Singapore has been a key player in the development of philanthropy knowledge and a philanthropic community in South East Asia. 


Singapore's philanthropy movement

Creating a philanthropy movement in Singapore

In October 2014, Singapore played host to a successful ‘Philanthropy in Asia’ (PIA) summit, providing a platform for Asian philanthropists to network, learn and collaborate on giving.

More than 170 participants from 18 countries – including policymakers, new philanthropists and representatives from non-profit sectors – came together to discuss the challenges that Asia faces today and to see how philanthropy can create greater impact through transparency, collaboration and innovation.

The conference produced some key recommendations:

· More giving circles should be created. Giving circles are the building blocks of Asian philanthropy. Their power lies in the group dynamics, with the sharing of ideas helping people make better decisions and become more productive.

· Companies should seek to challenge and be challenged by their partner organisations to ensure that both learn and grow, and they should support and grow local charities.

· Philanthropy should support gender equality in the workplace, by exploring new ways to ensure women are participating fully and their roles are not just a nod to improving statistics. More long-term funding is required in this area to address the problem. 

The Asia Philanthropy Circle (APC), whose founder Laurence Lien we interviewed for this year’s report, was formed as an exclusive membership platform to foster exchange, coordination and collaboration among Asian philanthropists.

Intermediaries and researchers

The role of intermediaries and researchers 

Philanthropy intermediaries like the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and professional wealth advisers are playing an increasingly active role in fostering a vibrant culture of informed giving.

CFS has recently reached out to around 200 charities from a wide variety of causes such as education, social welfare and the arts. Its new initiative, The Funding Network, aims to help donors find their philanthropic passion by giving charities an opportunity to pitch their cause and raise funds through an auction of donations. CFS has also established 12 new donor advised funds in 2014, bringing the number of such funds to 70.

The Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP) was established in 2011 within the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School. The centre aims to advance the understanding and impact of social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in Asia through research and education. It provides learning opportunities on philanthropy through its executive education classes, and has an innovative research practice, the Learning by Giving at NUS programme, where students are given funds and asked to select worthy charities to support by measuring ‘success’ in philanthropy and impact investing.

SG Gives, Singapore’s leading online donation portal, achieved a record S$13m in donations towards helping the disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in 2014. This could be attributed to #GivingTuesdaySG, an international campaign adopted by NVPC in December to celebrate a global day of giving. In 2014, more than 100 individuals, corporations and non-profit organisations joined the movement, collectively raising over 400% more for charities than the previous year[1].

Philanthropic ecosystem

Creating a robust philanthropic ecosystem 

Singaporean philanthropy gathered momentum in 2014.

Tax-deductible donations rose by more than 12% to SG$1.1bn, compared to SG$970m in 2013, as reported in the 2014 annual report by the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC)[2]. Two thirds of this relates to donations received from the corporate sector, maintaining a ten-year upward trend. Individual giving to all charitable activities also saw a steady increase, with the average amount per donor rising from SG$312 in 2012 to SG$379 in 2014, according to the NVPC’s Individual Giving Survey in 2014 (IGS2014)[3].

As well as donations, Singaporeans also dedicated more of their time and talents to helping out charities.  IGS2014 reported that one in five Singaporeans volunteered at a charity over the year, with the total number of hours spent on this activity also rising. This went hand in hand with growth in the number of new registered charities in Singapore, which increased from 2,142 in 2013 to 2,180.

In October 2013, the Singaporean government announced a new initiative to to boost public giving and advance the charity sector through making funds available to allow organisations to build their capacity and capability. This is an area where charities often face difficulties in securing funding support as the impact on the end beneficiary can be regarded as less direct and often less certain. The government pledged SG$250m in matched funding towards the Care & Share movement initiated by the Community Chest. By the end of 2014, more than SG$300m had been raised and over 110,000 volunteers were engaged through more than 2,000 fund-raising and volunteering events[4]. To continue the momentum of giving, the government extended the initiative with another SG$250m, doubling the total government matching grant for Care & Share to SG$500m. This grant shows the government’s commitment to encouraging philanthropy in Singapore, and follows on the heels of the launch of the Cultural Matching Fund for the arts in 2013, at SG$200m, and the Community Silver Trust for the elderly and disabled sector in 2011, at SG$1bn. 


[2] Annual Report, Singapore Commissioner of Charities, 2014  

[3] Individual Giving Survey, National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), 2014

[4] Media Release, Strong community response spurs government support of another $250 million for the Care & Share movement, 23 January 2015 


What is the history of philanthropy in Singapore?

Early immigrants to Singapore paved the way for those who came after them, providing facilities which they themselves had originally lacked.

Singaporean philanthropy can be traced back as early as the 1800s to the immigrants who came to the area in search of new opportunities. Those who made money gave back to help other immigrants. These early philanthropists included Tan Tock Seng, Govindasamy Pillay, Lee Kong Chian, Tan Kim Seng and Ng Teng Fong.

In the absence of a government that provided welfare services, they funded facilities such as temples, mosques, schools and hospitals to help the immigrants that came after them. This laid down strong family traditions of support for welfare institutions which continue today. Buildings and school faculties like the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at the Singapore Management University, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore, and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital are all named after their major donors.