Now a charity with new ideas

It will launch initiatives with educational, social slant for needy children

THE Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund will be able to do even more to help needy children when it becomes a fully fledged charity in the new year.

It will have the freedom to launch new programmes for needy students after it is officially recognised as an Institution of a Public Character from Jan 1.

This will give it greater autonomy over its finances, and the power to decide how best to improve youngsters' lives.

Set up by The Straits Times in 2000, the fund helps poor families with their children's school-related expenses. From the start of next year, the money will also be channelled into new programmes with an educational and social slant.

As a charity, the fund will have greater control over its own finances. At the moment, it is a community project, which means donations go to the National Council of Social Service, which distributes the money through its network of voluntary welfare organisations and family service centres.

From next year, the fund will be more autonomous, with a board of trustees and full-time staff to run programmes. It will also have to follow a code of governance and regulations, like any charity in Singapore.

The fund will be run by former Singapore Exchange senior vice-president Martina Wong, 48, who will serve as general manager. Its board of trustees is headed by Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang.

Mr Han said the fund has been very successful, thanks to the support of donors and supporters.

But he added: 'We want to do more than just provide pocket money for needy students. With the expanded objectives, we hope to start on other projects.'

One idea in the pipeline is The Straits Times Pocket Money Fund STep UP series to improve needy students' knowledge of the English language and current affairs as they prepare for their examinations.

'The idea is for volunteers to spend time with these students and teach them,' said Ms Wong. 'I have had experience with organisations that work with children who don't have someone to read with them.'

She added that the fund is also keen to run financial literacy schemes. The STep UP programme will be launched in the first quarter of next year.

Some things will stay the same, however. The overall mission - to reach out and help needy children - remains unchanged. The fund will also continue to make use of the National Council of Social Service's network of voluntary organisations to help reach out to beneficiaries.

The newly recognised charity currently has about $19 million in its kitty, and will help an estimated 9,500 needy students next year.

Its donors welcomed the changes, and pledged their support.

Citi Singapore's corporate affairs head Adam Rahman said: 'As a committed supporter since 2002, we will be delighted to partner the fund as it seeks to expand its efforts to help build brighter futures for needy children.'

Stalwart supporter Cerebos Pacific said it looked forward to the new programmes.

'Cerebos will continue to support the fund as the cause remains relevant and the needs real,' said company president and group chief executive Eiji Koike. 'We will certainly explore with our staff to see how we can support and perhaps even suggest some new initiatives.'

HSBC is another long-time supporter. Its head of group communications and corporate sustainability Goh Kong Aik said he hoped that the announcement would reinforce the fund's commitment to helping needy children have a better chance in life.

Housewife Zainon Saini, 48, whose two teenagers are beneficiaries, hopes the educational programme will help them. 'My husband doesn't earn a lot, but whatever money we have we focus on using them for our children,' she said. 'We don't have enough for tuition, so it would be very helpful if the fund can provide that sort of help also.'

Since the fund was set up 11 years ago, money has been disbursed across a network of family service centres, special schools and children's homes.

ongyiern@sph.com.sg