ACSEP Chairman Mr Keith Chua’s Closing Speech on the Singapore Early Women Philanthropists Research Seminar

closing speech photoA warm thank you to ACSEP Chairman Mr Keith Chua for gracing our Singapore’s Early Women Philanthropists (1900-1945) Research Seminar on Friday, 10 June 2016. Below is his closing speech.

Ladies and gentlemen. A very good afternoon to everyone and thank you for joining us today at the launch of the ACSEP paper entitled ‘Singapore’s Early Women Philanthropists 1900 – 1945’.

I have found it a truly commendable work of research by Ms Ooi Yu Lin. It provides us with valuable historical information and documentation – much of which I believe has not been previously collated and presented in the context of a study of philanthropy.

The study of Women in philanthropy is unique given that today the more common gender associated with philanthropy in Singapore seems to be with Men. Look around you at the buildings and halls around us in NUS and the names that are on them. Most of these names are male philanthropists.

In building our continuing research on philanthropy in Singapore this paper will be an important study.

Yu Lin has documented within the limits of archival and other means how Women at the turn of the last Century contributed in pioneering ways toward the development of Singapore philanthropy – and looking back it would seem to have had some degree of lasting impact. The Chinese Women’s Association which started as the Chinese Ladies Association celebrated her 100th Anniversary in 2015.

Women in Singapore philanthropy has been an unspoken but important segment of philanthropic history. It becomes even more amazing when we have this with understanding of the social, political and economic trends of that period. The place of the woman in 1900 is not easy to fully grasp for those of us brought up in modern Singapore.  Yu Lin’s paper also affirms that the practice of philanthropy cuts across race and religion, across all social and economic strata.

I first approached Yu Lin to join ACSEP research with a much wider ask. I had known of her interest in some areas of philanthropy and her work researching the Peranakan culture and history. In further discussion I then realized the extent of work that she had been progressively researching for many years. The project I had in mind was 200 years of philanthropy in Singapore’s history. The dates would be 1819 to 2019 which would imply that we would be actively engaging this for a few more years before the grand masterpiece is completed.

She eventually chose a bite size part of this story that has remained unwritten until today. This paper and another ACSEP paper that we released at the end of 2015 entitled ‘Philanthropy on the Road to Nationhood in Singapore’ will form key portions of this larger research project. I welcome all of you to partner us at ACSEP as we continue research and documenting 200 years of philanthropy in Singapore.

Let me mention a couple of more recent philanthropic models that Yu Lin’s paper documents has already been in practice 100 years ago. One is the concept of Giving Circles. In the past 10 years there has been an increase in many creative and impactful initiatives through the formation of active giving circles. Giving circles is a helpful framework for persons with interest in a particular area to pool resources for greater impact. The Women 100 years ago had already seen this as they launched appeals and pooled resources.

Secondly, I continue to carry the hope that ACSEP will be able to help shape and develop in a meaningful way the proposition that everyone in Singapore can give. This was one of the intentions when we launched a subject in the Business School that promoted the practice of philanthropy. A course that would engage students in learning by giving. Yu Lin has very helpfully featured the practice of giving by the Majie in our community. Again 100 years ago we discover that it did not matter which economic strata you were in – you could still embrace and practice philanthropy.

Philanthropy is indeed a practice that all of us can engage in. Whether we are giving time or resources, we can all be actively engaged in love for others driven by human compassion and care.

I look forward to seeing you at our next ACSEP gathering. Once again join me in congratulating Yu Lin for an excellent paper and also in thanking the team at ACSEP for keeping up the good work toward a better and more caring society.

Singapore’s Early Women Philanthropists (1900-1945) Research Seminar

146_6871 copy146_6661 copy146_6622 copy146_6766 copy146_6517 copyConsultant Ms Yu-Lin Ooi conducted an enlightening talk on the nature of philanthropy acted out by Asian women in early Singapore. Four key questions were discussed: firstly, who were Singapore’s early women philanthropists, secondly what contributions did they make, thirdly how were their contributions expressed, and finally were there any key factors that hindered/ enabled women in doing philanthropic work?

Over 70 participants packed the room to glean from the nuanced understanding of women in philanthropy that consultant Ms Ooi had gathered in the context of her interviewees’ life experiences and memories. From the Chinese/ Straits Chinese to the Indians/ Ceylonese, the Jews, to the Arabs and Malay-Muslims, women had superseded formal notions of monetary philanthropic giving to volunteer and contribute informally in sharing resources like food, helping mark key rites of passage, and passing on culture, values and faith to next generations. These contributions differed from traditional giving of men in philanthropy, but no less supported the growth of communities and identity in early Singapore.

Philanthropy in Transition: An Exploratory Study of Asian Women and Philanthropy in Singapore, 1900-1945 the working paper and culmination of months of research, was also launched. The impact of these unsung heroes has just begun to be uncovered and we look forward to more stories to come.

We thank Mr Robin Thevathasan, Ms Joy Thevathasan, Ms Roshini Prakash, Ms Siu Tin, Ms Su-Lin Ang, Mdm Ng Siu Yue, Prof Jin Bee, Mr Neil Ang, Ms Norhidawati, Ms Nurfarhana and ACSEP Chairman Mr Keith Chua for their gracious support at the seminar and contributions to the research.