SINGAPORE - When the 1969 racial riots took place in Malaysia, Mr Teng Ngiek Lian was in Dungun in Terengganu. As a minority Chinese there, he was relieved that there was hardly any trouble in the small town, unlike in Kuala Lumpur. He attributed this to the interaction and good understanding of the people there across races.
Mr Teng, now 72, left Malaysia for Singapore after the race riots. In 2010, he started The Silent Foundation (TSF) to help the “silent sufferers”. This was in line with his professional work as a value fund manager, as he had made money by investing in “overlooked and unloved” stocks. Given his experience with the racial riots, he decided that TSF should promote racial and religious harmony and help the minority.
On Tuesday, TSF pledged $2.5 million to the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) over a period of five years. The contribution will go towards establishing The Silent Foundation-IPS Racial and Religious Harmony Fund, which will support two IPS programmes.
The first, the IPS Programme on Race, Religion and Intergroup Cohesion (IPS RRIC), is aimed at promoting knowledge in race, religion, and intergroup cohesion in Singapore among stakeholders such as government agencies, educational institutions, non-governmental organisations and corporations.
The second, the IPS Thought Leadership Forum on Racial and Religious Harmony, will be an annual forum to drive discourse on race, religion, and intergroup cohesion.
Dr Mathew Mathews, IPS’ principal research fellow and head of social lab, said the programmes will be rolled out next year. Immersive technology such as virtual reality for scenario enactment will be used to evoke greater sensitivity and empathy in participants. There will be measurements of outcomes to ensure that the programmes are creating an impact.
Dr Mike Hou, IPS associate director (strategic planning) for the social lab, added that the IPS team will be especially interested in assessing the attitudes, behaviours and knowledge of participants after attending the programmes.
Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, said as Singapore does not have tensions or violence arising from racial strife since independence, people sometimes overlook the fact that the peace they enjoy requires concerted effort and hard work.
The importance of maintaining this harmony has become especially crucial in recent years as the world becomes increasingly fractured, he added.
“Back at home, our society is also becoming more diverse, with more cultural identities emerging due to immigration and a growing number of inter-cultural marriages,” he said.
He added that societal fault lines continue to evolve, with race and religion intersecting with other fault lines such as socio-economic class, gender and sexual orientation and intergenerational differences.
Mr Tong said there had been several initiatives to continue enlarging the common space for people to interact, such as the refresh of the Racial and Religious Harmony Circles, or ground-up networks that promote inter-racial and interfaith ties, in light of new divisions and challenges in the complex world. In September, the International Conference on Cohesive Societies also brought together 800 local and foreign delegates to discuss social cohesion.
Speaking at the cheque presentation ceremony, Mr Matthew Teng, 43, TSF’s executive director and Mr Teng Ngiek Lian’s son, said the donation to IPS is the single largest one TSF has committed to so far.
He added that from the start, TSF has also been advancing the education of Malay, Indian and Eurasian students. It set up an endowment fund in Singapore Management University, Singapore Institute of Technology, Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the Institute for Technical Education to provide bursaries exclusively for students of these three races who need financial support. Similar bursaries are also available through the Association of Muslim Professionals and the Eurasian Association.
Noting that most of TSF’s educational funding is devoted to supporting minority students, IPS director Janadas Devan said: “Mr Teng and his adopted country made the same choice: we shall be one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.”