Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Minister for Education (Schools), at The 2016 Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum

Published Date: 17 November 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. A very good morning to all of you. Welcome to the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum 2016, and a warm welcome to Singapore for guests who have come from overseas. It is my pleasure to join you this morning.

2. The Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum is being held for the sixth consecutive year. Each time, the Forum brings together thought leaders and expert practitioners from around the world to discuss important issues related to philanthropy.

3. I am confident that this year’s Forum will be as successful as previous ones, and would like to thank Credit Suisse for its commitment and efforts in supporting philanthropy in Asia.

4. I was very glad to accept the invitation to speak at today’s forum. The theme – “Next Generational Giving in Asia” – is very meaningful because it highlights the important role that we can play in sowing the seeds for Asia’s future by giving to our next generation. It is also in some ways similar to MOE’s mission to mould the future of our nation by preparing Singapore’s next generation.

5. I would like to take this occasion to share my reflections on why giving to the next generation is important, particularly in the area of education, and also share my views on why educational giving is a timely topic for us here in Asia.

IMPORTANCE OF GIVING

6. A key reason why giving is important is that it supports and creates virtuous cycles in our societies. Those who give become role models to inspire others to do the same. It could be simple acts of charity to aid the needy and ease their suffering, or strategic philanthropy to tackle the root causes of important social challenges. So that over time, we can build a more caring, more cohesive and stronger society for future generations.

7. Governments can support this cycle of giving by the private sector. Various financial incentives, such as tax deductions for donations, have been put in place to encourage giving. In Singapore, non-profit organisations also advise donors and help match their donations to worthy causes. For instance, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre as well as the Community Foundation of Singapore have helped to promote a giving culture in Singapore over the years.

8. But ultimately, this virtuous cycle of giving can only be sustained if it comes from the hearts of individuals. We give because it is part of who we are, and because those of us who have done well recognise that we have an obligation and responsibility to give back to society, so that we can share in our successes together. We give because we believe in not leaving anyone behind, so that we can build a resilient and inclusive society, in which people help one another.

9. Now if we want to engage in giving, what is an area worth pursuing? In my view, educational giving is one of the most impactful ways to give to the next generation. Education is a key enabler that can in one stroke, improve many aspects of a young person’s life, whether in health or in their incomes. We all know that when you educate someone, he or she will be equipped to make better health and economic decisions, as well as gain access to better paying jobs and incomes. This way, education is a strong driver for social mobility that is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty between generations. It empowers our young people to live better lives and realise their potential. And when they use the knowledge and skills which they have learned to contribute back to their communities, society as a whole also benefits.

10. So we can truly sow the seeds for the generation of tomorrow, by investing in the education of our children, and helping the next generation to access opportunities for a better life.

EDUCATIONAL GIVING IN ASIA

11. For Asia, educational giving is a particularly timely topic.

12. Most of us are familiar with Asia’s growth story and the rise of the Asian middle class. In the past two decades following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, wealth and prosperity spread across Asia, so much so that the wealth of Asia has now surpassed that of Europe and North America. According to the 2016 World Wealth Report, the wealth of Asia’s High Net Worth Individuals grew faster than the rest of the world to about US$ 17.4 trillion last year.

13. Currently, there is a lot of attention on enhancing the physical infrastructure in Asia.

14. However, we must not neglect the human dimension of our societies. Despite years of rapid economic growth, Asia is still home to about two-thirds of the world’s poor. There are those among us who may not have done as well or benefitted as much from the Asian growth story, and are at risk of getting left behind.

15. One reason for this is inequality of access to basic education, which can lead to wider income inequality and consequently, greater social challenges in the future.

16. Our societies all aspire to achieve social mobility for our people. But we can only make better headway in doing so if each child is given the opportunity to receive quality education, and if each child is given equal access to educational opportunities regardless of their starting point, so that that their potential can be developed to the fullest. And the earlier this takes place, the better.

17. As philanthropists in Asia, you can play a special role at this stage of Asia’s development. Although philanthropy is smaller in scale, it is also more agile and nimble. It can move quickly to address complex and emerging social challenges, by providing seed funding and support for new pilots and innovative solutions in the education space.

18. There is a whole spectrum of needs that have yet to be met across Asia, depending on the local context. In some places, the most impactful giving could be the provision of clean water and meals, or the set-up of schools to allow access to education. In others, it might be advancements in curriculum, teacher training and access to learning technologies. And yet in others, it could be opening up opportunities for applied learning, internships, and allowing young people to explore and imagine new possibilities in the future.

19. We will need philanthropists like you to help meet the needs of these societies and strengthen the partnership between the community, schools and educators. You can spearhead innovative and creative ways to tackle social challenges, complementing the efforts of governments across Asia to uplift the poor and the vulnerable through education.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE FOR PHILANTHROPY

20. It is also timely to discuss educational giving today because the landscape for philanthropy has been changing. New developments such as social impact initiatives, venture philanthropy, and impact investment have changed the way we view giving. There is an increasing emphasis on measuring the outcomes of giving, and on ensuring investment returns are delivered.

21. Yet, as the philanthropy sector navigates its way through this evolving landscape, we must not lose sight of the mission of educational giving, which is to provide every person an opportunity to succeed in life, to be the best he or she can be; and make a positive and long-lasting impact on the lives of the next generation.

22. How can we balance the need to quantify the impact of our initiatives against the need to continue recognising intangible and less measurable outcomes that characterise educational giving? For instance, how do we quantify the impact of educational giving when the nature of education is such that we don’t see the effects until many years later? What constitutes effective educational giving when we are not only talking about hard skills, but a person’s sense of self-worth, confidence and optimism about his or her future?

23. These are deep and difficult philosophical questions and I look forward to the rich discussions that we will have during the panel sessions later.

LOOKING AHEAD

24. Meanwhile, there are good reasons to be optimistic about educational giving in Asia over the next decade.

25. I am glad to note that along with the growth in wealth and prosperity in our region, the level of philanthropic giving in Asia has increased in recent years. According to the Charities Aid Foundation’s 2016 World Giving Index, countries in Asia give more readily to charity, with Myanmar topping the index, and Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia listed in the top ten worldwide.

26. We are also starting from a long history and strong record of philanthropy in Asia. Since the 19th century, wealthy businessmen and community leaders have given generously to society, building hospitals and schools for the community. The pioneer generation of Asian philanthropists have set a good example for us and their philanthropy has created a lasting impact on our society.

27. Today, many of us who have done well are following in their footsteps to give back to society, and in particular to causes relating to education.

28. In Singapore, education also continues to be a priority amongst givers. The Commissioner of Charities’ 2015 Annual Report showed that over one quarter of donations to charities that year were in the education sector.

29. So we can be hopeful that young philanthropists are likewise becoming leaders and role models for the next generation, are passionate about philanthropy, and are willing to go the extra mile to take time, effort and sacrifice to make a difference, tirelessly working to find the best ways to help those around us, even across national boundaries.

CONCLUSION

30. So, it is often said that the test of a civilisation is in the way it cares for its helpless members. Every one of us is an integral part of our community, and can play a role in helping others who are less fortunate than us to build a cohesive and caring society.

31. I hope that our Asian values of community and generational unity will continue to drive sustainable and impactful giving from one generation to the next. We should continue to strengthen these values, and pass it on to the next generation as they play a part in building a better society and a better world for all of us.

32. Thank you and I wish all of you an enjoyable and fruitful forum today.

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