Five philanthropists to build Singapore's first assisted-living facility

Chairman of the Lien Foundation, Mr Laurence Lien, said there was a growing need for such facilities in a rapidly ageing society where many seniors may not have children or live with them
Chairman of the Lien Foundation, Mr Laurence Lien, said there was a growing need for such facilities in a rapidly ageing society where many seniors may not have children or live with themPHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

A group of five philanthropists from Singapore have come together to develop the first purpose-built assisted living facility here that will allow seniors with mobility issues to retain their independence and live on their own, instead of in a more institutionalised setting, such as a nursing home.

One of the five, chairman of the Lien Foundation, Mr Laurence Lien, spoke of plans for the facility during the inaugural Asean Philanthropy Dialogue on Wednesday (March 21).

The facility, which has 50 rooms, will be located in the north-eastern part of Singapore and is expected to be completed by 2021. Mr Lien did not name the other givers, except to say they were all members of the privately-founded Asia Philanthropy Circle, nor say how much they gave to the project.

However, he said there was a growing need for such facilities in a rapidly ageing society where many seniors may not have children or live with them, noting: "Developers are not sure if assisted living facilities are commercially viable and if they are not sure, they wouldn't go ahead. But we can take the risk to (to try to see if it works) and spur the industry."

In January (2018), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said his ministry was studying models for assisted living. At these facilities, residents can live on their own but have access to nursing and personal care services, such as help with dressing or going to the toilet.

Assisted living differs from a nursing home in that residents have more autonomy, Mr Lien said. He said other details of the development, such as how much it will cost residents, are not yet available.

The Asia Philanthropy Circle was founded in 2015 by Mr Lien, Mr Stanley Tan and Ms Cherie Nursalim to bring together philanthropists to collaborate and address social problems. Mr Tan was the former chairman of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, while Ms Nursalim is the vice-chairman of the Giti Group, which has interests in manufacturing and property.

At yesterday's dialogue organised by the Circle, the issue of trust between governments in the Asean region and philanthropists was one of the topics discussed.

"We usually do our own thing and governments will do their own thing," said Mr Lien, without referring to any particular country. "Governments may not trust the motivations of philanthropists."

For example, governments may worry about foreign interference if a foreign philanthropist is involved, he said.

On this issue of trust, Mr Richard Tan, a senior director of communications and international relations at the Ministry of Social and Family Development said the divide may come about because governments see and do things differently from philanthropists.

But more dialogue is critical to build understanding and collaboration between the two parties, both men said.

Besides individuals involved in philanthropy, the dialogue was attended by government officials and ministers and senior officials from Asean countries who are in charge of social welfare and development.

Mr Desmond Lee, the Minister for Social and Family Development, told the media afterwards: "We found it very valuable that the philanthropists want to work together with the Government to achieve a win-win outcome for the most vulnerable. The Government cannot do all the work alone."

On Wednesday, the organisers also released a catalogue of 25 Asean philanthropists who are making a difference with their giving. They include Indonesian tycoon, Dr Tahir, who is the founder of the Mayapada Group, one of Indonesia's biggest conglomerates, with businesses in financial services, healthcare and real estate. His Tahir Foundation has pledged $100 million to fund healthcare programmes in Indonesia, among other initiatives.

Also on the list is Singaporean Teng Ngiek Lian, who runs his own investment firm, Target Asset Management. He gave $50 million for an endowment fund for the Silent Foundation, which he set up to help marginalised groups that do not have a voice.

Another philanthropist featured is Ms Kathleen Chew, from Malaysia, the programme director of the YTL Foundation, which funds initiatives to improve education.