THAT philanthropy is not just about donating money towards a worthy cause is a lesson that Eddie Lim learnt the hard way - after paying for the education of two teenage girls in Chiang Rai in Thailand, he was dismayed to learn his generosity failed to keep them in school as they moved to Bangkok and into prostitution because of the money on offer.
"It taught me that giving money alone is not the solution for breaking families out of poverty," said Mr Lim, who is general manager of three CapitaLand malls in Singapore.
Undaunted, he redoubled his efforts, and CapitaLand's various corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects struck a chord with him. In line with its credo of "Building People, Building Communities", the real estate giant focuses its philanthropic efforts on helping underprivileged kids in Asia.
Mr Lim has since volunteered with the CapitaLand Kids Programme (CKP), and noted the programme's mix of financial support and long-term mentorship as key to its sustainability. Said Mr Lim: "I have been a CKP mentor for four years now, and I am always encouraged each time I see my CapitaKid's determination to do well in spite of difficulties in his life."
CKP is just one of many programmes that CapitaLand has initiated over the years. Under its philanthropic arm - the CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF), founded in 2005 - CapitaLand has donated over S$25 million to programmes and charitable organisations benefiting children across Asia. The foundation receives up to 0.5 per cent of CapitaLand's net profit, and supports beneficiaries in areas such as providing shelter, education and health care.
Apart from CKP, other programmes include the Singapore-based CapitaLand Kids' Food Fund (founded 2010), the China-based CapitaLand Therapy for Children Project (founded 2012), and My Schoolbag, which has contributed S$3 million to regional children for daily schooling necessities since 2009.
Said Tan Seng Chai, group chief corporate officer of CapitaLand and executive director of CapitaLand Hope Foundation: "We decided that our end-beneficiary should be underprivileged children because they are our future, and they should be given the chance to break the poverty cycle.
"We don't just give donations, write them a cheque and show to the world that we're doing something. While that's important too, we're focusing on continuous effort, which makes philanthropy sustainable."
CapitaLand has built 25 schools in China and two in Vietnam, often located in rural areas, to provide children with accessible education. In other cases, they built basic facilities for existing schools, such as toilets, canteens, libraries or even living quarters for children and teachers.
However, Mr Tan stressed that it is not just children in far-flung, rural areas who need aid. "You'd be surprised to see how many children in Singapore need help. They may be underprivileged not because they are poor, but because they may come from a dysfunctional family."
Programmes such as the Kids' Food Fund work with Community Development Councils to meet these children's nutritional needs. "There are school children who don't even have a meal a day in Singapore! Parents can be busy working, making ends meet. We work with schools to ensure they have at least one meal a day, and teach them basic skills like how to prepare sandwiches."
These are not purely solo efforts - after all, it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, CapitaLand provides platforms for its business partners to give back. "We invite our shopping mall tenants to donate resources such as stationery, and partners in the hospitality sector to donate items such as blankets," said Mr Tan.
Apart from donations, CapitaLand also aims to foster a culture of volunteerism among its partners and staff. For instance, in October last year, the company initiated the #100KHopeHours Challenge, which encouraged partners and stakeholders to pledge volunteer hours. The event garnered over 200,000 pledged hours - twice the group's target.
And within the company, staff members can take up to three days of paid Volunteer Service Leave per year, six consecutive weeks of Volunteer No Pay Leave, or even up to six months of Volunteer Part-Time Work Arrangement. They can also receive subsidies of up to S$200 for international expeditions. Last year, around 1,600 staff members contributed 17,000 hours on these schemes, attesting to their growing popularity and sustainability.
Elsewhere, the company has devoted attention to green issues - their annual Eco Race CapitaLand Commercial Trust raises funds while spreading awareness of environmental issues, while P.E.E.K (Providing Educational Exposure for Kids) educates children on green initiatives and the real estate industry since 2007.
Said Mr Tan: "Life is not just about chasing business KPIs (key performance indicators). These are things we should do and we feel good about. Ninety-nine per cent of people will come back and say, yes, they will do more, and that it has been enriching for them. Creating such a workplace culture is an important piece of attracting people to join our company."
- This is part of a series of stories on impactful corporate giving under the Company of Good programme led by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). The Business Times is supporting the initiative as media partner.