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COMMENTARY

Effective corporate giving: Striving for better, always

ONE of the recent meaningful philanthropic works supported by Singaporeans is a functional screening programme (oral, sight, and hearing) for seniors, with the country facing a "silver wave". It is heartening to see some of these seniors continue to lead active lives even though their eyesight, hearing and oral health may not be as healthy as before.

There is 77-year-old bespectacled Peter Chong, kicking and sparring in karate classes. Or 79-year-old Santha Bhaskar, a retired Indian classical dance instructor, revealing her secrets in maintaining youth and vitality in dance movements. We are, no doubt, inspired by their stories and many more from different pockets of society in Singapore. These stories would not be possible without the hard work and support from the Ministry of Health, Temasek Foundation Cares and corporates donors.

Corporate giving has evidently gained considerable traction over the years. A recent survey conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre shows that one in two companies in Singapore is currently involved in corporate giving, and the majority of corporate givers (64 per cent) have integrated giving into their core business function.

While it is encouraging that more organisations and individuals are embracing volunteerism and donating time and money, it is another ball game to sustain this promising momentum. There needs to be a dovetailing of financial contribution, a sustainable approach, and competency in managing philanthropic programmes to achieve the intended mandate and goals.

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For corporate giving to be sustainable, it has to be supported by a robust system that requires a mindset shift of givers to strive to do better, always. It also calls for the skilful orchestration of strategies from stakeholders along the spectrum of doing good.

There is no question that providing substantial funding is critically important. It would, however, take time for a giving culture and the know-how of giving to be cultivated. One of the first things that Singaporeans could do is to develop a positive attitude of not to unwittingly perpetuate a stigma associated with seeking and receiving help.

Meanwhile, service providers have to stay relevant to the needs of diverse stakeholders, and to uphold the quality of service in a resource-strapped environment - an uphill task for many.

HAND-UP INSTEAD OF HAND-OUT

In giving with dignity, givers should empower the communities they serve, listen to their needs and take ownership to provide help while being sensitive to needs and nuances. To create lasting impact, there ought to be a careful evaluation of gaps to identify areas where philanthropic giving can make a difference.

Bringing people with different backgrounds together to co-develop solutions is one possible way to inject cognitive diversity and to professionalise the giving sector. The Dementia Friends app is one such example of collaboration across different agencies. Jointly developed by the Agency for Integrated Care, Nanyang Polytechnic and the Integrated Health Information Systems, the app serves as a one-stop platform to provide caregivers with the much-needed resources to provide better care for themselves and dementia patients. Users can also sign up as "Dementia Friends" to help keep a lookout for missing seniors.

We also need a change of ethos and even narrative to see at-risk communities as part of the solutions, encouraging everyone to share their stories with others - to raise awareness on the challenges they face, to educate and to inspire others who face similar challenges in their lives.

A recent example is the touching story of how a talented Singaporean painter living in a mental ward for 35 years had attracted interest from art collectors to purchase his paintings. Corporates offered roving exhibition opportunities to showcase his paintings of old Singapore that were painted from his childhood memories.

Such actions help to build reciprocal trust between givers and beneficiaries, thus increasing the odds of realising sustained giving.

As the giving landscape evolves, one way to keep key players abreast is to convene key players for inspiring discussion and joint action on hot-button issues. This is what the recently concluded Temasek Trust-Stewardship Asia Conversation on 'Inspiring Giving' seeks to achieve.

On a broader level, a society is at its best when everyone is encouraged to be involved in the co-creation of value towards meaningful causes. An example is the creation of Project Silver Screen, a nation-wide programme to help senior citizens aged 60 and above, to see, hear and eat better - as highlighted in the examples given earlier.

The project, with the support of 12 corporate donors contributing S$35 million, aims to improve the seniors' quality of life. It brings home the importance of early diagnosis and intervention in age-related decline in eyesight, hearing and oral health - for instance, a study by the John Hopkins University shows that older adults with mild hearing loss are three times more prone to having a history of falling.

Beyond that, Temasekgives.sg is also created to conceive new pathways to usher in an inclusive movement of public giving and volunteerism. Project Silver Screen is the first programme that this new site is supporting, where givers partner the business community as well as individuals to care for the nation's seniors together.

As corporate giving flourishes, doing better in a sustainable and meaningful way shouldn't be just a grandiose idea or remain a good intent. It can, and should, with collaborative effort, translate into engaging and meaningful action that would make a difference and the right impact, with dignity.

  • The writer is chief executive officer of Stewardship Asia Centre, a non-profit thought leadership centre that aims to foster effective stewardship, governance and sustainability among businesses and leaders across Asia.