No. 30 Jul-Aug 2009
For Volunteers, Donors and Non-profits
Second Wind AWARE: A post-mortem
David Bussau: Purpose-led economics
Blessing or Disgrace? Samuel Ng rocks the social work boat
Our Shared Stake The sudden rise of civil society
Ten Good Years and Counting The Presidentâ€™s Challenge
ExxonMobil Tanks Up Front-line community programmes
contents rs, Donors For Voluntee No. 30 Jul-Aug 2009
fits and Non-pro
SALT No. 30 Jul-Aug 2009
ON THE COVER O
Hi Hijacked, held at knife-point, mugged on several continents, battling corrupt officials – it’s all in a life’s co ssing Ble u: David Bussa or Disgrace? work for Opportunity International’s co-founder and w ts Senior Australian of the Year, David Bussau. S Trigger Poin l ExxonMobi Up Page 20 P ks rs Tan Yea Ten l d Winem SecRE:ond A post-mort
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and Stil CountingChallenge The President
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LETTER FROM SALT
NEWS BRIEFS A wrap-up of events, programmes and activities in the People Sector.
Photograph by Rick Carter P
PEOPLE SECTOR PEOPLE Blessing or disgrace? Samuel Ng, the maverick founder of the Young At Heart! (YAH!) College for the elderly, continues to rock the social work boat.
WALK THE TALK ExxonMobil’s front-line approach to community service programmes that pay themselves forward.
It’s the time of the active citizen. Recent spurts of collective campaigning independent of political parties, mobilised surprising ground support. All signs point to the coming of age of civil society here.
As interest in international volunteering grows, a new group seeks to “prep” volunteer groups with practical knowledge and practices gleaned from its pool of experienced volunteers.
12 The AWARE postmortem: An e-world of activism fuelled the shifting platforms of the AWARE saga. The lessons learnt and the way forward in the next phase.
Social iCon 2009 promises to unnerve and challenge some comfortable thought perches and social innovation platforms. The theme for the one-day conference in October is social innovation and new social models
SALT & PEPPER Good benefits and good partnerships in hard times. Businesses may not be open to every approach, but they may still be open to the right approach.
PRESIDENT’S CHALLENGE Ten good years, and counting. The President’s Challenge grooves along with changing times.
SALT KIT This downturn may just the turning point to re-assess your real currency in life. As time runs out, the buzz words your inner success guru intones may just be “volunteer” and “give”.
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L E T T E R
F R O M
S A L T
SALT is a non-profit magazine with a managed circulation for members of non-profit organisations, grantmakers and companies in Singapore. Those interested in receiving a copy, please email email@example.com. We regret that the print run prevents fulfilling all requests. International readers please email subscriber requests and mailing details. There will be an annual postage and handling charge for all international subscribers.
MANAGING EDITOR Laurence Lien
EDITOR Monica Gwee
CONTRIBUTORS Adeline Ang Angele Lee Braema Mathi Eugene Tan Wong Sher Maine
PUBLISHING CONSULTANT AND MEDIA REPRESENTATIVE Epigram SALT is published quarterly by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre 6 Eu Tong Sen Street #04-88 The Central Singapore 059817 Tel: 6550 9595 Fax: 6221 0625 Website: www.nvpc.org.sg Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright is held by the publisher. All rights reserved. Production in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. The views and opinions expressed or implied in SALT are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher. Printed by Fabulous Printers MICA (P) 153/01/2008 ISSN No. 17933-4478 To advertise, please call Cynthia Tay at tel: 6292 4456 Email: email@example.com
know that some of you may be thinking that the AWARE issue has been beaten to death. But I think there are many valuable lessons we can draw from the episode. What is critical is that we gain a better appreciation about what civil society is, its role in our society, and the concerns and challenges that we should watch out for. This is articulated eloquently in our lead feature by Eugene Tan. Braema Mathi, in our other lead, provides an “old guard’s” post-mortem of the AWARE saga. She sees greater activism by Singaporeans, particularly in the e-world, and wonders how we can be more accepting of diversity in the secular space. While some of us wished the AWARE episode was differently handled by both the “new” and “old” guards, I believe that it was a very helpful and necessary for the maturation of our fledging civil society. The lesson, I believe, is not that we avoid conflict altogether in future, but rather, how we can learn to interact better with one another and confront realities, while understanding that there are people in different factions having different values and mindsets. Beyond the AWARE episode, the question also is how we provoke people into taking ownership of issues and challenges that exist in our midst, and taking action on them. Many of us in the non-profit sector are greatly saddened by counsellor Anthony Yeo’s demise. His was an incredible example of someone who went well beyond his call of duty to give so generously and graciously of himself to the many people around him, and who inspired many of us to give of ourselves. In the early 90s, when I finished university, I wanted to take on a part-time course in counselling with the Counselling and Care Centre, having been personally inspired by him, but was disappointed that they didn’t have a programme outside office hours then. Anthony’s impact on the social service sector will continue to live on. It is also a timely reminder to celebrate people when they are alive. This issue, we are inspired by two individuals who dare walk the untrodden path. David Bussau, who was Senior Australian of the Year last year, has dedicated the bulk of his life transforming poor communities around the world. He may not be known to Singaporeans, but he is no stranger to Singapore, serving on a non-profit board here. We are also inspired by the dare of Samuel Ng who, at Marine Parade Family Service Centre, has continually challenged convention and continues to innovate to do new things. Lastly, I would like to thank all readers of SALT. Thank you for your solid support over the years, which has sustained the team at NVPC and Epigram all these years. We at NVPC are seriously considering taking SALT online. We think that an online platform will provide us with a much greater potential to provide new value to our existing readers, for example through greater interaction and feedback, and allow us to reach out to many more new readers. We’ll keep you posted.
Laurence Lien Chief Executive Officer National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre
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N E W S B
A WRAP-UP OF HAPPENINGS AROUND SINGAPORE
Community Day “In the Genes” at Levi Strauss
Hearing impaired artist Julia Tan from Very Special Arts selling her handmade accessories.
EVI Strauss and Co’s employees across Asia Pacific took a day off in May to “trade in” their computers for brooms, paint brushes and gardening gloves to volunteer at non-profits in their respective countries. The global jeanswear company awarded cash grants totaling US$300,000 to non-profits around the world. About 50 employees from the company’s regional head office here took time off from work to paint the SPD Ability Centre. They spent time with the beneficiaries through games, interactive activities and lunch. The activities celebrated Levi Strauss’s annual global Community Day, begun nine years ago. The Levi Strauss Foundation made US$7.5 million in grants globally last year.
H.E.A.R.T CONSCIOUS BAZAAR
Staff from the Levi Strauss and Co Asia office wrapped up their “Community Month” at the Society for the Physically Disabled by painting the premises and spending time with their charges.
The crowd at the May H.E.A.R.T. Market. In the foreground is the booth from Muslim Kidney Action Association.
eld on the second weekend of each month, the Handicrafters, Entrepreneurs, Artists, and Retail Talents market is a sociallyconscious bazaar at Sculpture Square, Middle Road. An ideal laboratory for youth entrepreneurship, the bazaar encourages social responsibilities among young retail talent. The market allocates a number stalls for charitable organisations free-of-charge to promote social entrepreneurship. Some of regulars include Very Special Arts Singapore, Friends of the Disabled Society, the Muslim Kidney Action Association, and student projects raising funds for the Chen San Lu Methodist Children's Home and for overseas humanitarian missions in Cambodia. The bazaar attracts an average of 3,000 shoppers daily, a recent May event pulled over 7,000 shoppers. The H.E.A.R.T. market is a partnership between Calamine Solutions and Sculpture Square.
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Upsized Free Lunch with Coca-Cola & McDonald’s C
oca-Cola Singapore and McDonald’s treated about 70 children and their parents from low-income families in the Ayer Rajah West Coast district to a free lunch on 8 May. The event at McDonald’s West Coast restaurant location marked CocaCola’s 123rd anniversary.
They were hosted by Coke’s Singapore staff and McDonald’s. Mr S. Iswaran, MP for West Coast GRC, Mr Antonio Del Rosario, General Manager of Coca-Cola Singapore/Malaysia, and Mr Alex Yeo, General Manager, McDonald’s Restaurants Singapore, mingled with the families. CocaCola has been in Singapore since 1936.
Hiiiiaaaah!! Mr Inderjit Singh poised to break a board – and a record at the HSR charity event.
HANDS ON BREAKS WITH HSR PROPERTY GROUP
From left: Mr Antonio Del Rosario, GM, Coca-Cola; Mr S. Iswaran, MP for West Coast GRC; Mr Alex Yeo, GM McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald.
GRASS ROOTS BOWLS FOR CHARITY
t was a charity bowl where strikes were as important as the spirit of the game. Grass Roots Asia Pacific celebrated their 2nd birthday by partnering with Habitat for Humanity Singapore to raise funds at the Kallang Leisure Park on 12 May. Guests showcased their competitive bowling skills and Grassroots donated $1 for each point in top scoring games. Invited guests also participated in a silent auction for products donated from their respective companies. All proceeds went
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to Habitat for Humanity Singapore. The Grass Roots Group, headquartered in Britain, is in 16 countries globally, employing over 1,000 people with an annual turnover of some US$530million. The group provides programme design and planning, communication, learning, measurement, rewards and events solutions to help clients achieve business goals more effectively. Ms Vicki Sim from Habitat for Humanity Singapore accepting a cheque and explaining Habitat’s mission and various activities to Grassroots staff and guests.
ver 800 realtors from HSR Property Group targeted the Singapore Book of Records on 8 April – for charity. They tried to break the record for the “Most Number of People Breaking Wooden Boards” with their hands to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Held at HSR’s annual Family Congress and Gala Night at the Singapore Flyer, HSR raised $16,000 for the charity. This is the fifth time HSR has challenged the record for, among others, Most Number Of People Walking on Broken Glass and Most Number Of People Breaking Arrows On Their Throats.
Ten Good Years, and Counting From July, you can SMS your President’s Challenge donations. It’s all part of how the annual, nation-wide charity fundraiser has grooved along with changing times.
creative and friendly and competitive ideas that involve companies, their staff and many different segments of the community. Through donations or volunteer efforts, PC veterans and newbies all pitch in to help those less fortunate. Year in, year out, donations have increased, far exceeding the initial target of $3 million set in 2000. The annual bar was raised to $8 million in 2007 and 2008, even then, donors disregarded economic challenges to pump in over $12 million for the Challenge. So much for donor fatigue. In its 10 years, the PC has raised over $75 million for over 400 voluntary welfare organisations here. The efforts have involved individuals, groups, corporate leaders, staff volunteers, students and a host of others too numerous to head count. Like all high profile marketing events, the PC engages imaginative “sell” and heartwarming donor “buy”. Over the years, all manner of ideas, big, small, straightforward, crazy, inspired, simple and complicated, have gone through the PC programme brief. When Singapore kicked off its inaugural Singapore Grand Prix Mr Wong Tar Lee, 74, a beneficiary of Lions Befrienders Neighbourhood Link last year, the Istana was outreach programme for active seniors. Lions Befrienders is a beneficiary of the natural venue for the the President’s Challenge 2009.
ego studs, exquisite floral arrangements, and Formula 1 Grand Prix action are just three unusual aspects of the evolving, grand dame of annual charity events: The President’s Challenge (PC). This year celebrates the 10th anniversary of the charity fundraising Challenge first initiated by President S R Nathan in 2000. What began as a nationwide challenge to raise funds for the social service sector, has become a platform for
The good turn-out at the Assisi Hospice Carnival.
CARNIVAL LIFE AT ASSISSI
very dollar raised from the 190 charity fair stalls – 30 more than last year’s count – supported palliative and hospice care programmes at Assisi Hospice’s three core services of in-patient care, home care and day care centres. The Charity Fun Day for families on 2 May at St Joseph’s Institution International, targeted $500,000 in fundraising, supported by co-organisers City Developments Ltd and CBM. Co-sponsors were the Singapore Totalisator Board and Singapore Pools. Assisi experienced a 30 per cent fall in donations since January and needs about $5 million annually for its services. Last year, it served 1,088 adult and paediatric patients and is expanding some of its services while expecting more patients to require financial assistance. Among the day’s highlights were the Teddy Bear Giro Donation launch. Limited edition bears were sponsored by Sembcorp.
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F1 Charity Luncheon held on 26 September 2008. Graced by President S R Nathan and past and present F1 champions, the event was modelled after the famed F1 charity programmes in Monaco under the patronage of reigning Prince Albert. Singapore’s event raised $1 million for PC 2008. In 2007, LEGO Education (South & East Asia), engaged the People’s Association in a creative community project using the famous LEGO building studs. Five Community Development Councils, many grassroot organisations and around 150,000 LEGO studs were used to build a 2.54m by 3.81m President’s Challenge 2007 logo. Members of the public were invited to contribute $2 for every LEGO stud used in the logo, receiving a special bookmark as a receipt for the “A Sea of Hearts, We Serve with Passion” LEGO event. From building blocks to an exquisite exhibition of flowers, the unusual and creative floral exhibition and a charity dinner organised by the Singapore Sogetsu Association helped raise $94,000 for the PC in 2006. In another effort, well wishers forked out $150,000 for copies autographed by the President for Heart Voyage 2, a special edition of nature photographs donated by well-known businessman Mr Kwek Leng Joo for PC 2008. Each year, the President selects a list of charities in the social service sector as beneficiaries. These are typically in need of funds, or which have problems raising funds on their own. Over the past nine years, PC has funded an average of 46 charities each year. St Luke’s Eldercare, for example, received PC support in 2004 and 2007. In 2007, the charity received $200,000 for recurrent operating expenditure. The funding enabled more than a 50 per cent subsidy for clients at the various St Luke’s centres. The average monthly costs for elderly day care set by the government at $652 was reduced to $320 per client per month. St Luke’s also received $802,150 from PC in 2007 for building and fitting its Bukit Timah Centre which began operations in July last year, caring for 37 day care clients there.
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Wheelchair beneficiary: Retraining for employment – Mr Victor Sim, 45, IT Specialist Trainee at the Infocomm Accessibility Centre, Society for the Physically Disabled. The centre is a beneficiary of President’s Challenge 2009.
This year, there are 37 beneficiaries and a target to raise $8 million as in previous years. This year’s 10th anniversary celebrations included a memorable showcase of talents staged at the President’s Command Performance concert. There was also the President’s Challenge Launch at the Singapore Flyer. Upcoming events include: – The Heart Bus and Heart Train in late July. The concept train, a first here, highlights the partnership between corporate sponsors and beneficiaries. – Run Singapore in September, the first charity run on the F1 track, organised by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and Yellow Pages
The President’s Star Charity Show in October ✩
FOR DONATIONS TO THE PRESIDENT’S CHALLENGE 2009: ✩ Go to www.pc.org.sg for credit card donations ✩ Write a cheque payable to “President’s Challenge 2009”. ✩ Mail to: President’s Challenge 2009 c/o National Council of Social Service 170 Ghim Moh Road #01-02 S(279621) Attn: Ms Mae Kng ✩ From July 2009, donate via SMS to 78888: Key in: SMS Code<space>NRIC SMS code for $2 donation: PC2 SMS code for $10 donation: PC10 SMS code for $20 donation: PC20 There are no SMS administrative charges.
Clarifications In the May-June issue of Salt’s lead story, “Not So Lonely at the Top”, the Code of Governance was drafted by the Charity Council. In “A Great Way to Fly – SQ’s Volunteer Crew”, Singapore Airlines supported a dinner organised by MILK (Mainly I Love Kids) to raise funds for the nonprofit’s own programmes by providing 15 return air tickets from Manila to Singapore for a children’s choir from an underprivileged community in the Philippines, to perform at the dinner.
Yah! I’m Different, So?
Blessing or disgrace? Samuel Ng, founder of YAH! Community College for the elderly, rocks the boat with vision, grit and a clear course. WONG SHER MAINE meets the maverick social worker.
ward-winning social worker Samuel Ng tells you point-blank that for all the good work he may have done, there are plenty of people in the social service sector who think he is a disgrace to the profession. “Some people say I‘m too crude and direct and I offend a lot of people. Some say I’m too aggressive, and some say I do what I do for personal glory,” said Mr Ng, 43. “I always feel like an alien in the social work industry,” he added, comfortably. Mr Ng, now the Chief Executive Officer of the Marine Parade Family Service Centre, never set out to be a dogooder. He was awarded the Outstanding Social Worker Award in 2001. “In my entire youth I had never heard of social work”, he recalled. He only stumbled on the profession because he had to major in two subjects during his National University of Singapore days. Chinese was his passion. “My friend called me and told me that the aptitude test for social work was different. There was no exam, I only had to talk. It was an interview.”
“ In Chinese, it’s literally translated as Happy College. YAH! Community College was inspired by a vision of black-haired audience members applauding whitehaired graduates.” Following graduation, a churchbased non-profit organisation approached him to join its ranks. Nearly two decades later, he has made a name for himself as an outspoken social worker with a mind of his own. “I am not a thinker. I am a do-er. I like to think of myself as a pioneer on the ground,” he said. And as with anything
prevention. “Remedial care is very costly and in some instances, the social workers can follow their cases for years,” he noted. For instance, he observes that by the time bickering couples approach social workers for help, most marriages are already past redemption. Or by the time the poor elderly are discovered in their shabby one-room flats, ill, illiterate and Samuel Ng (centre) with helpless, the circumstances are different, there is always YAH! College graduates. usually already critical and complex skepticism and even fear. for social workers to work through. When he piloted a cyber-counselling He speaks passionately of helping service to reach out to teenagers in 1999, the poor elderly. “We have to promote social workers were aghast that he dared to “breach” two counselling fundamentals: the self-help concept.” It is a group that concerns him deeply, a relevant focus the element of face-to-face communicagiven Singapore’s greying numbers. tion, and client confidentiality, as email Which is why he started the YAH! exchanges could be intentionally or Community College in 2005. In Chinese unintentionally accessed. For five years, he was a regular guest it is known as “Kwai Le Xue Tang”, literally speaker on a television talk-show, speaking translated as Happy College. It was inspired by his vision of black-haired audience up on social issues. He was accused of members applauding white-haired graduates. trying to raise his own visibility. Currently, about 900 elderly students, When he started the YAH! Community mostly Chinese-speaking heartlanders, College in 2005 to provide training courses for Chinese-speaking elderly, many accused have studied at the college. Lessons include subjects such as taiji and hanyu pinyin. him of treading into education instead of After clocking 100 hours of lessons, YAH! staying true to the spirit of social work. students graduate. There are school rules, “There must be people who innovate, a school song and a uniform. “It’s fun, not just for the sake of innovation of experiential and participative,” Mr Ng said. course, but to meet changing needs,” It has also been very moving. “Lives he argued. are being transformed at the age of 60 or Has he thought of quitting the sector 70,” he said, trotting out one happy graduate altogether? “A few times I really wanted example after another. One octogenarian to quit. I’m not that noble,” Mr Ng said. who had lapsed into depression after her “But following the NKF (National Kidney husband’s death, became an active volunFoundation) incident, I feel that the teer after she attended the college. Her social work sector is now in a developing son, in his 60s, is now also a volunteer. phase and it’s very exciting. People are Elderly mother and son are a typical beginning to be aware that social work is success story. And a good enough reason why not volunteerism. It’s a profession.” Mr Ng is a blessing – albeit an unorthodox Mr Ng is pushing for social work to one – to the social work industry. ✩ evolve from reactive remedial care to active
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s h a r ed
st a k e
It’s the time of the active citizen. Recent spurts of collective campaigning have mobilised surprising ground support. EUGENE TAN analyses the coming of age of civil society here through the passionate and visible advocacy of certain groups in recent events.
hat do the recent, various debates and public controversies in Singapore on an eclectic array of issues share in common? Consider the AWARE leadership struggle, Section 377A of the Penal Code, legalising casino gaming, the Serangoon Gardens residents dispute over workers’ dormitories, Chek Jawa, and transient foreign workers. All are issues that inspired collective activism and ignited exuberant advocacy, and, at times, strident and vociferous debate. Most of all, perhaps unusually for Singapore, these issues mobilised visible, articulate and confrontational support. Civil society, represented by organised interest groups, sought to engage fellow citizens, other civil society organisations, and the government on these issues. Our civic imaginations were challenged over the possibilities, problems and provocations thrown up by determined supporters, vigorous activism, and passionate debates. Indeed, it is precisely civic engage-
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ment and experience, covering the broad spectrum of informal and formal associations to champion and encourage involvement in social platforms, that can help in the development of a country’s shared community space and our sense of belonging. Often, different value positions are better understood through challenges that are strongly aired. Even if there is no resolution to the differences, at the very least, the different actors would be exposed to contrasting viewpoints, value systems and propositions.
trouble at aware It began innocently enough as an internal, “domestic spat”. The recent AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) controversy that played out in a few short but intense weeks between March and May this year, subsequently turned into a dispute acted out on a national stage.
The dispute quickly transformed into a contest for survival of two executive council groups against a dramatic backdrop of accusations, death threats, mud-slinging, and concerted actions by the protagonist camps to rally supporters to sign up as members to attend an Extraordinary General Meeting. The “AWARE saga” shoved civil society into the public eye. It raised many questions about the role of civil society, and how it should operate in our society. Hot button issues such as religion and politics and government intervention were thrown in for good measure. Home Affairs Minister Mr Wong Kan Seng found the media coverage of the saga “extensive and breathless”, but regarded some of the reporting as “not sufficiently balanced”. New media (such as blogs, Web 2.0, Twitter, and a 24/7 cyberspace of observers and participants) plugged in. It added a new, gritty edge to
traditional forms of civil society activism and support mobilisation. As a leading women’s organisation, those in control of AWARE could potentially be well-placed to set the agenda and influence the direction and focus of this well established “blue-chip” civil society organisation. For the “new Guard”, securing leadership in AWARE would have enabled them to moderate what they saw as AWARE’s apparent excesses and liberal inclinations. That in itself would have been considered an important moral victory and facilitated the professed right-sizing of AWARE to its supposed original purpose. Because of the issues at stake and the constituencies affected, the squabble within AWARE naturally drew into the fray various groupings including gay individuals and activist groups, and those opposed to homosexuality, concerned parents with school-going children, and groups of Christians. The ante was also raised as the various recasting of entire categories of people connected with the AWARE saga, were deemed inaccurate, unacceptable, or discriminatory by the stakeholders themselves. There was also the palpable concern over allegations of mixing religion with secular matters.
the playing field Prior to this, civil society was already showing renewed vigour and promise with new interest groups being formed whether or not they were registered under the Societies Act, the main legislation governing civil society organisations. The enactment of the Public Order Act in mid-April signalled the gradual and monitored liberalisation of political space, and the parameters governing recreational and social activities. This was in line with a maturing civil society, and the political intent to give Singaporeans more political space to exercise their rights of speech, assembly, and association without compromising stability within the society. In some respects, what happened in AWARE reflected the prominent faultlines and reputed divides in Singaporean society. The issues surrounding the
leadership tussle within AWARE, while seemingly resolved for now, point to the evolving diversity and innate complexity in our fast-changing society. At the same time, the shoulder-rub of seemingly unrelated issues in the AWARE controversy suggests that the necessary and growing diversity of our society may be a potential ‘battle-ground’ in the years ahead. At its core, this clash —if not chasm—has its root in values. Specifically, the debate and challenge centred on the sort of values that Singapore should promote, be identified with, and oppose. The AWARE dispute showed that Singaporeans are willing to exercise their freedom of association and speech, and see civil society as a platform from which they can promote or defend their interests and causes. So what is civil society?
what is civil society? In essence, civil society is the voluntary associational life between the family and institutions of the state. The space that civil society occupies is one that is voluntary and plural in nature. It represents the citizen’s freedom to associate in relation to the state. Conventionally, civil society is related to the state – it is apart from the state, but not necessarily in opposition with the state.
The importance of civil society to democracies is worth underlining: Its absence would invariably signal the absence of democracy as well as the freedoms of association that are needed for democratic engagement.
The importance of civil society to democracies is worth underlining: Its absence would invariably signal the absence of democracy as well as the freedoms of association that are needed for democratic engagement. It is in civil society and the space it occupies that individuals or groups come together to pursue a common purpose. Civil society’s relevance to political life lies in its potential to contribute to public discussion and debate on what is democratically desirable and politically permissible. In so doing, it generates public opinion distinct and apart from the state. It is also engaged in a process of dialogue, both creative and critical, with other civil society actors, the public, and the state. We are likely to see the passing existence of some groups as well as sustained engagement, mobilisation and participation of other groups. There will be private interest advocates as well as those engaged in wider, public interests that may have political implications. Some types of civic engagement, such as social welfare delivery, will be relatively risk-free. Others that deal with socio-political issues will have to operate carefully even as our political system becomes more liberal.
civil society under the banyan tree The government here has preferred to describe civil society as “civic society”, or the “people sector”. This suggests the space for associations and its related freedoms, will have to be conceived and practised differently in Singapore than elsewhere. Indeed, civic society is seen in pragmatic and community terms. In 1991, then Acting Minister for Information and the Arts, George Yeo, saw civic society as a necessary ingredient in creating “a complete soul” for a young nation-state in a rapidly globalising world with multiple loyalties. He argued that by anchoring individuals and families to Singapore, a strong civic society would help make Singapore a home, rather than a hotel. In seeking to make life better for themselves and fellow Singaporeans, affections and traditions are developed, giving Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
citizens “their sense of place and involvement in the larger community” regardless of whether they are in Singapore or not. Mr Yeo noted the “banyan tree effect” where if “state institutions are too pervasive, civic institutions cannot thrive”. But he also observed that while the banyan tree has to be pruned, that had to be done judiciously since “we cannot do without the banyan tree”. In a speech to the Harvard Club in January 2004, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, developed on the role of civic society in 21st century Singapore. He acknowledged Singapore society has to “open up further”, promoting “further civic participation” and “progressively widen(ing) the limits of openness”. These are inevitable even as the out-of-bounds (OB) markers persist. Assuring that the government will “do its utmost to build a civic society” and adopt a consultative style of governance, Mr Lee said that the government “will promote a political culture which responds to people’s desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore’s growth as a nation”. While the government would cut the apron strings, Mr Lee also emphasised we would have to develop our own kind of civic society as “we will not ape others blindly and do something simply because it appears fashionable”. Mr Lee encouraged Singaporeans to take on active citizenry with gusto, noting that civic participation “involves many helping hands in many areas” ranging from high policies to social work, selfhelp groups, the arts, or our daily lives. It is clear that Singapore seeks a rational, issue-centred, educated, informed and active citizenry. Increasingly, the interests, needs, and concerns of citizens will be articulated and addressed through avenues and ways not linked directly with the political parties or the government. It remains to be seen if civic activism will evolve into a social movement here. It would appear that the liberal concept of civil society as a check on the government has not gained traction with the powers-that-be. What is more likely to take firmer root is the concept of civil society as a
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partner in active citizenry, and as one of the “many helping hands” in social welfare assistance and delivery, volunteerism, and philanthropy. A distinction seems to be drawn between social and political engagement. The abiding concern with stability suggests that civil society can be a potential threat if its focus is only on political engagement. As Law Minister Mr K Shanmugum put it starkly: “Stability for us is an existential issue – both economically and as a society.” But the current thinking is that civil/ civic society will remain essential in our nation-building quest.
what’s the big deal about civil society? Civil society has many virtues. First, it engages citizens in issues that they feel are important and want to contribute to. Citizens who participate in policy-making can help in the policy-making and implementation process. Second, an individual’s involvement in various aspects of community life enhances the quality of life for Singaporeans. It helps develop community interests by bonding like-minded people in shared activities. Third, active citizens help deepen a sense of rootedness and can enhance the stake that individuals have in a country. Associational life also helps sustain
A destructive effect of a bad civil society is when an attitude of mutual benefit is not practised, and one side tries to dictate the terms of the discourse and railroad the outcome.
common values and community life in a plural society. Cooperation with others can grow the social capital for a common civic culture and value-system to thrive. Fourth, civil society can act as a key dialogue partner with the state through critical debate in the public space. This promotes accountability in government and civil society as both sides have to pursue their agendas in a responsible manner. Often, both players will adopt innovative ways to further their agendas, and promote their causes. It is this process of careful, democratic discussion – the mutual exchange of ideas, views, and critiques – that has tremendous potential in scaling up civic dialogue, debate and participation by citizens in areas they deem important. Such a process should result in the positive outcome of more and better governance but, paradoxically, with less government. After all, governments do not have a monopoly on wisdom and know-how.
the dark side of civil society Civil society is not necessarily apolitical – it is not disinterested or unconcerned with politics. Civil society is the way a society acts towards a common purpose, and also how it influences ideals and views, and develops desired values and norms. It is hardly surprising that civil society is a contested space. It is populated by a variety of groups, some of which may have a particular, malevolent and individual interest and objectives that may be inward-looking, or which may not promote democratic citizenship. Such a state of affairs should not surprise us since pluralism cannot be strait-jacketed, especially in a space where participation, autonomy and freedom are critical. We have, and will continue to see, civic groups motivated and slanted towards goals that may be too particular and self-serving. Going forth, as Singapore becomes more diverse, the challenges and debate will invariably be over values, especially moral and religious ones. Challenge will increasingly shift towards more subtle differences and will centre on value
systems, and how the support or objection to such value systems will be fought over. As we seek to develop the common and shared space, we need to be alive to the dark side of civil society. In Singapore’s context, this dark side is the potential to undermine or destroy the foundation of community spirit in our society – such as multiracialism and meritocracy. It can also weaken the quality of democracy and participation. “Bad” civil society impoverishes and destroys the social capital all citizens invest in – our relationships of trust and mutual benefit. Since Singapore emphasises a harmonious society, open conflict and confrontation are frowned on. Nonetheless, in the AWARE saga, brash in-your-face advocacy and activism, publicity-seeking histrionics, and inducing moral panic, were all par for the course. Amid the passionate advocacy and exuberant debate was the ugly resort to threats, insults, and a holierthan-thou attitude. This does not speak well of our budding civil society. For sure, some messiness, dispute, and differences are all part and parcel of civil society. But assertive demonstrations must not take on the dimensions of a zero-sum game, and disregard the central importance of being mindful of the differences within our society. The larger good of society is another important consideration. As a society, we urgently need to learn how to avoid conflicts over diversity in our society, and when they do occur, how to manage such conflicts if we cannot resolve them. Norms of civility, or the rules of engagement, are how we manage differences, and agree to disagree with very different people and values in a shared space. It requires deliberate, cultivated restraint. This is especially so when the conflicts and disagreements are stubborn, with starting points so uncompromising, that decisive resolution cannot be expected. Then, an attitude of “live and let live” has to prevail. Crucially, civility underscores the value and need for mutual benefit. Reciprocity incorporates good faith and recognises other people, including those who may hold very different views
and values. A destructive effect of a bad civil society is when an attitude of mutual benefit is not practised, and one side tries to dictate the terms of the discourse and railroad the outcome. Worse, fear, prejudice, hate, bigotry, and even violence are promoted in an attempt to remove the differences, or to assert moral superiority over a competing viewpoint. If civil society here is unable to self-regulate, then the authorities will step in. This would be a severe setback for our fledgling civil society.
If civil society here is unable to self-regulate, then the authorities will step in. This would be a severe setback... The bottom line is that civil society actors must resist thinking and operating in narrow, self-interested ways stemming from a sense of moral superiority.
a joint stake The bottom line is that civil society actors must resist thinking and operating in narrow, self-interested ways stemming from a sense of moral superiority. In disagreements over values, we should not insist that any concession, where given, is an admission of the giver’s inferior moral standing. By the same token, civil society actors must strenuously avoid demonising their “opponents”. Such rigid, moral logic only undermines the heart of civil society as a space for associations directed by tolerance, autonomy, respect, and dignity.
We should observe the “beliefaction distinction”. Singaporeans are entitled to their beliefs and values, and to promote them so long as they do not offend the law. But actions flowing from such beliefs and values must not offend against the obligation of maintaining and improving the foundation principles of our society. In some respects, the AWARE controversy is a blessing in disguise. It brought to the fore issues that have been simmering in some quarters, and provided an opportunity for those concerns to be vented. It vividly demonstrated that Singaporeans do care and can be counted on to protect and promote passionately, the values and causes that they believe in. Of course, there were actions by the protagonists that did not speak well. It is a learning journey for all concerned. The government showed restraint, offering its counsel discreetly and objectively. Another civil society actor, the National Council of Churches of Singapore, helped to cool temperatures by stating unequivocally that it did not condone churches getting involved in AWARE’s internal dispute. More importantly, it also counselled against “pulpits being used” in the dispute. The civil society landscape here will continue to be diverse, complex and contested. The forms of civic participation will evolve and change with time to meet multi-faceted needs and rising expectations. Regardless of the nature of activity, civic engagement and its demands of commitment, sacrifice and time, will be hallmarks of a vibrant and thriving civil society. We all have a stake in it. ✩
The writer is Assistant Professor of Law, School of Law, at The Singapore Management University.
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WIND It was an e-world of activism that energised the shifting platforms of the AWARE saga. The struggle on values flushed out individuals willing to stand and be counted for their beliefs. In this post-mortem, BRAEMA MATHI sees greater ownership of ideas and convictions at the grassroot level in the next phase of civil society here.
T WAS a slip-up that led to a dramatic Annual General Meeting that ended a month later with an exciting Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM). The hourly, daily and internet updates created comment and discussion communities over the issues around AWARE, (Association of Women for Action and Research), and it was soon termed the AWARE saga. As the excitement subsides, it is timely to re-assess what happened in April and what lessons can be drawn from the event.
A Clash of Idealogies Perhaps the first thing worth noting is that what happened at AWARE is no different from what has been happening to the women’s movement the world over. The clash of ideas and values has been
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tested a few times in various countries over the last 20 years, through a challenge of differing ideologies over women’s roles and women’s rights over their own bodies. The conservative and often faithbased approach has been to emphasise the nurturing aspects of women, the importance of being pro-life (or anti-abortion), and adopting an anti-homosexual position. In contrast, the liberal camp emphasises empowerment and individuality as choices that women will make on their roles and about their bodies. One recent case of this contestation blowing up is the recent killing of Dr George Tiller, 67, a pro-choice and late-term abortion doctor who ran the only such clinic outside of Kansas City in the State of Kansas.
This tension will continue as there is no one answer for everybody when it comes to value systems. So, what happened to AWARE on March 28 is not unique. What astonished was this clash of ideologies came to Singapore and to the women’s movement through AWARE. It is after all, an organisation whose goal is to empower women to make considered choices in their lives, choices over their roles in the family, at the workplace, in society, their sexual choices, and to ensure that there is no systemic discrimination against women. Takeover or Witch hunt? Takeovers do happen. They have occurred at recreational clubs, in en-bloc management committees, in companies,
political parties, governments and even non-profits. Often they involve some level of conspiracy, catching the incumbents off-guard. And more often than not, they are also achieved through legitimate processes. The individuals from the same church who sought to wrest control of AWARE through a takeover, must have been motivated by a sense of concern and considerable outrage to infiltrate AWARE with intent to overthrow its Executive Committee. The modus operandi was to form the majority on AWARE’s Exco legitimately. This team of “new guards” then went into a lock-down mode of control. Soon they began to “sift” through documents to isolate materials, for eg, the instructor’s guide for the comprehensive sexuality education materials, to prove AWARE’s “wayward ways”. They then called a press conference to expose AWARE’s wrongs and to justify why the “new guard” took over the organisation. It was well planned. Yet this seemingly legitimate process triggered considerable discomfort and a degree of distaste among many diverse groups of Singapore women. Why? For starters, there is the goodwill that AWARE generated among its passive and active followers who were outraged by the “set-it-right” intent inherent with any new group that takes over the running of an organisation. Even if one were immune to activism, the new guard’s agenda, its very act of taking over an established organisation, riled many civic-minded actors who viewed the “ousting” of the “old guards” as a moral issue – and a witch hunt. Then, as both online and mainstream media began investigating the “saga”, people shifted in their support with each revelation. The challenge for power was first dismissed, rather patronisingly, as a “catfight”, a “squabble”, a “power struggle among women”. But as more emerged into the public domain, it became clearer this was a claim on value systems and social space. When it was finally confirmed at the new guards’ press conference that their motivation was to stop AWARE from “promoting” homosexuality, it then became
defined as a contestation between the religious right and secular society. In fact, the battle to uphold secularism took centrestage, overshadowing issues of women’s rights and choices over their bodies, these AWARE tenets were submerged in the straight fight for the secular space over religious predominance and vice-versa. What also worked against the takeover approach was how the new guards ignored the many options open to them for addressing AWARE’s “wayward” ways. They could have called for a meeting with the Exco led then by Ms Constance Singam, written letters to the Straits Times Forum pages, alert Ministers, or even alert the Registry of Society on the alleged wrong-doings. But they did none of these. Instead they focused on a power grab for AWARE. That intention alone, rendered their actions suspect. The new guard’s method of dismissing staff members and the Chair of a sub-committee, just made them appear inexperienced in non-profit management, and reinforced stereotypical, high-handed corporate culture behaviour. As any corporate-trained executive working in non-profits realises soon enough, any effort to corporatise the social service sector requires sensitivity and thoughtful handling of incumbent staff and volunteers. The new guards’ actions showed up their lack of such understanding. Supporters of the new guard continue to argue the power grab was legitimately conducted, and that AWARE had provided the opportunity for a take-
As any corporatetrained executive working in non-profits realises soon enough, any effort to corporatise the social service sector requires sensitivity and thoughtful handling of incumbent staff and volunteers.
over because of its constitutional loopholes, so the “‘old guards” should stop complaining. Admittedly, AWARE made some critical slips. Its Exco had delayed sending off its amended constitution to the Registry of Societies which would have prevented members, new and old, from leap-frogging into executive positions without any volunteer track record. Constitutionally, the AWARE President’s term is limited to a year with a possible extension for another year. This time limit increases AWARE’s own volatility in the absence of an executive management staff, causing some fluctuations in processes, systems and programmes. Other non-governmental organisations in Singapore have longstanding Presidents and Chairpersons which allow for deeper branding, a vigilance over processes and issues and greater community connectivity. This constant renewal of leadership, a good thing in itself, may have led to a lack of closer scrutiny over the comprehensive sexuality education materials. AWARE has always maintained that homosexuality has a place for discussion in such a programme, but a closer analysis of the language used in some of the trainer manuals was in order as some words carry their own powerful connotations. However, these slip-ups do not justify a take-over bid to “correct” AWARE’s “wayward” ways. The organisation’s volume of work over 24 years and its commitment to empowering women and promoting gender equality, belie the accusations that it has “lost its way”. There is also a gnawing suspicion that AWARE itself was incidental to the cause of the new guard members – an excuse, to raise the alarm on the growing space given to homosexuality in Singapore. Eye of the storm: e-nerve centres Both online and mainstream media played a key role in shaping the support for the two groups. There were two pivotal news events that shifted sides. The first were the two separate press conferences called by the new guard and the old guard that clarified each group’s positions on homosexuality and sex education in schools. Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
“No” to discrimination among women by other women and men.
Some 3,000 members, many waiting hours to join on-the-spot, attended the EGM to vote.
The new guard’s position on homosexuality galvanised gay men and women into action as that constituency regarded the “attack” as an affront to their sensibilities. They formed their own e-nerve centre to stay abreast and gather supporters in default support of AWARE. Ironically for the new guard, their stand on homosexuals brought many people to the EGM who previously, held neutral views on the gay community. On the other hand, petitioners were sending their complaint letters to the Ministry of Education on the old guard’s sexuality programme. The second “media moment” was Pastor Derek Hong’s sermon. The new guard members attended his church and during a Sunday message, he reaffirmed the Church’s stand against homosexuality and called on the congregation to support the new guard in their efforts. That call to action changed the landscape. The National Council of Churches of Singapore issued a statement cautioning against using the pulpit for social issues. Pastor Hong subsequently apologised for his comments and arguably, many churchgoers stayed away from participating at the EGM. “Live” news was also delivered rapidly and instantly through the e-world of writers, bloggers, videographers and photographers. Online sleuths operating in anonymity from both sides, also posted e-mail correspondence of supporters on various blogsites that fed into the cyber-
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Diversity is Singapore’s dilemma and strength. Tolerance is a good first step, but we will need to learn the coping strategies that enable accepting diversity as a norm. space frenzy. E-communities blossomed through Facebook, Twitter, forums and video-blogging. This drew a fair share of vitriolic commentators from both sides. The 3,000 supporters at the 2 May EGM at Suntec Convention Centre, comprised a mix of AWARE members – loyal supporters of the “old” and “new” guards, upset homosexual women and men, “can’t miss the show” supporters and fence-sitters. The State, the Church and the People Disengagement, a light touch, then heavy commentary – this was how the government responded in the AWARE “saga”. The government made calibrated, even-handed remarks before the EGM. But it also needs to be acknowledged that the contestation was based on religion versus secular society through the women’s agenda, the latter playing a secondary role in the saga. The issue
had become by then, focused on homosexuality. It is heartening the State adopted a measured approach, calling for a cooling-off at most. Since the EGM, the comments have reiterated the need for maintaining a more secular approach in a multi-religious society, and how we all need to work together, and not at each other’s expense. Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Mr Wong Kan Seng clarified the parameters on the relationship between faith-based groups and political and social causes. He emphasised Singapore’s values of mutual respect, tolerance and accommodation. The same sentiments were also shared by the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) and members of the Inter-Religious Organisation. NCSS’ President Dr John Chew, added that its members, like other citizens, are not precluded from participating responsibly in matters of social concern and well-being of the community. In Parliament, recently Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Thio Li-Ann spoke out against militaristic secularism, and also outlined the role that faith-based groups can play regarding social concerns. The people sector, or civil society, was already becoming more active mainly in the virtual world and over at Speakers’ Corner (since the relaxation of rules for use of that space). The AWARE
Braema Mathi (second left) & “old” AWARE supporters.
Voted back in control: Exco members supported by “old guards” after the EGM. New AWARE President Dana Lam (front row, right)
saga acted as a catalyst in this process – it flushed out more people who took ownership and stood up openly for their beliefs. There are many who believe we have witnessed a watershed moment in activism and in support of the secular space in this diverse society on 2 May. What impressed me most was the queue of people at the EGM who lined up for hours to have their say– the women were unstoppable, they were articulate and unafraid to express their views. If that is the way our society can unfold – individuals standing up and articulating their beliefs – we will see greater ownership of ideas and convictions at the grassroot level in the next phase of civil society here. Lessons: Diversity and Acceptance The AWARE saga threw up a blind spot – the single-minded, focus on homosexual issues to exclude, almost entirely, the body of work AWARE had accomplished as an organisation. It’s time we examine how we can create dialogue across chasms of misconceptions. Secular-based groups can work with people of many faiths. But a “takeover” approach can mean lost trust that takes years and energy to rebuild. The only way forward is for more dialogue and the maturity of spirit and mind to agree to disagree on differing ideologies, and to look for opportunities to work together. Diversity is Singapore’s dilemma
There are many who believe we have witnessed a watershed moment in activism (at the EGM) and in support of the secular space in this diverse society. and strength. Tolerance is a good first step, but we will need to learn the coping strategies that enable accepting diversity as a norm. Walking this balance between diversity and acceptance will be a long process of trust-building and engagement. Though we have good social structures and grassroots activities such as Racial Harmony Day, we need a deeper understanding of how to embrace diversity to live with each other as we become even more of a “rainbow nation”. While the EGM was the day many Singaporeans stood up to assert what was important to them – either way – we have also inadvertently caused one community – homosexuals – to feel even more isolated in this nation. Ironically, perhaps due to the anxieties of the new guard, this public episode may have consolidated gay activism here as the community bands even more strongly around efforts to deny them space. The struggle for the complex diversities of the secular space has
also brought out an ‘ugly’ side. In some instances, the hatred and severe misunderstanding for opposing sides of the values divide was palpable. The most positive aspect of this is the way new media tools kicked into action. It brought many to support what AWARE stood for, and in many cases, caused individuals to understand what they believed in. It also highlights the character of civil society evolving in Singapore – it is an e-world of activism. For the many hours during the EGM, twittering on AWARE was the most widely read around the world, displacing swine flu. The 70-member pool of volunteers supporting the “old guard” plugged into the e-world and did whatever it took to gather support. This vibrant activism is already paving the way for greater connectivity. E-activism has fired the imagination and we need to harness it – for the real world. It has also strengthened AWARE, now reviewing all its processes and programmes to ensure that any contestation, will be discussed thoroughly for deeper understanding and more effective and relevant action. ✩
Braema Mathi is Chair of the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She was a former President of AWARE and a Nominated Member of Parliament. She is happily single and heterosexual. Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
Tanking Up the Front Line
ExxonMobil has invested in corporate Singapore since 1893. ANGELE LEE examines the energy giant’s front-line approach to community service programmes.
hat does an energy company do but invest in energy? Or, in the case of ExxonMobil, in the energy of individuals who play a role in building society. ExxonMobil AsiaPacific has always understood the value of human resource in Singapore, and many of its community programmes choose to champion the people who make an important difference in the lives of others – among them teachers, social workers, and volunteers. This focused sponsorship recognises the carers rather than their charges, and the benefits then “pay themselves forward”. Such schemes not only reward the contributions of the award winners and spur them on to greater heights, but also call on others to recognise their efforts, as nominations for the awards come from colleagues, peers and clients. The Outstanding Social Worker Award is one such programme ExxonMobil here has taken on board. Jointly organised with the Singapore Association of Social Workers and the National Council of Social Service, it is the highest award conferred by the President of Singapore to dedicated social workers.
“ ExxonMobil’s focused sponsorship recognises the carers rather than their charges, and the benefits then “pay themselves forward”. Now in its ninth year, it has so far recognised 15 award winners. Each has received personal development grants of up to $5,000. The winners come from varied backgrounds – from medical social workers to those who work with students or marginalised families in family service centres. Another sponsorship running in
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a long-term perspective in their community commitments – after all, the energy giant has been a part of Singapore since 1893. As one of the largest multinational corporations in Singapore, ExxonMobil with its ubiquitous brand, does not take its corporate citizenship lightly. Part of its business left to right) Last year’s tandem is the biennial (From Caring Teacher Awards winners, management system includes making Caring Teacher Award. Michael Kwok, Deborah Ng and a positive and lasting difference in Halimatussa’diah Jaffar, have gone beyond the call of duty for the communities where it operates. Launched in 1998 by their charges. This is integrated through the ExxonMobil together company’s Employee Volunteer Involvement with the National Institute of EducaFund (EVIF). The global initiative encourtion, the biennial award has since been ages employees to build community relations conferred on 15 exemplary teachers by volunteering their time and services. to honour their “nurturing hearts and Through the EVIF, funding is provided passionate teaching spirits”, and to further to organisations where ExxonMobil their personal and professional development. employees are active volunteers outside When nominations closed for last their work capacity. Funding is not year’s event, close to 2,000 nominations had been submitted, proof of the immense restricted to charity organisations as long as the cause is devoted to community service, reach of the teachers. and they may be scientific, medical, literary, One of the 2008 Caring Teacher Award educational or cultural. On average, the winners, Mr Michael Kwok received his company supports three such concerns award and was moved to say, “A job is in Singapore each year. Last year, these what you do to earn a living, but a calling included the Singapore Red Cross Society is what drives you to impact lives.” and the Redhill Student Service Centre. In his speech at last year’s awards One employee who has taken ceremony, Mr Jeffery Davis, ExxonMobil advantage of the scheme is ExxonMobil’s Chemical’s Asia Pacific Manufacturing Feedstock and Optimisation Manager, Director, quoted Carl Jung: “One looks Mr Ho Siew Cheong. He serves at Reach back with appreciation to the brilliant Community Services Society which teachers, but with gratitude to those who also manages the Reach Family Service touched our human feelings.” Centre in Bishan, providing counselling He explained ExxonMobil’s stake in and other services in the area. the awards, “The teachers help foster not Mr Ho obtained funding under the only a skilled workforce, but a caring and EVIF to help defray some of the costs of cohesive nation that works together in organising events for the less privileged. peace and harmony.” “This is a good gesture on the part of the The current economic downturn has not affected ExxonMobil’s commitment to company,” Mr Ho said. “It encourages sponsorships that are invested in Singapore’s staff to volunteer time and talent and be involved in the community.” ✩ future. The company has always adopted
Sign Posting for Volunteers Abroad As interest in international volunteering grows, a new group seeks to “prep” volunteer groups with practical knowledge and practices gleaned from its pool of experienced volunteers. ADELINE ANG checks out the International Volunteerism Association.
octors have Grey’s Anatomy (the book, not the television series) as a definitive reference, lawyers rely on their legal precedents. But where do international volunteers go for resource information and support? Besides the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and a handful of experienced volunteer mentor groups, there is now also the International Volunteerism Association (IVA). The newly-established Social Enterprise aims to help volunteers and non-profit organisations by allowing them to learn from the experiences of those who have gone before them – probably the hard way. “Volunteerism is growing in the life experience of Singaporeans. More and more people are participating and leading volunteer teams in schools, non-profit organisations and even in companies,” said Theodore Teo, Vice-Chairman of IVA.
“ We hear anecdotes (of misguidance) and wish that these volunteers could have (sounded out) their plans to someone familiar with either the place or the issue they faced, before they embarked on the expedition.” “We hear anecdotes (of misguidance) and wish that these volunteers could have had an avenue for sounding out their plans to someone who was familiar with either the place or the issue they faced, before they embarked on the expedition,” he added. IVA emphasises preparation for international volunteer experiences where physically challenging environments and cross-cultural issues may introduce additionally challenging elements. The idea for IVA surfaced when volunteers from various groups came
service and engaging overseas partnerships. Agencies focused on a targeted audience could seek IVA’s assistance to help frame projects, customise, implement and evaluate their programmes. Some of these services will at IVA’s be provided at a fee, with special together for a dialogue session. Volunteers inaugural “Breakfast with a Soul” gathering. rates extended to IVA members. Building from that session, “The IVA is a social enterprise, so IVA Dr Chan Yew Wing, President of the will survive from the funds it raises from Raleigh Society and member of the National Youth Council’s Youth Expedition training and consultancy,” Teo explained. Teo believes IVA’s difference may be in Project’s Advisory Panel, began to rally its consultancy services which cover a range volunteers whom he believed would be a of issues ranging from Risk Assessment useful resource for others who may need Management Systems, Emergency Action help with their volunteer efforts. and Communication Plans to Partnership The Raleigh Society, the Singapore Development and understanding host International Foundation, the Scouts, country laws,practices and taboos. religious organisations, and other similar IVA held an International Volunteerism groups have been part of a rich history of Forum on 5 July 2008, in partnership with solid volunteer experience and managethe Youth Expedition Project of the National ment. Experienced volunteer managers Youth Council. More than 120 practitioners and volunteers from organisations like in the volunteering field participated in these form the core of IVA’s orientation networking and sharing sessions, as well and preparation for new volunteers. as interactive panel discussions. “These groups were passionate about Last October, IVA held its inaugural the quality of volunteerism. We realised “Breakfast With A Soul”, attended by that if there was a platform to enquire, to volunteers from such diverse organisations share, to get trained, provide others with as ONE SINGAPORE, Asia Europe a group of people to exchange thoughts and Foundation, Singapore Maritime Founideas with, it would be a faster, easier, less dation, Singapore General Hospital, City painful pace of growth for organisations Development, National Council of Social to learn,” Teo said. Service, National University of Singapore, The IVA says its training differs NTU, UniSIM and Singapore Airlines. because of its international approach. More such events are in the works, ”While volunteer principles are and IVA has embarked on a membership quite similar, international volunteers drive, continuing its efforts to increase face more variables in their challenges,” the pool of volunteers available to share, Teo said, for example, “people-to-people train and learn from each other. sensitivities cannot be taken for granted.” “We know that fields differ, cultures Among its offerings, IVA wants to differ, team member dynamics differ. IVA provide volunteers with training requirewill promote best practices and minimum ments, needs and risk assessment, social standards for volunteering,” Teo said. ✩ community learning, project evaluation
Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
Good Benefits, Good Partnerships
It may seem almost impossible convincing corporates to support your cause in the global downturn. But while businesses may not be open to every approach, they may still be open to the right approach. GUY HEARN argues a case for beneficial partnerships in tough times. BY
GUY HEARN DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS INSIGHTS O M N I COM M ED IA G ROU P
Salt and pepper shakers from a private collection.
btaining corporate support for the non-profit sector is hard enough during good times, but now that times are getting tough it will be almost impossible, right? It’s tempting to think so, but if you look at the situation more carefully, as the old song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so” Of course it is true Chief Executives and business owners are going to be examining all aspects of their budgets carefully, cutting back on non-essential spending and generally trimming fat. In the media industry, we know this all too well; marketing budgets are being reduced and advertising spend is down. But for non-profit agencies, it’s not all bad news. First of all, it’s instructive to look at past recessions. According to Caroline Cavicchio, former CEO of the Philanthropy Division of Changing Our World, Inc, in the 1980– 82 recession, corporate support for charities actually increased. And in the recessions of the mid70s and the 2001-02 downturn, support did decline, but by less than 10 per cent. All of which suggests that although businesses may not be open to every approach, they may still be open to the right approach. So what is the right approach? Obviously business leaders are no longer able, if they ever were, to simply open the corporate cheque book in response to every direct appeal. And supporting a
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lavish golf day may seem inappropriate when their staff and customers are tightening their belts. So it pays to understand the criteria that businesses consider when evaluating support for your cause. These include: Partnership potential: Many businesses are more interested in a longer term partnership that they can commit to, rather than frequently re-evaluating their commitments. What are the benefits of a long term engagement with your cause?
“…If we are able to talk intelligently about how a partnership will be of value, now is actually quite a good time to be starting the conversation.” Brand Fit: Businesses prefer to engage with causes that have a good fit with their brand values. So for example, a business with a focus on information may be a good fit with an educational or training project; a business with young women as its main customers will be more receptive to a specifically women’s health project than a general health project; a business whose brand values are focused on tradition, heritage or continuity, will be open to a cause that supports the elderly. When approaching a potential corporate partner, do some research and try to gain some understanding of what their brand is about – this is likely to
impress them and increase your chances of being heard. Opportunities for Participation: Team building and motivation are priorities for many businesses. They will be looking for opportunities for their staff to engage with your cause, develop new skills, bond, and even have some fun. They will be much less interested in making a passive donation Non-monetary Support: Are there opportunities for businesses to support your cause by donating services, consultancy or goods as an alternative to donating or raising money? Professionalism: Most businesses will be looking for a partner that makes supporting them as easy and efficient as possible. They will be receptive to a professional partner that makes as few or unnecessary calls on their time as possible The more you are able to discuss the benefits of partnership in these terms, the more chance you have of finding a receptive audience and of success. Your approach to a corporate partner should be at least as much about the benefits to them, as the benefits to your cause. Overall, it’s important to remember that although business leaders in tough times will think more carefully about making new commitments, and will look critically at those already in place, if we are able to talk intelligently about how a partnership will be of value to their business, now is actually quite a good time to be starting the conversation. ✩ Guy Hearn is Director of Communications Insights, Asia Pacific, Omnicom Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience consulting in the non-profit sector.
Stop and Smell the Flowers
JACK SIM walked away from the rat-race at age 40. He wearied of life becoming a scoreboard, notching up “hits” against others as a measure of success. This downturn may just the turning point to re-assess your real currency in life. As time runs out, the buzz words your inner success guru intones may just be “volunteer” and “give”.
n an agrarian society, people cherish simple joy. Human beings don’t need much to be happy as we can see from the Gross Happiness Index of the remote nation of Bhutan. As societies industrialise, capitalism promotes individualism. Just when knowledge seems like power, the internet globalises it until knowledge becomes a free, open-source commodity. Our over-consumption eventually reaches saturation point and the selfdestructive process is now upon us with the threat of global warming and other environmental disasters. Was progress really progress? Our next era will be the Age of Wisdom where we search for simple joy and meaning again. In our rush for economic success, we often have stressful days when we wish we could just make enough money to adopt a much slower pace of life, not be so hectic in our schedules, spend more time with our families and friends, learn a new language or musical instrument, learn scuba diving and under-water photography, even stop to smell the flowers…you know those days. Well, the recession might just offer you the best opportunity to get out of the rat-race. In fact, you may not be prepared for it but when the opportunity arrives, why not make the best out of it? I walked away from the rat-race at age 40. On reflection, I have concluded capitalism is a futile game we cannot win. The game’s key elements are jealousy, fear, stress, a depletion of human kindness and a continuous sense of inadequacy. The original purpose of money for sustaining livelihoods, gets blown out
“Life is easier when we don’t compare. Simplicity is a form of happiness itself. Simplicity teaches you that you can choose to live at your own pace. ” of proportion. Acquiring branded goods with huge, ostentatiously displayed logos proves how nervous we are about who we are in the social ranking strata. Life has become a scoreboard. As someone once said, “We buy the things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress the people we don’t like.” The scoreboard distracts us from what is meaningful. If we can put aside winning and losing as a measure of our purpose of life, we will be able to discover new dimensions of meaning not clear to us before. In Singapore, an average man dies at 78 years and a woman at 82. Subtract that from your current age and multiply by 365: that’s the number of days you can expect to have left to live. Tomorrow, it will be one day less. Money is not the currency. The real currency of life is time. When time runs out, life runs out. Envision what you’d say to
yourself at the last moment before you close your eyes eternally. It is unlikely you’d be counting how much money you have at that moment, because you can’t take the money with you. Volunteering to help others and philanthropy are some of the joyful things you can do when you’re alive. When we cease to become our own centre of focus, pressure and stress disappear. When we focus on caring for others, a warm and pleasant feeling energises us and makes us feel really good about ourselves. This spiritual reward is something money cannot buy. Forbes or Fortune magazine may try to tell you that the guy on the front cover is a successful person. Such publications prey on your sense of inadequacy. You can reject such an attack on your ego. I once asked a former communist cadre from China who went through poverty and is today a senior officer in a government owned company: “Are you happier now that you are rich, as compared to the time when you were poor?” She answered: “Our family was happy when we were poor because everyone was poor at that time. We are now rich and also happy. But the most difficult time for us was when our neighbours became rich first while we were still poor. That was a most painful period.” Life is easier when we don’t compare. Simplicity is a form of happiness itself. Simplicity teaches you that you can choose to live at your own pace. We don’t need much to be happy. We don’t need to have much before we give love to and care for others. Remember: The Business Times Model of Success is not compulsory. ✩
Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
S A L T S H A K E
Purpose-led Economics David Bussau has battled corrupt officials, been hijacked, held at knife-point and mugged on several continents – in the line of work. WONG SHER MAINE is won over by the remarkable retiree named 2008’s Senior Australian of the Year and the life-changing Opportunities International he co-founded.
omewhere in the Randwick suburb of Sydney lives a genial white-haired gentleman. He takes leisurely walks in the beautiful Centennial Park to reflect on life, and for all appearances, is the archetypal retiree reaping the fruits of his lifelong labours. Except, David Bussau is no ordinary retiree. The first half of his working life was spent building up a fortune, and the second half has been spent helping the
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very poor to make their own. Or at least, to make their own living. Mr Bussau was named Senior
Australian of the Year in 2008 and has received a clutch of prestigious entrepreneurship awards. “If you want to transform
“ After a while, I developed a sense that the challenge had gone out of making money. It didn’t seem to be that difficult. I reached the ‘economics of enough’ – where I (didn’t have) to go through the stress of building bigger and bigger businesses all the time.”
R S & M O V E R S communities, you have to economically empower them. There’s just no other way. You can be there for years giving out free food, housing and education, but if people are not economically empowered, they don’t take responsibility for themselves,” he said emphatically. What has kept him busy for the last 30 years and even now, is Opportunity International, an organisation he founded with the late Al Whittaker, former President of Bristol Myers International Corporation.
“ If you want to transform communities, you have to economically empower them. There’s just no other way. If people are not economically empowered, they don’t take responsibility for themselves.” Opportunity International is the non-profit microfinance organisation which operates on a global scale. It provides people living in poverty with small loans to help them start or grow their own small business instead of doling handout. The aim is to enable the poor to earn a regular income so they don’t have to struggle to afford food, clean water and proper shelter. It sounds simple on paper. Executing the concept into practice proved far more complex. For instance, Mr Bussau encountered desperately poor brick kiln workers in Pakistan who were literally slaving their lives away making bricks for kiln owners for a cash advance to cover their debts. He knew immediately that he could not just buy them out. “If we buy the workers out of their debts it might free some families, but how are they going to support themselves?”
he reasoned. “Many only knew about making bricks and lacked the confidence to do anything else. Having been an entrepreneur all my life, I tried to think of an entrepreneurial solution to the problem of slavery and poverty.” What Opportunity International did was to build its own brick kiln so the workers could work their way out of bondage. Workers were credited with 10 per cent of the bricks they produced each day, which allowed them to build their own homes and re-pay their debts. “It would have been much easier to pay the indebtedness of these bonded labourers. While this would have still been a valiant philanthropic effort, it would not have addressed their problems, which were caused by a faulty system that left the workers without viable skills to get themselves out of their situation,” he explained. Trying to make a change in impoverished third-world hotspots can also be dangerous. Mr Bussau has battled with corrupt Pakistani officials, been hijacked, held at knife-point and mugged on several continents. Today the organisation serves over 1.1 million poor entrepreneurs annually in 28 developing countries, including Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. It provides small business loans, training in basic business practices and other financial services such as savings and insurance. Its goal is to help 100 million people work their way out of poverty by 2015. While Mr Bussau has taken a step back from operations work, he runs governance seminars for Opportunity International partners and provides consultancy services to Governments, multinational companies and other organisations. “I had a sense that the gifts and talents given to me were to bless others, to reach out and help equip others, to give back to life,” he said. David Bussau has come a long way
since he was abandoned at an orphanage in New Zealand as a nine-year-old. His entrepreneurial instincts kicked in from age 15 when he rented a hot-dog stand, and reached a turning point when he was 35 and the wealthy owner of several construction companies in Sydney. He discovered a knack for breaking down barriers and decided that would be put to better use than making money for himself. He said: “After a while, I developed a sense that the challenge had gone out of making money. It didn’t seem to be that difficult. I reached the ‘economics of enough’ – the point where I had enough resources to live on for the rest of my life without having to go through the stress of building bigger and bigger businesses all the time.” He “stumbled” into the business of doing good when Cyclone Tracey decimated Darwin in 1974. Mr Bussau, with a team of tradesmen and with his young family in tow, headed north to volunteer in the rebuilding programme. The experience changed his life. He quit his businesses, sold off his interests and started building up a “charity that does not give anything away”.
“ I started building up a charity that does not give anything away.” Ask him what he counts as his greatest success in life, however, and he says nothing about all the work he has done. “My marriage is intact, survived 43 years. I have children and grandchildren that live purpose-driven lives and this gives me more joy in life. I have an anchor with my family and a compass with my Saviour,” he said with contentment. “The greatest model I had was also a carpenter and a builder,” he said about his faith. “He retired at 30 and in three years, changed the world. And he is still living now. He is the best role model I have.” ✩
Jul-Aug 2009 S A LT •
23 OCTOBER 2009 SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY
t promises to unnerve and challenge some comfortable thought perches and social innovation platforms. But then, the Social iCon 2009 claims to be “the social innovation of the year, an experiential immersion in ideas and insights on what it takes to change the world.” Organised by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation and supported by Ashoka Innovators for the Public, the one-day conference on 23 October at the Singapore Management University, may just be the ticket for kicking out of depression dynamics. A total of 36 “thought leaders” will gather for the one-day event which includes a gala dinner. The speaker list includes an eclectic mix of social entrepreneurs (David Green, founder, Project Impact and Andreas Heinecke, founder, Dialogue in the Dark); social commentators (Alan Weber, founder, Fast Company and Alvin Tan, Artistic Director, The Necessary Stage); and successful businessmen (Peter Conlan, serial entrepreneur and founder, Ammado, and Mark Kingdon, CEO, Linden Lab). Well known figures in the public sector who have entered the social space and participating in the conference include Geoff Mulgan, former Director of Britain’s Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, and Laurence Lien, Chief Executive of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre. One group of participants have not yet been named. By the time of the conference, the winners of the Lien i3 Challenge launched in January will be revealed. The i3 Challenge dangles a $1 million prize for innovative ideas that can be implemented to create positive
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social impact through the three “i’s” – innovation, impact and implementation. Currently, 12 candidates have been shortlisted and the winners will present their ideas and projects at the forum. Social iCon 2009 promises “an onslaught of experiences, experiments and exploration.” Among its more mysterious offerings are a “bumdog billionaire banquet,” “BARier: seeing the light in the dark,” and “OSCARS (Outstanding Social Concerns and Realistic Solutions) night.” Panelists and moderators adopt monikers such as “Godfather,” “Outlaws,” and “Alchemist.” “Why spoil the fun for those coming?” teased Robert Chew, the Centre’s Honorary Director who declined to elaborate. What about those who may not be attending? “They may not forgive themselves for what they will miss,” he warned. The Social iCon 2009 theme is social innovation and new social models. Mr Chew acknowledges it is a concept platform that may not be entirely popular with everyone in the social sector. Previously, The National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre’s annual conference sought to appeal to a broader social sector audience. Those in the social sector interested in the event can apply for a VCF (Voluntary Welfare Organisation-Charities Capability Fund) grant of up to 80 per cent. With an early bird discount, the conference will cost $100, “a steal that doesn’t cover the rental and food cost” Mr Chew pointed out. There is capacity for only 250 participants and seats are filling up. For details on Social iCon 2009, log on to: www.lcsi.smu.edu/sg. ✩
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