BUILDING FUTURE-READY NON-PROFIT ORGANISATIONS
As a multi-service agency, AWWA runs programmes which serve thousands of people across various life stages each year. The organisation also has a long history of helping the vulnerable.
In 1979, AWWA started a playgroup for children with multiple disabilities at a time when no other special education school shared that specialisation. This playgroup eventually became AWWA School, which has grown to serve over 300
students yearly. In 1991, to better support the integration of youth with disabilities in mainstream schools, it started TEACH ME (now known as Community Integration Service). Understanding the need for multiple models of support,
AWWA extended its services to found Singapore’s first inclusive preschool, Kindle Garden, in 2015. At Kindle Garden, children of all abilities learn together in a common space and grow to be resilient and compassionate citizens.
To Mr J R Karthikeyan (Karthik), Chief Executive Officer, this continuum of services embodies the ethos of AWWA. It is an “ambidextrous” organisation: on the one hand, it can continue running existing programmes efficiently
and effectively, while on the other, it is able to be forward-looking and proactive in identifying social gaps.
This, he shares, is the fundamental role of NPOs within Singapore. As a tripartite, the public, private and social service sectors should be equally enabled, and as far as NPOs are concerned, organisational development is one area
that can be enhanced.
AWWA embarked on an organisational development transformation journey in late 2018 to improve its leadership and management capabilities. Being ambidextrous was an ideal, but not yet fully institutionalised, and involved additional
focus areas such as strengthening knowledge management, a shared perception and even volunteer management capabilities.
Knowledge management comprises “hardware”, such as systems, and “software”, which involves people and culture. Mr Karthik explained that AWWA runs services in over 13
different locations, with more than 22 programmes that cater to various demographics. The breadth of their programmes poses logistical challenges, and it is difficult to create a shared perception among its 750-strong staff, in
order to communicate a clear vision and outcome.
Tackling these issues requires funding. However, most donors tend to fund programmes that help beneficiaries, rather than support improvements in areas such as strategic planning and organisational development. As such, Mr Karthik
explained that capability building initiatives have become “nice-to-haves”, when, in reality, they are “must-haves”.
‘The challenge is always mobilising funds for your nice-to-haves, which are organisational development capabilities, research, and data-driven thinking capabilities. All these are necessary, and they will help you run the organisation
in a much more robust way. But they are not funded,’ Mr Karthik shared.