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Learning from the NKF saga

WHAT led to the leadership crisis at the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in 2005 which triggered a tsunami-like scandal in Singapore’s biggest social-service sector?

What are the lessons that can be learnt in the aftermath of the NKF saga to be used by future generations of VWOs (Voluntary Welfare Organisations)?

This, in a nutshell, covered the one-day workshop on October 20 for senior management in the social-service sector to look into two Tote Board-sponsored special case studies, done by the Asian Business Case Centre of the Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Tote Board Chief Executive Mr Tan Soo Nan said: “The workshop is an integral part of an ongoing initiative by the Tote Board to help our VWOs to strengthen their management capabilities by having their senior management executives coming together to discuss and exchange ideas and issues using case studies on the social service sector in Singapore.”

Assoc Prof Wee Beng Geok

Good talking points at the workshop, conducted by Associate Professor Wee Beng Geok of the Nanyang Business School (who undertook the case study together with Ms Yvonne Chong and Ms Ivy Buche) were two integral parts:

ANATOMY OF A CRISIS: Reviewing NKF's business fund-raising model in the context of the social space in which charities operate in Singapore, with emphasis on the pre-crisis and post-crisis relationships between the NKF leadership and the stakeholders and/or donors.

LEADERSHIP AND CHANGE: Examining the change-management as leaders take positive steps in the midst of a highly-sensitive public controversy and in rallying to meet the rousing change-expectations of the external shareholders. 

The NKF saga, involving Singapore’s biggest charity, caused a massive backlash and fallout of donors to the charity, and subsequently resulted in the resignation of Chief Executive Officer T.T. Durai and its board of directors.

Chief Executive

As Mr Tan hoped, the day-long workshop, at the Singapore Turf Club, generated “active, constructive and professional discussions of the issues that took place at the NKF”.

“I do not think it is of much value to debate the right or wrong of personal actions that took place in NKF,” reminded Mr Tan at the opening ceremony. “A politician once remarked: ‘Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.’”

More case studies are in the pipeline, under the Tote Board project, to undertake the writing of social-service sector examples, which can be used by VWOs as a tool for their internal talent development programme. 

Mr Tan noted: “The experience of constructive and active discussion of these cases also offer participants the opportunity of self-reflection and, hopefully, lead to not only setting higher goals for the non-profit organisation but the start of a journey of creating a high performance organizational culture.”


Among the 30-odd senior VWOs staff who attended the workshop were six Tote Board-sponsored overseas scholars: Dr R. Akhileswaran, Medical Director of HCA Hospice Care, Mrs June Tham, Executive Director, Rainbow Centre, Mr Alfred Tan, Executive Director, Singapore Children’s Society, Mr Tim Oei, Chief Executive Officer, Asian Women’s Welfare Association, Mr James Wong, Executive Director, Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore and Mr S. Vivakanandan, Chief Executive Officer, Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital.

Photos by YAP XIU LING & NORRIZAH SALIM show Tote Board's Chief Executive Mr Tan Soo Nan at the opening ceremony, Assoc Prof Wee Beng Geok conducting the workshop and the workshop participants.