Singapore aims to be regional centre for philanthropy: DPM Wong

Fireside chat with DPM Lawrence Wong (left), moderated by DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta, at the Philanthropy Asia Summit on Sept 30, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The Republic hopes to become a regional centre for philanthropy, and is encouraging family offices, businesses and individuals to set up base here to contribute to impactful solutions to problems, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday.

The Government is reviewing its tax incentive schemes, and donors can work with government agencies to identify suitable causes and set up appropriate mechanisms to monitor the impact of giving, he added.

He was speaking at the Philanthropy Asia Summit organised by Temasek Trust and Temasek Foundation at Shangri-La Singapore in Orchard, in a chat with DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, noted that in other countries, there are strong traditions of philanthropy. He offered, as an example, the United States, where figures such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller gave back a significant part of their wealth while American billionaires such as Bill Gates have set up their own foundations.

He said: "In Singapore, we see positive trends, but clearly, we do not yet have that same long and strong tradition of philanthropic giving; and that also means that there is potential to do much more."

It is an encouraging sign that there is a growing base of successful entrepreneurs, unicorn start-ups and, increasingly, more family offices setting up here, he added.

In engagements, many have said they would like to leave behind a legacy beyond wealth accumulation, said Mr Wong.

They are looking for investment opportunities that have environmental, social and governance characteristics that align with their values and will leave behind a positive impact on society, he added.

He encouraged these parties to come together and drive initiatives to give back.

In response to Mr Gupta's question on choosing between the American way of having individuals who make money give back to society, or the social welfare state approach where help is given out by the government, Mr Wong said Singapore needs a combination of both.

He said: "If you take market logic to its extreme, that is, every man or every woman for himself or herself, that is certainly no way to organise society or build a nation.

"But if governments were to do everything... (it could lead to) a system that's entirely run by state administration."

Such a system will lose the sense of human touch, as well as community, ownership and responsibility, said Mr Wong.

When a person who has done well gives back voluntarily, that strengthens the spirit of community and fellowship, and enables wealth in society to be recycled and invested back, he said.

"That's how we can build stronger social compact, continue to uphold trust in society," he said.

"We want to keep government lean but effective, and we are actively looking at ways to mitigate income and wealth gaps – ways to uplift the lower income, uplift the poorer segments of society. At the same time, (we want) a very vibrant ecosystem of community and philanthropic groups," added Mr Wong.

In response to a question from the audience about encouraging Singaporeans to be more charitable in Singapore, Mr Wong said: "I wouldn't be too hard on ourselves and our fellow Singaporeans, we are a generous people. We do give very generously in times of crisis, or even in good times."

He referred to the groundswell of goodwill and generosity amid the Covid-19 pandemic, such as efforts to care for isolated elderly, the needy and disadvantaged groups.

He said: "We will continue to do everything we can on the government side, whether it be through fiscal incentives (or otherwise)... Through social norms, mutual encouragement and in all other ways, we strive to change societal culture and strengthen that spirit of giving."

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