Friday, January 24, 2014

Making social support personal

Jan 24, 2014


THE Government's pledge of $250 million, to match donations to social service organisations dollar for dollar this year, underscores how partnership between the state and the public can expand the philanthropic horizon dramatically. A benefit of this pairing is that it helps to make such support more personal - individuals are more likely to give to their pet causes and charity in general if they know that the state takes their donations seriously enough to match them. And Singaporeans who participate in the scheme will do so in the knowledge that the value of their contributions will double - $500 million will be available to voluntary welfare organisations under the Care and Share Movement.

Social support may appear depersonalised under official schemes that dispense help to the needy and vulnerable as a matter of course. When linked to public generosity, it helps it to be viewed with a measure of gratitude instead of just entitlement.

A culture of giving, based on habits of the heart, is a characteristic of mature philanthropic societies. As Singapore approaches the 50th anniversary of its independence next year, citizens need to remember the pioneer generation which helped to make the nation's success possible, but itself missed out on the educational and other fruits of that success which subsequent generations take for granted. There are others, too, who find it difficult to thrive in a competitive society today and are deserving of compassion. How well a society treats its disadvantaged reveals its self-perception as a moral and caring community and not a flea market of atomised and self-seeking individuals.

A compassionate society also reduces demands for welfarism, which are difficult to ignore in a democracy. Any system to contain such demands can hold only so long as the public empathises with those genuinely in need and is prepared to step in. Finding ways to boost the public's efforts, like providing matching grants, is a never-ending task. Charities setting up their own businesses to raise funds display precisely the kind of inventiveness that is required to prevent compassion fatigue. Social enterprises are a promising avenue, although there are understandable concerns over business interests superseding charitable purpose, and even whether charities possess the skills to operate successful businesses. So long as integrity and accountability are preserved, imaginative ways of raising money enable charities to be self-sufficient and reduce the pressure on handouts. What is also heartening is the number of individuals and organisations that are devoting themselves to the cause of others. One has to just take this personally to make a difference.

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