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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | editor, Singapore
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Tess Mackean

What charities in Asia need to thrive post-pandemic

BY TESS MACKEAN

Businesses around the world are adapting to the economic chaos left in the wake of Covid-19, and Asia’s non-profit sector is no different. Physical interaction is crucial to most charities, and many charities in Asia are more vulnerable than before the pandemic, with lockdowns and social distancing measures making it near impossible for charities to operate as usual. But financial and governmental support and a push for digital transformation, are some of the ways that charities will be empowered to find their footing and recover.

Individual and corporate giving

There are signs that the attitude towards charity work is changing across Asia as a result of the pandemic. In Japan – where donating to charity is not ingrained in its culture – we are seeing high-profile celebrities going public with their charitable giving in a bid to influence others – and it appears to be working. It’s great to see so many other public figures across Asia join the fight against Covid-19, including the richest man in China, Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

Here in Singapore we saw a sharp spike in donations on fund-raising website Giving.sg, run by National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), hitting a record $40.7m SGD between January and May 2020. This came as thousands of Singaporeans donated part, or all, of their Solidarity Payment issued by the government to help those financially affected by the pandemic.

The pandemic has also provided a catalyst for corporates to reexamine their CSR initiatives. Over 130 corporates in Singapore have returned or donated the government’s Job Support Scheme (JSS) payout with a combined total of $97m SGD. German pharmaceutical group Boehringer Ingelheim donated its JSS payout to five causes in Singapore, including one of our partner charities, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). 

China is currently taking massive strides to promote its CSR initiatives. CSR is a relatively new concept in China, gaining more traction after the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008. After that disaster there was a public outcry for corporates to take more responsibility to put human and environmental crises ahead of profit margins. With a powerhouse like China leading the charge on CSR, this will likely influence other nations in Asia and, as we emerge from the pandemic, we could see a CSR transformation across the region.

Governmental support

In Singapore, we’ve seen powerful initiatives from the government and government-linked organisations designed to release additional funding to registered charities who are struggling in the wake of COVID-19. Grants in areas such as remote-working preparedness as well as rebates against rent and local salaries have hugely supported charities’ bottom lines.

Grant-making collaborations have also provided an extra boost for charities. One example is The Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme (EFR), launched in April by Tote Board, and providing 40% matching against donations raised on digital fund-raising platforms.

In May 2020, Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, announced that the Government will increase the matching amount, to provide successful EFR applicants with a dollar-for-dollar matching, capped at $250,000 per applicant. This funding partnership will have a significant positive impact on charities’ ability to weather the storm. 

Business leaders volunteering to impart skills and facilitate digital transformation

A charity’s priority needs to be on developing auxiliary skills such as HR, finance, and marketing, and soft-skills such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving. Skill sharing is important to the success of local charities as it gives them access to training, and are transferable to a non-profit business model, such as for fundraising and campaigning.

This year has already seen increased usage of online donation platforms like give.asia and giving.sg. Like the rest of the world, charities have also embraced video conferencing, for example Filos Community Services in Singapore now conducts virtual online tuition for its students from lower income families.

In May, social networking phenomenon TikTok streamed two concerts live from Seoul featuring some of the biggest names in K-pop, to raise funds for Covid-19 relief efforts. As people flocked to the app during lockdown, its developers created donation stickers and the community came up with creative hashtags

In Singapore, NVPC’s City of Good initiative sidestepped the need for a physical event by hosting their first ever livestream fundraisers on Facebook. The online events feature several local comedians as they raise money in support of several Singaporean charities.

To facilitate this technological revolution we are also seeing people and organisations equipping those less fortunate with refurbished laptops. In Singapore, one of our partner charities, Engineering Good, has refurbished laptops for those less fortunate to allow them to continue home-based learning during the circuit breaker. In the Philippines, electronics company Asus donated brand new laptops to an elementary school. In Vietnam, KPMG and its community partners donated 50 laptops to local school children selected by Saigon Children Charity.

These are just a few of the acts of kindness across the region, and it’s clear that digital resilience will be key to the success of many charities in Asia.

What we have seen in abundance over this time is the rapid rise of the helpers. Not to over-simplify a complex matter, but I’d like to close by reflecting on the now-famous quote from Mr. Rogers, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

Perhaps if one thing can be taken from COVID-19 and its impact on charities and their beneficiaries, it is that it has increased the visibility and mindshare of our charities; our helpers, and the need to tend to them, to grow them, to fund them and to ensure that they are equipped to thrive.
 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Tess Mackean

Tess Mackean

Tess Mackean is the CEO of talenTtrust, a registered charity in Singapore that facilitates skills-based volunteering. In this role, Tess is an expert in the charity sector in Singapore and across Asia, working closely with locally-registered NPOs (non-profit organisations) and IPCs (Institution of Public Character) to help them excel and endure.

With over 16 years of experience actively engaging with NPOs in Asia and the UK, Tess previously held senior leadership roles in the social sector, including Country Manager, Singapore for SimplyGiving.com, an Asian online fundraising platform.

Before moving to Singapore, Tess was the Global Brand Manager for World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) a global animal welfare charity, and Marketing Manager at City & Guilds for Business, the startup commercial wing of UK charity City & Guilds.

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