This paper attempts to address the gap in knowledge on the contributions by philanthropic players to national development in Singapore. Using grounded research, it explores the evolution of giving by individuals, the community and the private sector in Singapore from the end of World War II in 1945 to today. It looks at how each group gives towards prevailing social needs, unexpected events and crises as well as government calls for community support across five key phases in Singapore’s journey to nationhood. To provide context to the giving, the political and socio-economic situation of each time frame and concurrent government social welfare provisions in each phase are also described.
The data collected shows evidence of complementary efforts across the people, public and private sectors over time, from the rebuilding of Singapore after the war to the formation and running of the Singapore Council of Social Service, the Community Chest, Singapore Community Foundation, ethnic self-help groups and various social movements. In the immediate post-war period (1945-1959), all three sectors worked in tandem to rebuild Singapore. In the first years of independence (1959-1975), the public sector took the lead to build basic social and economic infrastructure with the people and private sectors filling in the gaps. Once Singapore had achieved economic stability, the government corralled the community and corporates to first unite in (1975-1990) and then initiate support for the underprivileged (1990-2004). In the last decade, there has been clear evidence of civil society taking the lead in advocating for social inclusion with the government responding with strategies that ensure economic growth without compromising the social and emotional well-being of the people.
From fighting fires in the kampong to containing the SARS epidemic and from donating trishaw-riding wages to build Nanyang University to emptying one’s piggy bank to help the underprivileged, the sense of community spirit and initiative has been strong and enduring in Singapore since the end of World War II. Philanthropy has been both responsive and transformative, transcending time, age, social status and circumstance.
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