Less to spare, but carrying on
Tue, Jun 16, 2009
The Business Times

COMPANIES here have become keener over the past few years on partnering non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. But market players say the financial crisis has affected such partnerships, as companies cut back funds for CSR.

Dac Thang Nguyen, co-founder and chairman of Gentle Fund Organization (GFO) - a Singapore-based NGO that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese children - says his NGO and many of its counterparts have been badly affected as firms have reduced their CSR budgets.

GFO has been fortunate to receive support from several organisations with operations in Singapore, such as CapitaLand, the Singapore Exchange, DBS Bank, COMO Foundation, Sun Microsystems, GuocoLand, CLSA, T-Systems and LC Development, Mr Nguyen said.


But the financial crisis has had an impact on his organisation. 'For example, we were planning a fund-raising concert in Singapore in April to cover part of the operating expenses of two learning centres, but due to feedback from our supporters we had to reschedule the concert to August and change the venue to a smaller one,' he said.

And one Singapore-based company that tentatively agreed to financially help GFO build a third 'learning centre' in south Vietnam has now delayed the initiative until further notice due to its weak financial performance. One of GFO's missions is to set up centres across Vietnam to provide facilities for underprivileged children who want to learn. Each learning centre consists of a library, classrooms and a computer room, and academic and vocational courses are offered to children free of charge.

Two learning centres have been built so far - one in Ho Chi Minh City and the other in Hue. These centres were sponsored by DBS, SGX, LC Development, COMO Foundation and FPT, a Vietnam-based firm, as well as many individuals in Singapore.


Some companies are still committed to working with NGOs even in the economic downturn.

CapitaLand, for example, allocates up to 0.5 per cent of its annual net profit every year to its philanthropic arm, the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, and the bulk of this is donated to NGOs.

There are benefits to working with NGOs, says Tan Bee Leng, general manager of the CapitaLand Hope Foundation. 'NGOs with local offices and people on the ground are able to identify worthy causes, assess needs or solutions and help local communities effectively over the long term,' says Ms Tan. 'By working with NGOs with strong local knowledge, CapitaLand is better able to effect positive, sustainable changes to local communities during its volunteer expeditions and thus make a difference.'

Besides GFO, CapitaLand has worked with Habitat for Humanity, World Vision Singapore, China Charity Federation and China Youth Foundation, all of which organise programmes and projects that are in line with the property group's CSR objectives.

OCBC Bank, which has adopted the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) as the main thrust of its CSR programme, will likewise keep donating - it has committed to donate $2.5 million over five years from 2004 to support SCS's activities.

'Singapore Children's Society has the expertise and valuable experience in community activities and is able to offer us constructive advice on how to improve the effectiveness of our CSR activities,' says Koh Ching Ching, head of group corporate communications at OCBC Bank.

The bank's employees have partnered other NGOs before. In 2008, OCBC staff worked with Habitat for Humanity and Mercy Relief to build three houses and distribute essential items to 250 orphans in three orphanages in Bandung, Indonesia.


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