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Homeless during the pandemic: how our Sayang Sayang Fund responded with agility
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Homeless during the pandemic: how our Sayang Sayang Fund responded with agility

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When Singapore locked down during the pandemic, homelessness became a visible, urgent issue. Cross-border commuters and people that had lost their housing due to irregular income or family conflict joined the rough sleepers who scrape by on the margins of our society.

But with any crisis, there is an opportunity to make things better. In this instance, the authorities and social service organisations moved quickly, joining forces to provide temporary shelters. “The rapid expansion of overnight shelter capacity – from around 60 places at the start of 2020 to a peak of 920 during the circuit breaker – was a considerable feat and evidence of what can be achieved with bureaucratic will and an active civil society,” notes a new study called Seeking shelter: Homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore.

Conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), this landmark study was funded by the Community Foundation of Singapore’s Sayang Sayang Fund(SSF). SSF decided to fund this research project to gain deeper insights into the issue of homelessness and how charities can better meet this critical gap.

The study involved a nationwide street count in 2021 and in-depth interviews and was led by Dr. Ng Kok Hoe, a senior research fellow and head of the Social Inclusion Project at LKYSPP. Dr. Ng and his team found that in 2021, the number of homeless people who took refuge in temporary shelters shot up six-fold to 420 compared to 2019. 

Shelters offer greater safety, protection from the elements, and access to basic amenities. At one point during the circuit breaker, homeless shelters reached capacity. “Homelessness is one of the harshest forms of social exclusion,” the study points out. To be homeless in a pandemic, it adds, is to experience even sharper dislocation and hardship.  

Protecting people living on the streets during a public health crisis was one of the many challenges SSF stepped in to address swiftly. SSF was launched in February 2020 as an emergency Community Impact Fund (CIF) during the early days of Covid-19. It was designed to support frontline and healthcare workers.

Donors responded with overwhelming generosity to our appeal. SSF raised a total of $9.6 million from multiple platforms, tripling our initial target. A campaign on Giving.sg alone raised $1 million in donations from the public. All this helped turn SSF into our largest and most impactful pooled fund to date. 

As the pandemic unfurled, unmet needs among vulnerable groups in Singapore escalated. Our deep understanding of on-the-ground issues and strong relationships with charities and government agencies meant CFS could form strategic partnerships to channel funds to the needy in the fastest and most effective way. 

As part of its SafeSleep@Home initiative, SSF gave a $417,000 grant to four charity partners – AMKFSC Community Services, Good News Community Services, Methodist Welfare Services, and New Hope Community Services. The money covered daily necessities, furnishings, and other costs associated with sheltering over 476 rough sleepers.

As of December 2020, about 10% gained permanent housing. 

“Collaboration and trust are key in times of crisis,” says Joyce Teo, executive director at the Centre for Applied Philanthropy at CFS. Aside from rallying donor support, CFS tapped on its extensive cross-sector network to generate diverse perspectives, allowing SSF and other stakeholders to respond efficiently and collectively to the homelessness dilemma. 

To date, SSF has launched ten programmes. The fund has also worked with 891 grantee organisations and touched the lives of 359,302 beneficiaries. It is a powerful example of how collaborative philanthropy can tackle societal problems with agility. 

“The crisis created opportunities for different stakeholders and built new partnerships. It was also a useful learning curve,” notes Joyce. The learnings from this, plus the research findings from Seeking shelter, put CFS in a better position to deliver services to the homeless. “All these work together to help us build a more resilient community better equipped to deal with future crises,” she adds. 

To learn more about the Sayang Sayang Fund and its impact, please click 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.

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

Ng, K. H., & Sekhon Atac, J. S. (2022). Seeking shelter: Homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore. Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/research/ social-inclusion-project

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Make Your Donations More Impactful

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Donating to a worthy cause seems easy. Many people simply give to a charity that asks, give where they gave before or talk with friends. By being more strategic with your money, though, you can make sure your donation has more impact, regardless of whether it is small or large.

Strategic Giving

It is indeed easy to give to charities that you know or that friends recommend. Ad hoc donations without doing a bit of research and deciding on your strategic purpose may, though, have less impact or not fully align with your values.

Starting with a clear giving strategy can enhance the impact of your giving, the Singapore EDB observes. It is better to clarify your goals before considering any donation by considering what you want to change, how much effort you want to put in, the amount you wish to give and the means you have to achieve them. “While data, best practices and tools are available, philanthropy is inherently personal and driven by passions and interests.

Along with giving to causes you support, it is important to ensure that the organization you donate to is reputable. “Better Ask, Better Check, Give Better,” the Charity Portal suggests. You can ask for details such as how your donation will be used, who the beneficiaries are and how much of your donation goes to the beneficiary. Not being able to get this basic information may be a red flag. You can also verify that the beneficiary is a registered charity or provides information to the Commissioner of Charities.

If you need advice, a variety of organizations can assist. Asia Community Foundation, for instance, says it provides donors with support and expertise to make confident and purposeful giving decisions.

Finding the Right Organization for your Philanthropy

One easy way to find reputable organizations to donate to is to use giving.sg, part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), lists more than 500 non-profits and categorizes them into “causes”. You can select the type of organization, look for ones in that category, click on ones of interest to “learn more,” and donate directly once you have found an impactful organization that aligns with your goals. You can usually also receive a tax benefit.

An alternative for people who want to make a larger donation is to set up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). You can establish a fund with a donation and use the money to make future gifts to charities. Along with the administrative services that the manager provides, you can get a tax donation for your donation even though you’ll actually give funds to charities later.

The first DAF manager in Singapore and perhaps the most easily accessible one is the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), established in 2008. At CFS, said CEO Catherine Loh, “we aim to inspire and enable strategic philanthropy.” Donors can enjoy an upfront tax deduction when they make their contribution and disburse grants over time. CFS takes care of the administrative work, and it provides advisory and grant-making services. “We work with the donors to understand their philanthropic goals,” Loh said “and help them achieve their objectives. As needs become more complex, we aspire to help our donors to make the leap from ad hoc reactive charitable giving to strategic philanthropy which has clear goals and evidence-informed plans and attempts to tackle the roots of complex problems.” CFS scans Singapore’s charity sector to find worthy programs to fund, conducts due diligence and helps donors disburse grants to charities, social enterprises or ground-up groups.

Measure the Impact 

To ensure your donation has the intended impact, it is important to assess the results of what the charity actually does. You can do it yourself, or a DAF such as CFS can help with impact measurement.

The Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, one of the early movers in impact measurement, provides insights on what to measure. It explains that a donation is a social investment, and each donation should generate a social return in order to be effective. “The outcome would answer questions such as “How far has this donation gone to help, change or improve society?” and “Can the social investment be given differently to achieve a better outcome?”

Rather than just looking at how many people show up for events, for instance, you can look at how the organization changes lives, how it is a catalyst for change in a particular sector, whether it has long-term impact or just organizes events with limited impact, and other outcomes. If they don’t provide information, it may be preferable to look for other beneficiaries.

There is plenty of need in Singapore. By determining your strategy, finding the right beneficiary and measuring what you achieve, you can ensure you have the intended impact.

This article is written by Richard Hartung and is originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Living In Singapore, a magazine by the American Association of Singapore.

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Stories Of Impact

Helping migrant workers with a home and a heart

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Happy group of individuals posing with a 'home' sign.

When Li Meimei*, a single mother of two young children from Chongqing, China came to Singapore last year, she had hoped to be able to work to pay off the loan of RMB 200,000 (SGD 40,000) which she had taken out in her home country.

However, she got far more than she had bargained for when she started working for a beauty and massage parlour in Singapore. Not only did Li have to pay kickback to her employer, she was also coerced to perform illicit acts for customers. When Li refused, she was punished with menial labour such as cleaning and clearing out rubbish.

While working, Li suffered a fall and fractured her tailbone. Her employer was unsympathetic, and after discovering that Li would take a long time to recover, cancelled her work permit and attempted to repatriate her without compensation of salary or returning her kickback.

Eventually, Li managed to seek reprieve when she approached the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME). HOME is supported by the Migrants Emergency Assistance and Support (MEANS), a Community Impact Fund (CIF) managed by the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS). HOME provided Li with shelter, food and a transport allowance, even paying for her medical bills which allowed her to continue treatment for her injury.

Singapore is host to more than a million low-skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers from countries in the region, and many of these workers experience similar situations faced by Li Meimei. Unpaid salaries, overwork, physical and psychological abuse are the problems that some of these men and women have to endure during their employment in Singapore. A significant number of migrant workers are also victims of forced labour and human trafficking.

Through CFS’s casework team, HOME was able to assist 1,400 marginalised migrant workers in 2019. Out of that number, 409 workers were provided with financial assistance to pay for temporary accommodation, seek medical care and buy food. CFS disbursed a grant of over $47,500 in June 2019 using donations via Giving.sg. Such financial assistance is also extended to support male migrant workers who are evicted from their dormitories, or for migrant workers to purchase flight tickets and bus rides to reach their home countries safely.

HOME received IPC charity status in 2004, and continues to be one of the few organisations in Singapore that provides support to migrant workers and is dedicated to upholding their rights. Their efforts are primarily directed towards the welfare and empowerment of migrant workers, which are focused on but not limited to shelter, transport, crisis support, skills development, counselling and medical needs.

*not her real name

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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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The Straits Times: Philip Yeo biography raises more than $500k for charity

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“More than half a million dollars have been raised for charity in conjunction with the launch of former senior bureaucrat Philip Yeo’s biography, Neither Civil Nor Servant.

The funds collected by the Economic Development Innovations Singapore (EDIS) – which Mr Yeo chairs – will go towards helping underprivileged children, via the company’s corporate social responsibility arm, EDIS Cares.

The monies will enable EDIS Cares to expand its programmes in Singapore to reach a targeted 300 children over the next three years, EDIS said yesterday.

The EDIS Cares fund is administered by the Community Foundation of Singapore.”
Read more here.

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Bank of Singapore partners Community Foundation of Singapore to provide clients with philanthropy services

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Bank of Singapore, the private banking subsidiary of OCBC Bank, has partnered with non-profit organisation Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) to provide its clients with philanthropic services. 

 With this partnership, CFS will work with the bank’s clients to translate their interests, values and goals into philanthropic strategies that meet giving goals of the clients and match the needs of the local community. To develop these strategic giving plans, CFS will use insights from its Charities and Grants team and consult its philanthropy advisors.

In a press release on Monday (May 23), Bank of Singapore stated that the partnership comes at an “opportune time” as philanthropic activities amongst ultra-high and high net worth individuals are on the rise. 

Headquartered in Singapore, the bank serves high net worth individuals and wealthy families markets of Southeast Asia, Greater China, Philippines, India Sub-Continent and other international markets. 

Based on statistics from Knight Frank, 54 per cent of global family offices, a strategic client segment that the bank is focused on building, were increasing their philanthropic activity in 2021. 

Bahren Shaari, chief executive officer of Bank of Singapore, believes that CFS’ expertise and insights into Singapore’s charitable landscape will help the bank’s clients to map out charitable-giving goals that align with their values and ambitions.

This article was originally published in The Business Times here. Source: The Business Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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