A FORWARD-THINKING APPROACH TO THE

NON-PROFIT SECTOR

For the past 13 years, Tote Board has recognised the importance of building Capability and Capacity (C&C) within the non-profit sector. Non-profits with strong organisational C&C are able to perform better, deliver more effective services and solutions to their beneficiaries, and adapt quickly to changing environments. This is why, as a strategic grantmaker, we seek to enable C&C building as a means to enhance and enrich Singapore’s non-profit landscape. To accomplish this, we continuously channel our funding to support strategic C&C initiatives through three main areas — leaders, organisations and the wider non-profit ecosystem.

One of Tote Board’s earliest forays into C&C initiatives began in 2008, when we launched the Tote Board Overseas Scholarship for Non-Profit Leaders, grooming promising individuals through comprehensive programmes at notable overseas universities such as Harvard and Stanford Universities. Many of these leaders have assumed greater leadership roles in the sector, driving transformational changes in the agencies that they lead. Recognising that more needed to be done to build a stronger pipeline of local NPO leaders to accelerate sector capabilities, we launched our local leadership programme, Non-Profit Management for 21st Century, in partnership with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in 2012, and, subsequently, the ACE Capstone programme.

Tote Board’s efforts to build C&C have always focused on anticipating the needs of beneficiaries, proactively catalysing change to create a stronger NPO sector. In 2017, after extensive stakeholder engagement discussions, we gained a more holistic understanding of sector pain points, identifying organisational development as one of the key areas of need. These insights enabled us to anticipate the next step within our journey to make significant changes to the C&C of the sector. To that end, we designed and launched a targeted solution, the Tote Board Non-Profit Sector Transformation Initiative: Organisational Development (TBNTI-OD), the following year.

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"The TBNTI is conceived to help develop NPOs that are ready to step up their organisation capability and capacity to meet future challenges."

– Mr Fong Yong Kian

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Transforming NPOs from Good to Great

Organisational development is an important, but often under-funded, aspect of NPOs.

At the launch of TBNTI-OD, Tote Board’s Chief Executive, Mr Fong Yong Kian, noted that NPOs frequently struggle to strike a balance between serving their beneficiaries, and improving internal functions such as leadership, Information Technology systems, and human resources. Inevitably, most NPOs choose to focus on their beneficiaries due to resource constraints, and internal functions are often overlooked. With rising client expectations and technological disruption, however, there is a greater need for organisations to do more with less.

The TBNTI-OD Programme provides 10 NPOs up to $10 million to transform their organisations. Selected organisations have three years to transform their organisation based on their needs. The programme itself leverages the initial stakeholder discussion of 2017, and is designed to be highly flexible. Organisations may use funds for a variety of transformative initiatives, including engaging an organisational development consultant, hiring manpower to support change management, developing digitalisation initiatives, and identifying potential areas of collaboration.

Through empowering forward-thinking organisations and holistically addressing the need for organisational development, Tote Board aspires to create a dynamic, sustainable non-profit ecosystem. Awareness of organisational development within the NPO sector was raised after TBNTI-OD was launched, inspiring similar fundings and signifying the catalytic impact of our C&C initiative.

AWWA was one of the 10 organisations selected to further this cause, based on their transformation potential and drive to inspire change. The other organisations are Rainbow Centre, TOUCH Community Services, Care Corner Singapore, MENDAKI, Singapore Symphony Group, SHINE Children and Youth Services, AMKFSC Community Services, HCSA Community Services and SPD.

The following story shares how AWWA undertook its organisation development journey, with the help of the TBNTI-OD programme.

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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.

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"AWWA, as a multi-service organisation, experiences many advantages and challenges alike."

– Mr Karthik

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"Tote Board’s funding is very good because it is a significant quantum and it allows you to think carefully about how to use the funds efficiently."

– Mr Karthik

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Navigating the Process of Organisational Transformation

To Mr Karthik, the TBNTI-OD programme was timely as it gave AWWA the much-needed resources to improve. Even as AWWA tackles existing challenges head-on, there is still one key issue that they struggle with — getting the right talent for leadership and management.

‘People with diverse leadership abilities and varied skillsets may not be drawn to, or are aware of, the sector. Many schemes are available to improve that aspect, but I still feel that is my biggest challenge in the organisation,’ he explained.

In such situations, funding for organisational development becomes even more important, allowing for internal training, mentorship, and engagement. This ultimately leads to a stronger communication of ideals, methodologies, and knowledge, improving staff retention. Based on Mr Karthik’s experience, a common misconception is that the solution is to always bring in people from different sectors to lead. However, he begs to differ. He thinks that it is equally important to build talent from within.

Karthik firmly believes that AWWA’s organisation development journey is a continuous process of being forward-thinking, anticipating future challenges, and acting on it. He sums up his vision of AWWA in one sentence: ‘It is a generative thinking organisation.’ Not a doer, but a mover. Not an implementer, but an explorer; always in search of new ways to better serve the community.

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