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Asian Philanthropic Leaders Look to Australia


Thursday, 22nd November 2012 at 8:42 am
Staff Reporter
Philanthropic leaders in Asia are looking to Australia to help grow their emerging philanthropic and social sectors. Pro Bono Australia Editor, Lina Caneva, spoke to visiting philanthropic leader Laurence Lien from Singapore.


Thursday, 22nd November 2012
at 8:42 am
Staff Reporter


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Asian Philanthropic Leaders Look to Australia
Thursday, 22nd November 2012 at 8:42 am

Philanthropic leaders in Asia are looking to Australia to help grow their emerging philanthropic and social sectors. Pro Bono Australia Editor, Lina Caneva, spoke to visiting philanthropic leader Laurence Lien from Singapore.


Above: ACF chief Clare Brooks and Community Foundation of Singapore's Joyce Teo and Laurence Lien. 

In particular, Asian countries are looking at the growth of Community Foundations and the opportunity to build an Australia Asia philanthropy network, according to Laurence Lien, the Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS).

Lien has been in Melbourne meeting with the CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation Clare Brooks, and her team at the Foundation.

Lien says the process of networking between Australia and Asian countries is already underway but for most Asian countries the philanthropic sector is in its infancy.

“Singapore started from a low base but with wealth creation taking place across Asia, donors are looking for philanthropic opportunities on the ground which are plentiful as Asians represent more than half the world’s population,” Lien said.

Formerly the Director of Governance and Investment at the Ministry of Finance, Lien served 14 years in the Singapore Administrative Service, rotating through different positions in the Ministries of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Home Affairs and Education.

Actively involved in the Not for Profit sector, Lien is Chairman of Lien Foundation, and Deputy Chairman of Caritas Singapore Community Council. He is also the President of the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership, and Board Member of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University.

He is currently also a Nominated Member of the Singapore Parliament.

“There is opportunity for growth and I am confident philanthropy will grow rapidly in Asia.

The Community Foundation of Singapore was set up in 2009.

“It was the worst time to launch at the start of the Global Financial Crisis so we struggled at first.”

“But we have taken off by learning from others, like Clare Brooks and Bob Edgar from the New York Community Trust, and navigating from nothing to a growth stage.

“We are now in a position to scale up as more donors are using our services.

He told Pro Bono Australia he has been here with a colleague to learn about the processes, systems and projects at the Australian Communities Foundation.

“Traditionally we have looked first to the philanthropic and Community Foundation models from the US and then the UK.

“The US has been a model to benchmark a philanthropic system, but the American model is just one model. Because of the long philanthropic tradition of community foundations there, with over 100 years of experience, this doesn’t represent what is happening in Asia.

“There is a limit to the learning from there because they are so far ahead and we are in the starting blocks,” he said.

“In Australia now, there is a lot more that we can learn as we are only about ten years behind in terms of the philanthropic sector in Asia.

“This is a great learning opportunity for us. As well, with the number of Asians in Australia, there is a great affinity with Singaporeans here.

“Having seen the start-up work going on here it makes good sense to connect.”

International philanthropic expert and CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation, Clare Brooks, who moved from the UK to take up the role, is also on the Advisory Council of the Community Foundation of Singapore.The Community Foundation of Singapore has $SGD13 million ($AUD10.2 million) in endowments with pledges of around $SGD40 million ($AUD 31.4 million)

The ACF has about $AUD50 million under management and in assets..

Clare Brooks says for small and large organisations networking with countries that are a few steps ahead benefits both in the exchange of reciprocal learning.

“As well there are lessons to be learned here from Singapore and Asia generally.”

Brooks says this includes how to reach out to the Asian community here and how they are connecting to philanthropy in Australia. “The proximity of reaching Singapore rather than New York for a philanthropy conference is also a bonus.”

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and the Community Foundation of Singapore recently hosted a Philanthropy in Asia Summit, in Singapore, which Brooks attended.

Lien said the response was extremely promising with around 190 delegates attending and more than half from outside Singapore..

“At the summit, many delegates expressed strong interest in building up a knowledge centre and sharing best practice and working on co-funding projects,” Lien said.

Lien and Brooks said one of the issues that emerged was the cross-border flow of philanthropic funds, significantly between the more developed economies of Singapore and Hong Kong and the less developed countries.

Countries such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam also have emerging Not for Profit sectors.

“There has been enormous growth in the philanthropic activity in China. There are about 1500 private foundations now from very few just 3-4 years ago.

“This is occurring with no tax benefits as the Chinese business people are starting to take ownership of the social issues facing them and they are very open to learning from others.

Lien said however that the Chinese government is behind in regulating the sector and it needs to learn how to manage the growth of the social sector.

“Asian countries are at different stages of development but I have a huge sense of optimism.”



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