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Charities to gear up for larger roles in the society

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Charity Governance Conference, at Furama Riverfront Hotel, Venus Ballroom

Dr Gerard Ee, Chairman, Charity Council
Mr David Gerald, Founder and CEO, Securities Investors Association (Singapore)
Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. Good morning! First of all, I would like to congratulate David and team as SIAS celebrates its 20th anniversary. This is also the fourth year that SIAS has organised the Charity Governance Conference. On behalf of the charity sector, we thank SIAS for sharing your time and knowledge on corporate governance.

    Charities must adapt and play a larger role in the coming years

  2. The theme of today’s conference is “Future Proofing Charities”. What does it mean to future-proof our charities? While the future can be unpredictable, we would want to be alerted to data, trends or challenges that may help us in our planning. We can then proactively develop the necessary capabilities and skillsets, so that as a sector, we are able to cushion the disruptions for our beneficiaries and ourselves. Let me highlight two major challenges facing Singapore.

    Ageing population

  3. First, everyone of us must be familiar with this: An ageing population. There will be greater demand for services catered to the needs of our seniors. As the healthcare sector ramps up its resources and capabilities and we devote more of our Government resources to support our seniors in aging, our charities will need to do the same to meet this growing demand with less manpower. Why less manpower? Because we have an aging population, we have less people joining us, and we have been having low fertility rates for decades.
  4. It is important for charities to streamline processes and increase operational efficiency so that you can do more with less. That’s the same in the public sector where we are critically evaluating the way we are doing things and How can Government agencies provide services by doing more with less. So the entire economy and our society have to go through this transformation process. Consider tapping the pool of volunteers, especially the growing number of senior volunteers, to meet your needs. By breaking down the job scope into smaller portions, and providing relevant training to volunteers, many work processes could be turned into meaningful volunteer opportunities.
  5. Take Assisi Hospice for example. Assisi Hospice provides palliative care for patients diagnosed with life limiting illnesses. In 2014, Assisi Hospice started a programme known as NODA, which stands for “No One Dies Alone”. This programme provides companionship to patients who have no next of kin or close friends in their final hours. The amazing thing about this programme is that it is entirely run by Assisi’s volunteer force. The volunteers, who are trained in patient care, take turns to sit vigil over the patient’s last hours. This programme helps the patient pass on with dignity and love. Assisi Hospice’s NODA was recognised with the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards in 2018.
  6. Assisi’s volunteer management skillsets are not confined to the NODA programme. The Hospice is supported by a steady flow of about 100 volunteers monthly. More than half of their volunteers are Volunteer-Carers, who are trained to assist nurses with patient care activities such as eating and bathing, so that the nurses’ time can be freed up for more specialised roles. By recognising and empowering the volunteers to do more, Assisi Hospice is able to provide high standards of palliative care for the patients.
  7. We hope that more of you will be open to tapping on volunteers to carry out the charity’s programmes and daily operations, so that existing manpower could be deployed for other specialised work in the charity. This also enables the charity sector to create more purposeful volunteer opportunities for fellow Singaporeans who want to contribute back to society.

    Building strong and lasting partnerships

  8. The second challenge facing charities is an uncertain economic environment and the changes to the fiscal measures adopted by the Government from time to time. As Dr Gerard Ee has mentioned earlier on, we are stepping up social provision from the Government’s side. So from time to time, we will make adjustments to our social programmes. There are areas that we’d step in and there are areas that we will step off. And because social needs are going to grow in the coming years, we are definitely going to step up in some areas by the Government and at the same time, because the fiscal position is not going to be an easy one given the economic uncertainties and also the increase in the demand is going to be that huge, we will have to apply our fiscal measures carefully over the next few years.
  9. So you can see these two tensions working against each other. There is increasing demand, there is more that we need to provide but at the same time, we have a greater need to apply our fiscal resources carefully. That actually means that the charities have to build resilience and sustainability to your financial resources and programmes that require Government support. You need to think how you can mitigate some of these changes that may come your way.
  10. You need to build strong and lasting partnerships with donors, sponsors and volunteers. Corporate donors and sponsors require better information on social impact and project outcomes. Volunteers ask for better matching of skills, needs and experiences. Charities will benefit from enlightened leadership to embrace management capabilities in these areas to strengthen their relationships with stakeholders. 


  11. Another area of competency is the ability to deploy technology. It is important to embrace technology and digitalisation to improve our processes. I would suggest that we focus on core areas of work that can bring efficiency. For example, explore the use of IT systems to streamline administrative processes such as accounting, reporting, and volunteer management. You can call this, Technology 101. This is best way to start, because this is where we can reap profits in terms of savings or manpower. This is also an area where there are lots of experience and expertise out there in the charity sector and the corporate sector, that I’m sure you can find someone who can guide you on this process. You can also make use of digital apps and social media platforms to facilitate communication and interaction with your volunteers and stakeholders.
  12. Another competency is fund-raising. Online fund-raising is gaining popularity along with prevalence of use of mobile phones in our daily lives. saw a doubling of donors between 2016 and 2018. In June 2019, it hit a new milestone of $150 million in charitable donations raised in 18 months. These numbers show that our society is progressing towards contactless payment and donations. They also suggest the need for charities to embrace technology to be future-ready. This is how people are transacting. We have to be there to plug the gap and also exploit the technology that can give us the benefits.

    Helping charities be more efficient through new partnerships

  13. On the part of the Government, the Commissioner of Charities has introduced a series of initiatives to help reduce administrative cost. I am pleased to announce that COC is partnering the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and Registry of Societies (ROS) to establish a “one-stop” service for registered charities to file your annual submissions. With this “one-stop” service, approximately 2,000 registered charities will need to file your annual submissions only once. This will help reduce compliance costs and administrative burden on charities, especially the smaller ones.
  14. The COC is also piloting a data sharing initiative with National Council of Social Service (NCSS). Charities that are funded by NCSS through Community Chest or ToteBoard are required to submit their financial statements and programme statements to NCSS. Under the data sharing initiative, charities are to submit the documents to the COC, which will share the information with NCSS, thus reducing the reporting requirement for charities. The COC hopes to grow this initiative and will share more details in due course.
  15. COC has also been working with partners to expand the suite of Shared Services, which currently includes electronic submissions to the COC and other governance agencies, talent and HR management, accounting and secretariat services all at a low or no cost. New partnerships are being formed, in key areas such as legal matters, risk management and internal controls. The COC will announce more details of these partnerships later this year. 

    Larger role for charities

  16. As our society progresses, and our needs change, there will be new and larger roles for our charities. For example, with greater push for automation and increasing digitalisation in our daily lives, we have to keep our seniors stay connected and cared for. We need to ensure that technology adoption does not leave any segments behind. For example, in 2016, Yuhua Constituency implemented the Smart Elderly Alert System, a system that monitors the movement of elderly residents staying alone. Using technology, it will alert the elderly resident’s next of kin if irregular movements are detected. In other words, if a prolong period of silence is detected in the household. So it was a great idea, where technology was allowing us to monitor without intrusion and at the same time, caring for a larger segment of the population. But when we wanted to implement this project, we realised that many households of elderly residents do not have broadband services. They do not have them and they do not pay for them. So how do we have that service delivered to the ground? More importantly, how can we have this segment of population benefit from the many technological innovations that is going to be provided in the future? This is clearly a new area of need for our people and our charities to think about. You can be that helping hand to guide, encourage and uplift those in need, and ensure that no one is left behind.
  17. This would entail charities moving beyond providing conventional and established services to providing new solutions that our community requires. One of the key organisations that focuses its work on seniors is RSVP Singapore. RSVP Singapore does its part in bridging the digital divide for seniors. It is regularly involved in the Silver IT Fest, organised by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), to provide training to seniors above the age of 50 on new digital skills. What’s more? RSVP Singapore has been actively engaging seniors in purpose-driven volunteerism. With over 2,500 volunteers, RSVP Singapore serves more than 200,000 beneficiaries each year. This is really about seniors helping seniors. Seniors that are physically able and full of energy, experience and expertise applying their skill sets to good use.


  18. As charities, you are at the forefront of our efforts to build a caring Singapore. Not only do you provide services that benefit the society, you have the power to influence the volunteers and partners whom you come into contact. You are close to the ground, familiar with the beneficiary community and sensitive to their needs.
  19. You are therefore the unchanging part of this very changing world. So as the world changes with technology,you are there to anchor and move the beneficiary along the way. You are the unchanging face that will help them navigate in the uncertain world. So the Government will definitely work alongside you to strengthen your governance capabilities, expand your roles, and facilitate the formation of lasting and impactful partnerships. Together, we will be future-ready. Together we can grow the spirit of SG Cares, and build a more caring, compassionate and inclusive home for all in Singapore.
  20. I would like to end with a quote from Roosevelt. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have little”. As we progress economically, the Government looks forward to partnering you as we support those with little.
  21. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 02 October 2019