“Giving begins with a small step to pay it forward, but when organised and thought through properly, can be powerful and purposeful.” – Melissa Kwee, Chief Executive Officer of NVPC
Melissa Kwee, the oldest child of hotel and property tycoon, Kwee Liong Tek, recognised her life calling during childhood. The director of Pontiac Land and civic entrepreneur of over fifteen years was deeply influenced by her maternal grandfather, George Aratani, a Japanese American businessman and philanthropist, on her path to empathy.
“One of the best lessons I took away from my grandfather was how he never treated anyone with disrespect. He used to say that every human being deserves the same kindness,” she said in an interview with Her World, after being conferred ‘Young Woman Achiever’ by the magazine in 2007. “As a child, I was brought up to see everyone as the same—there was no distinction between class or colour.”
The Harvard University graduate with a degree in social anthropology first embarked on her philanthropic voyage during her school days. She was struck by what she saw in the rural parts of Indonesia and compassion was triggered deep within her, reaffirming her commitment to serve the marginalised members of society.
Since then, Ms Kwee has channelled her energies and talents into a multitude of social causes. The recipient of numerous accolades, including Singapore Youth Award 2007 and ASEAN Youth Award 2008, has served as president of the Singapore National Committee of the UN Development Fund for Women from 2002 to 2006. She also founded Beautiful People, a programme inspired to transform the juvenile justice system where she also volunteers, and chaired Halogen Foundation in 2006, a Singapore youth leadership organisation.
In 2014, she took over the reins as CEO of National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) from Laurence Lien. NVPC is a non-profit intermediary that promotes volunteering and philanthropy in Singapore.
“NVPC wants companies to be the force for good, and that we echo our narrative, ‘make goodness the business of every organisation’,” she told us.
“This is precisely why we launched ‘Company of Good’. (CoG) The programme is one that’s supported by the government as well as the Singapore Business Federation Foundation, a key partner to get more companies, especially the SMEs, to think about how they can apply the ‘4Is’ framework from our CoG programme to plan their corporate giving journey,” she said. The 4Is are namely (1) Investment (2) Integration (3) Institutionalisation (4) Impact.
In our interview with Ms Kwee, she talked about corporate giving in Singapore and shared with us some of the more effective or game-changing models of good corporate engagement, which NVPC is exploring.
“Giving is more than being transactional; it is in fact a relationship between the giver and the ‘recipient’.” – Melissa Kwee, Chief Executive Officer of NVPC
Epoch Times (ET): NVPC aspires to build a culture of giving amongst corporations and public sector organisations in Singapore, and aims to do this by bringing corporations and organisations to begin a journey of giving. Can you share with us how corporations and organisations can kick-start their philanthropic journey through NVPC?
At the NVPC, we advocate for a more thoughtful and integrated way of corporate giving, one of which is through our “Company of Good” programme which we launched in June 2016. It is a programme that empowers businesses to give better and more holistically. Companies on board who want to do good well and better will find themselves having access to tools and resources, as well as networking opportunities and collaborations.
There are many ways to do good. The familiar ones are ad-hoc and includes writing a cheque to support a cause or mobilising their staff to visit a nursing home, clean the homes for seniors or organise tea parties for underprivileged children, etc.
ET: Why should companies incorporate charitable initiatives in their business models?
We know that giving is most powerful when it is planned for and [it is] a big part of a business imperative: to want to be a business for profit, as well as a business for social good.
Businesses do not exist outside a community. They are part of the communities and have the most direct touch points with their consumers or targeted audience.
The business sector is better equipped with resources and manpower to mobilise volunteering and enabling. Giving is more than being transactional; it is in fact a relationship between the giver and the ‘recipient’.
Increasingly, working for a company that is socially responsible will allow opportunities to operate in more varied ways other than narrow vocation. We believe that companies can use corporate giving as a channel to attract talent and retain staff.
There is no denial that more discerning customers and consumers now expect a brand and company to be socially responsible.
Our job at NVPC is to keep telling individuals, companies and other institutions that giving begins with a small step to pay it forward, but when organised and thought through properly, can be powerful and purposeful.
ET: Why are some corporates reluctant to give?
Our recent Corporate Giving Survey has told us that many organisations want to give. Their main bottleneck is finding which cause or charity to give to. There is also a common observation that companies favour social causes more than the other non-profit causes such as the arts and heritage, sports, education, healthcare, etc.
Companies who have never given or executed a more sustained corporate giving programme may find it daunting to start. Many whom we have spoken or worked with either find the opportunities limiting, or they do not know where or how to give.
The common myth is corporate giving is too time-consuming and does nothing to their business development. Giving does take time, and commitment.
In CoG, we stress the importance of using current or existing resources a company has to plan its giving. This is where companies can get creative and resourceful by getting other companies, or the suppliers in its business chain, to partner them and serve a common goal or purpose.
One example is how our local SME, Samsui Food Supplies, teams up with its other suppliers in the food business and work together to serve meals for the elderly in a neighbourhood.
ET: What are some of the more effective or game-changing models on good corporate engagement that NVPC is exploring?
NVPC is always on the lookout for partnerships and collaborations with sector players. One idea could be through ‘corporate adoption’. Adoption is more than just inheriting a charity or cause. It is essentially a relationship committed to enabling a disfranchised community, a resource-starved non-profit or an under-served or less known cause to be better served.
What if we tell every company in Singapore to start using adoption as a way to engage its employees and the staff in a non-profit for a year? A PR or advertising company will be able to journey with its adopted charity or charities serving the same cause throughout to help plan its communications and publicity campaigns with better outreach.
Several companies can also band themselves together if they are all serving the same group of beneficiaries [or] communities and pool their resources together to help a few non-profits instead of one or the same old one(s) they have always helped.
Separately, NVPC is also exploring and advancing community philanthropy through ‘cause-based networks’. We hope to enable collaborative action and a collective impact through building a network or community of givers focusing on current or critical needs and causes.
It is NVPC’s vision to keep building partnerships, scaling wider reach and sustaining the impact of giving, such as through the deployment of resources and funds.