Thio, to come up with ways to make the online world a safer space. Foremost is to raise public awareness of the need for it, as victims typically have little idea what to do. 

Other goals are to create a code of best practice, to offer assistance and to scrutinise how social media is shaping online behaviour as well as mental wellness. A recent study from Nanyang Technological University, for example, found that the more time we spend on Facebook, the greater our risk of suffering from depression. 

A Voice For The Underprivileged

Yuen Thio knows well how social media can define us. Her voice is regularly heard on LinkedIn, where she has over 13,000 followers and was ranked one of Singapore’s top voices in 2020. She can also be heard on the BBC, where she is a guest commentator. Her tongue-in-cheek posts can be uninhibited, sometimes raising eyebrows and drawing flak. But this is not distracting Yuen Thio, who is clearly comfortable marching to the beat of her own drum, from championing the causes she believes in and sparking conversations that could galvanise change.

The online harms alliance, launched in July, is the latest of Yuen Thio’s advocacy work outside of her day job as joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corporation, a boutique corporate-law practice. She is also bringing her energy and savvy to the pandemic’s exigencies: as Singapore battled Covid-19, she has been driving efforts to help frontline workers and those hard hit by the cratering of the economy. 

“I read a story about an ambulance driver who was turned away from a chicken rice stall and about nurses who could not get a taxi home,” she says. It dredged up memories of SARS, when hospital staff were shunned during the 2003 outbreak for fear of them somehow carrying the virus. “I thought f— that! We’re not doing that again,” she says.

Empowering Others To Help

So, early on in the crisis, she helped put in motion the Sayang Sayang Fund with the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), a nonprofit that promotes philanthropy. Yuen Thio, who sits on the board of CFS, seeded the fund with a $20,000 gift. Managed by CFS, the Sayang Sayang Fund has since ballooned to over $9.6 million and supported more than 359,302 people in the Republic. 

Her law firm, too, has stepped up. With many of its staff working remotely via laptops, TSMP is donating unused desktops to the needy. The firm, which sets aside 10 per cent of annual profits for charitable giving, has been sponsoring meals and care packs for hospital workers. And, in Cheng San-Seletar constituency — its MP is Nadia Ahmad Samdin, a former TSMP lawyer — its staff have befriended and accompanied seniors to get vaccinations. 

This hands-on volunteering is in addition to the pro bono work the firm does. All its lawyers are encouraged to do 25 hours per year, to improve access to justice for the under-served. The firm takes a special interest in cases where migrant workers are treated badly and works with groundup initiatives such as Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, Transient Workers Count Too and It’s Raining Raincoats

Yuen Thio, who was an advisory board member for the NUS Centre for Pro Bono & Clinical Legal Education from 2018 to 2020, recalls a tea that TSMP organised for foreign domestic workers. “We talked about their rights. And so many of them cried because nobody had ever looked at them with much humanity,” she says.

The Law Firm That Gives

The firm has also established the TSMP Law Foundation to allow more structured giving, something Yuen Thio is hoping to prod more wealthy Singaporeans into doing. With husband Thio Shen Yi, who co-founded TSMP with his mother, the couple has created a #GivingBack Foundation through CFS, which helps individuals set up and manage funds and grants. The foundation also works with over 400 charity partners in Singapore. 

Through these plans, she hopes philanthropy will be less ad hoc and will become more a part of the Singaporean DNA. As part of their legacy gifting outreach, for instance, CFS is encouraging everyone to leave something in their wills to charity, be it properties, equities, art or wine. But beyond that, she wants Singaporeans to start on their philanthropic path earlier in life. 

“Charity should start early and not only after you die,” says Yuen Thio. CFS can help set up foundations within as little as 24 hours and is reaching out to the well-off through private bankers and family offices. 

She also advocates getting the next generation involved to further institutionalise giving. “The tragedy of this generation is a sense of purposelessness. There are too many safety nets,” reckons Yuen Thio, who has a son studying in London. 

However, she notes that the youth of today also have an altruistic streak and can be swayed by causes such as climate change and social inclusion. Their motivations, compared to “my generation whose goal was to make money first”, will undoubtedly shape the future of philanthropy.

What is also firing her up at the moment is how women are reshaping philanthropy. She describes the no-strings attached, big-ticket giving by MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos, as inspiring. In her opinion, “…Women are more concerned about impact, not control. We look at needs and, in my experience, are much more ready to open our wallets when a cause resonates with us. We tend to give from the heart, men from the head. Men are less emotional, they think of data and longevity of legacy,” she says.

Another generous giver is Melinda French, the ex-wife of billionaire Bill Gates. Both Scott and French are donating to causes that empower women and boost education — things that Yuen Thio believes could turn the tide for gender equality. Reflecting further on how these women have come into their own after their divorces, she says, “Sometimes, when the wife has lived in the shadow of her husband, you need a marriage to break down for a woman to really shine.” 

Strength in Solitude

For herself, she has found solo travel to be empowering. Yuen Thio embarked on her first one three years ago and chose Beirut. “I had never lived by myself or had my own space. I wanted to feel how it was to be my own person in the world, out of my comfort zone,” she says.

Armed with her telephoto lens, the photography enthusiast made her way to the Lebanese capital and was thoroughly struck by the city’s contrasts. A memory of the bombed-out Holiday Inn rubbing battered shoulders with the palatial Intercontinental Phoenicia stands out for her, attestation to the resilience and durability of the human spirit.

Women, more than men, face a higher incidence of gender-based abuse on the internet such as cyberstalking, trolling and violent threats, and teenage girls are even more vulnerable. We need to take a stand. It’s time the community took control.

When she turned 50, she packed her bags for a solo trip to Bordeaux and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She chose the wine region in the southwest of France because she speaks French, and the concentration camps in Poland to try and comprehend the past. “I wanted to understand human history,” she says, adding that we shouldn’t run away from confronting terrible things. Walking through the extermination chambers, she was shaken by the banality of evil. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what evil feels like. It creeps up on us.’” 

Covid-19 has halted her travels, both for work and for leisure, but it has also given her time to slow down, connect more, write more. 

“I’ve always liked writing,” says Yuen Thio, who spent one holiday during her university days as a cub reporter for The Straits Times Life!. Whether advocating for clients, the under-served, or simply musing on an issue that moves her, Yuen Thio makes an impact with her inimitable, eloquent voice.

If you would like to begin your journey of giving back, get in touch with us.

This article was originally published in A Magazine here. Permission required for reproduction.

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