3 Nov 2020

Transcript: Foreword by Mr. Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration at Temasek Trust Conversation 2020

Transcript: Foreword by Mr. Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration at Temasek Trust Conversation 2020



Mr S Dhanabalan, Mr Lim Boon Heng, Mdm Ho Ching,

Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen


  1. Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak at Temasek Trust Conversation 2020.
  1. This conference comes at a right time, with immense challenge, but also opportunity.

Giving during COVID-19

  1. When the pandemic hit our shores, Singaporeans and friends of Singapore gave generously:
    1. From January to August this year, ComChest, the Sayang Sayang Fund, and Giving.sg, received around $100million in donations to support COVID-related causes. People responded to the crisis with all their heart.
    2. Corporate partners also generously donated essential items to our social service agencies and frontliners.
      1. Temasek Foundation, for example, collaborated with MOE and the Early Childhood Development Agency.
      2. You provided face shields and hand sanitisers to preschools and schools, benefitting around 650,000 children and many teachers.
    3. We have also seen community groups sprout up and organise ground-up efforts in aid of the crisis.
      1. Temasek Trust’s [email protected] fund, set up in April, enabled, facilitated and seeded some of these projects.
      2. For instance, Lifehouse Cares distributed sarongs to 1,400 migrant workers who were moved to temporary dorms, meeting a need that the workers had.
      3. To date, the [email protected] fund has supported 126 community projects, positively impacting around 245,000 people.
  1. At the same time, the giving landscape is uneven and unmet needs remain.
    1. In July, NCSS conducted a poll to see how 200 of our social service agencies are coping.
    2. Two-thirds reported a decrease in cash donations. One quarter of which reported a decrease of more than 50%.
    3. Two-thirds of those that rely on volunteers also reported a decrease in volunteer numbers. This hurt their delivery of services, and made it harder to maintain service quality even as they faced a spike in demand, thus calling for a revisiting of the model of delivering services and a time to stock-take.
    4. ComChest donations received for non-COVID-19 causes have also decreased.
    5. Overall, ComChest is projecting a 20 – 30% fall in non-COVID-related donations this year.
    6. Support for COVID-19-related causes in response to the crisis has been resoundingly strong, but social service agencies face funding challenges for their recurrent programmes – in other words, “bread and butter” programmes that support their beneficiaries for the long haul.

Longer-term impact of COVID-19

  1. We can expect such challenges to continue for some time.
    1. Economic repercussions will have a long tail, with global trade and travel still subdued.
    2. New vulnerable populations may emerge, including some who used to hold good-paying jobs in severely disrupted sectors.
    3. Long after COVID is subdued, social and healthcare needs will continue to grow and become even more complex, so we will need to make sure that public spending, philanthropic giving as well as volunteerism combine forces to drive even better outcomes than they do today.
  1. Giving trends must do likewise, go beyond “silos” and evolve accordingly to better meet these new complex and interlinked needs.
    1. For example, families facing financial challenges may be also struggling with other socio-emotional issues at the same time, thus requiring comprehensive and integrated support. Often, financial trouble is the visceral outcome of upstream, sometimes invisible problems.
      MSF’s initiatives in the last few years, such as the SG Cares Community Networks in every town across the island, Kidstart and Comlink (covering 4 of the rental precincts), have begun to place the vulnerable individual or family more closely at the heart of coordinated case work intervention, involving multiple partners.
    2. Our support should be integrated across three spheres: social-health-community, where ‘community’ refers to giving and volunteerism.
    3. Corporate partners’ giving and volunteering can therefore be weaved into this holistic ecosystem of support for these vulnerable populations, for better social outcomes and stronger collective impact.

Giving post-COVID-19

  1. Your conference theme this year is about reinventing how we can do good during bad times. We can first start by looking into new ways of giving to tackle existing key gaps in today’s giving landscape. We will start with the low-hanging fruit then climb upwards.
  1. First, we find that donors tend to support only pilot programmes, or give on an ad-hoc basis.
    1. I mentioned earlier that social service agencies have found it difficult to get regular, long-term donations for recurrent programmes and recurrent spending, as more donors have directed their funding to COVID-related support.
    2. Yet financial sustainability is important to maintain service delivery, especially when beneficiaries require long-term support.
    3. Regular donations would give agencies the resources and bandwidth to focus on their interventions, instead of being bogged down by concerns about fundraising and operational sustainability.
  1. To address this, we should try to cultivate a culture of regular giving – small sums, but over a sustained period of time.
    1. Some platforms facilitate regular cash donations, such as the SHARE auto-inclusion scheme. Some of you would be on the scheme, and I thank you for that.
      1. These regular donations can be easily made through payroll, GIRO or credit cards.
      2. Regular giving can buffer against cyclical economic effects, and provide a relatively stable source of funding to our social service agencies and beneficiaries, through good times and bad.
  1. Corporates can also go beyond monetary donations.
    1. Some corporates have also built long-term relationships with social service agencies and benefited their communities in meaningful ways.
    2. For example, Accor, Singapore’s largest hospitality operator, embarked on a five-year partnership with ComChest and the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN).
    3. Accor staff would raise funds, and volunteer to train APSN’s service users with disabilities, which opens up employment opportunities for them in the hospitality sector.
    4. This form of “giving” is sustainable and inclusive, long-term. It involves the spirit of close partnership and collaboration.
  1. Another key gap today is that many donors prefer funding programmes that directly support beneficiaries, and shy away from investing in the capabilities of the agencies that deliver these programmes.
    1. This has become more apparent recently.
    2. Agencies face the challenge of delivering social services without adequate support for capability and infrastructure development.
    3. They recognise the need to develop themselves so that they can provide services effectively, efficiently, and be prepared for the next crisis. But they need our support and they need our understanding.
  1. The Government is committed to strengthening our social service agencies, and we encourage communities, corporates and donors to do likewise.
    1. Earlier this year, MSF and NCSS announced the Community Capability Trust (CCT), a new long-term fund to help agencies build capabilities in digitalisation, innovation and human capital.
    2. The initial capital will be provided by the Government, Tote Board and ComChest.
    3. To spur private contributions to this fund, the Government will provide dollar-for-dollar matching over the next 10 years, starting from April 2021.
    4. In addition, for the first five years, the Tote Board will also match donations dollar-for-dollar.
    5. By structuring dollar-matching in this way, we hope to raise greater awareness about the capability needs of social service agencies, amplify the impact that donors can do with each individual dollar, and eventually bring about a shift in donors’ mindsets.
  1. While we have started looking into the ways we can tackle these existing gaps, the Government alone does not have all the answers.
    1. We invite corporate partners to journey alongside us and develop more innovative and sustainable ways of giving.
    2. For example, these new ways – such as through social impact bonds and social impact investing – could better track social impact and sustain social outcomes, in turn encouraging more corporate partners to give.
  1. Today’s conference will spur further dialogue and open up new ways of contributing to society.
    1. I hope that more corporates will work with the Government and social service agencies to jointly create the solutions needed to better meet social needs.
  1. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and wish everyone a fruitful and engaging conference. Thank you.
Temasek Trust Conversation 2020
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