Millionairess creates foundation so she can 'do good well'

$5m donated to build nursing home; plan to give out up to $1.5m a year

After millionairess Peggy Goh sponsored the education of a group of "needy" students, only to find that they were not needy at all, she decided to take a new approach to philanthropy.

In January, she set up the Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, named after her late mother, which aims to find "solutions to poverty and social injustice".

Ms Goh said that for much of the past nine years she gave money to people who asked because she lacked the means to "do due diligence" and made decisions based on her feelings.

"The foundation gives more structure, so it is no more what I feel and what I think," said the 63-year-old. "With the foundation, there is a board of directors who will sit down and discuss and see if the project is right or okay to do."

The foundation's first donation was $5 million to help the Salvation Army build a $15 million nursing home that gives elderly residents a more dignified way of life.

Ms Goh said the foundation will aim to give out $1 million to $1.5 million a year, though if interesting and worthy projects come up, she is happy to dig into her pocket for more funds.

Causes it is looking to back include poor elderly people, education up to university for underprivileged children, and children with special needs.

Upcoming projects include a survey on the needs of poor and elderly Singaporeans, a cafe that employs former offenders and jobless women, and local food distribution projects.

But while Ms Goh is willing to give - she spent US$1.2 million (S$1.7 million) setting up a university in Cambodia - the foundation will form some sort of guide as to who she will give to. "When we do good, we must do it well. The foundation has been started so that I can do good well."

Ms Goh estimates to have donated $9 million from her own coffers. According to a Bloomberg report last year, she had personal assets of $27 million - that is before she and her former husband agreed to a confidential settlement of more than $208 million of marital assets.

Her family wealth comes from the company she founded with her former husband, offshore services provider Ezra Holdings, which launched its initial public offering in 2003. Ms Goh retired in 2008.

Ms Goh sits on the foundation's board alongside her son, Mr Adrian Lee, 35, managing director of Loyz Energy, and former employee Ong Li Sze, now a sales manager.

The Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation is looking to hire staff such as auditors and social workers who can help decide where to place its money. Her dream is to build a retirement village where elderly people can take part in community activities and roam the grounds.

"The old in Singapore are not very well looked after - they live on handouts, which is not good."

Ms Goh has been studying food distribution programmes and found room for improvement. She noticed that some beneficiaries receive packets of food from three different programmes on the same day, or keep rice and oil past their expiry dates because they do not cook. She wants to make sure that organisations distributing food do not overlap and take into account nutritional needs.

Her son, Mr Lee, said: "Like a lot in the pioneer generation, my mother came from Malaysia with my grandma with almost nothing. We were lucky in that she was given the opportunity to study in Singapore and, later on in life, do good for herself."

kxinghui@sph.com.sg