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Giving smaller charities a helping hand when the going gets tough
The past year has been an annus horribilis for the world. Covid-19 caught everyone by surprise and brought the global economy to a grinding halt. Businesses were hard hit as the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for many, and they were left in a moribund state.
However, the obstacles have not stopped Maybank Singapore in its track to give back to society.
Besides its efforts throughout the circuit breaker period to help the underprivileged — the bank was involved in the Company of Good’s Eat for Good project — it never rested on its laurels and was always wanting to give more.
With that conviction, the innovative Maybank Momentum Grant was announced on Dec 21, 2020.
The grant, worth S$2 million, was designed to uplift small but promising charities which were struggling to build sustainability during this period. And the setting up of this grant also happens to coincide with the bank’s 60th anniversary of being in Singapore. Maybank was named a Champion of Good by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
Dr John Lee, country CEO and CEO of Maybank Singapore, and Mr Martin Tan, CEO of philanthropic organisation The Majurity Trust, delve into the importance of giving back to society during these difficult times.
How has the pandemic impacted the giving landscape?
Mr Martin Tan: Emergency needs have taken priority amid Covid-19, and rightly so. This means the giving landscape has shifted with resources being reallocated towards urgent needs that have arisen due to the pandemic. While this is much needed, the reallocation of funds by donors has adversely impacted smaller charities as they now see a significant drop in the donations they receive. It is a double whammy for such charities, which have been doing important work before the crisis, and whose services remain pivotal.
Collectively, these small charities are vital in providing social and mental health support to enable people who are struggling to cope better. In doing so, it gives this group of people, and their families, the concomitant reprieve during this difficult period.
Dr John Lee: This is an area that Maybank is focused on — to empower non-profit organisations in order to create collective impact. When The Majurity Trust approached Maybank to pilot a new programme, targeting the smaller charities segment, we agreed to fund the Maybank Momentum Grant and for it to be administered by The Majurity Trust. The grant is envisaged as a capital support and capacity building programme to help small charities stay afloat and emerge stronger.
How did Maybank Momentum Grant come about? What were some challenges faced when implementing the grant, and how did you overcome it?
Mr Tan: Probably, the biggest challenge in designing the grant was introducing the recyclable component. This is a new way of grant-making that we are piloting. We believe that promising charities supported by the Maybank Momentum Grant will be on track to achieve sustainability and will have little issues over time to repay the grant. The aim is to create a positive and empowering loop so that we can continue to support other charities facing cash-flow issues — multiplying the impact of each philanthropic dollar given.
The Maybank Momentum Grant is the first of its kind here and we have partnered the Tri-Sector Associates for their expertise and experience with innovative funding models. While the concept of recyclable funds is new here, they have been piloted in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. This grant is made possible because Maybank recognises the need, and shares in this belief to transform charities beyond just providing financial aid.
Dr Lee: Just like how a banking relationship is relationship-based, we want to cultivate a relationship with the grantees. We have roped in our Retail SME Banking team to discuss how we could create a holistic programme that will benefit them. Therefore, we are providing grantees access to the Maybank Community Package, a bundle of banking and digital services for charities that consist of preferential time-deposit interest rate and digital solutions from SME Start Digital programme that Maybank will be subsidising. In future, we will also appoint our grantees as charity recipients of Maybank Cards’ TREATS points donations as well as encourage our employees to volunteer with them to serve community needs.
The nexus of the Grant is to meet charities’ cash-flow needs so that they can get the time they need to propel themselves into new ways of service delivery and fund-raising that is sustainable. The grant is designed to not only sustain, but also transform them through capacity building during this critical time, such as attending masterclasses on financial projections, and mentoring by our in-house financial experts or qualified Maybank’s SME clients who are keen to share their experience in account management and setting up digitalised processes.
Maybank marks its 60th anniversary operating in Singapore in 2020. How has your giving practices evolved over the years?
Dr Lee: We have always aimed to be at the heart of the community. This has not changed over the years, as our bankers and product and service offerings strive to meet the changing needs of different generations.
As a financial institution, we are the bridge that provides financial access to people, and, in the same way, we create opportunities for people to do good. We endeavour to be a force of good not just within our organisation, but also in creating a network effect. In view of the long-lasting impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable communities, Maybank will focus on reducing inequalities through programmes that support financial security, jobs and livelihoods as well as empowering charities.
Why is it important for companies to be giving back during this time, despite bottom lines being hit by Covid-19?
Dr Lee: Bearing in mind our mission to humanise financial services, the bank started looking for impactful and meaningful projects soon after Covid-19 hit.
As an advocate for sustaining livelihoods, Maybank’s year-long Covid-19 community support amounted to about S$3 million, including the funding of Maybank Momentum Grant. The bank started the Maybank Food Aid Programme in April 2020 during the circuit breaker period, and since then has provided cooked meals and food packs for about 9,000 people, including vulnerable families, and migrant and Malaysian workers here.
We have also started a “Heart of Singapore” campaign during the National Volunteer And Philanthropy Centre (NVPC’s) SG Cares Giving Week in December 2020 to rally members of the public to raise funds for the President’s Challenge.
We are also working with the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) under the People’s Association to launch a CDC Jobs Scheme in early 2021.
Mr Tan: The needs in the social sector are in some ways inverse in demand to the performance of the economy. When the economy takes a hit — especially now in a crisis — the demand for social services increases. This is in addition to the fundamental long-term needs that were present pre-Covid-19. With the number of individual donors potentially decreasing because of the downturn, there is a role companies can play to mitigate that gap.
Why is it important for corporate social responsibility (CSR)/sustainability practices to be embedded in the companies’ values and how has it been incorporated into the bank’s DNA?
Dr Lee: Companies should consider how they conduct their business from a long-term and sustainability perspective, not only in terms of profitability, but also being responsible within communities that they operate in. Businesses can play a key role in solving issues, and find shared value opportunities to meet the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Maybank Group has incorporated some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in our sustainability strategy, and, in Singapore, we are focused on addressing “Goal 10: Reducing Inequalities” and “Goal 13: Climate Action”. Since last year, we have set up a Sustainability Council to guide our efforts, and have set bank-wide green and social impact targets to be achieved in these areas. The Maybank Momentum Grant and our Maybank Community Package are examples of how we are reducing inequalities by leveraging our business capabilities to support non-profit organisations.
What more can be done to encourage other companies and Singaporeans to give back more, especially during this time when people may be suffering from Covid-and-doing-good fatigue?
Mr Tan: I think it is important that charities and donors, both individuals and corporations, need to know that we are in this together. In a crisis of this scale and nature, there is no single organisation that can go it alone. If we have the ability to pool our resources together, we can do so much more. The key for us is how we can do it collectively, because this crisis affects everyone.
Corporates play an important part in the giving landscape, especially in a time of scarcity and crisis. They can do a lot of good for the community simply by doing their part and giving back what they can.
Maybank staff are actively involved in various CSR initiatives to build a strong caring and giving culture within the bank. In 2019, 85 per cent of Maybank staff participated in at least one CSR activity, and contributed over 15,000 volunteer hours. Photo: Joel Lim