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Opening Remarks by Mr Fong Yong Kian, Chief Executive, Tote Board, at Tote Board-SSI Leader Series for Non-Profits #6, on 29 January 2019 at SIM Performing Arts Theatre

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Speaker of the Parliament of Singapore
Mr Sim Gim Guan, Chief Executive Officer, NCSS
Mr Gared Jones, Chief Network Officer, Points of Light
Ms Tobi Johnson, President and Founder of VolunteerPro
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am glad to join you for today’s Global Leaders Series, or GLS in short. Tote Board started this programme two years ago and we are indeed privileged to walk alongside all of you on this learning journey. 

2. To recap – why did Tote Board initiate GLS? Well, it stems from our strong belief in the importance of the People Sector in nation building. The People Sector is an eco-system that comprises the community, non-profits. including the social service organisations and more.  The People Sector needs to be developed for it to amplify its positive impact on society.  This is a complex matter and the development of the People Sector can take many forms.  In Tote Board, we see our part as contributing towards developing the capability and capacity of the non-profit sector.   Allow me to elaborate on this over the next 10 minutes. 

Importance of Capacity and Capability Building 
3. Since our establishment 30 years ago, Tote Board has approved $10 billion in grants for worthwhile causes in Singapore, in line with our vision of “Giving Hope, Improving Lives.” Over the years, we are keenly aware that the key success factor for our grantmaking is not about how much money is available, but on the capability and capacity of the non-profits on the ground that implement the programmes and deliver the much needed services to members of the community.  

Build Organisational Capabilities

4. It is therefore good investment to devote resources towards building the capability and capacity of the non-profit organisations. This is why two months ago, we launched the Tote Board Non-Profit Sector Transformation Initiative, with the intent of giving additional resources to non-profits that aspire to transform themselves, to operate at a higher level and generate greater impact on society.  The funding from Tote Board would go towards organisational development in key areas such as human capital, strategic planning, processes and digitalisation.  We are very encouraged by the enthusiastic response from the many NPOs which recognise the importance of Organisation Development. If this momentum can be sustained, perhaps in the near future, when we think of excellent organisations, what spring to our minds will not be only the big private sector companies, but also many non-profit organisations, because they too have attained similar standards of development and excellence.

Collaborate for multiplier effect 
5. Another key prong of our approach towards grant making is to foster collaboration. Collaboration goes beyond the sharing of good ideas or best practices. Collaboration at its heart is about having a deep respect for each other’s strengths and capabilities, and the willingness to find synergies, share resources and even talent for the greater good, beyond agencies’ own interest.    

6. Let me give you an example.  In September last year, we launched an initiative called “Shared Gifting Circle”.   Eight NPOs in the children and youth mental health space were subsequently brought together to form the Shared Gifting Circle and given a combined grant of $2 million to find the best solutions to holistically tackle mental health challenges in children and youth. Unlike traditional funding, Shared Gifting transfers the funding decision from the grant-maker to the grantees themselves who form the Shared Gifting Circle.  

7. We are excited about pioneering this collaborative approach towards grant-making, and happy that those in the Shared Gifting Circle are working collectively towards shared projects, pooling together their resources and expertise. This example highlights the potential multiplier effect of collaboration, where partners leverage on each other’s strengths, instead of working in silos and going it alone. If this first ever Shared Gifting Circle proves to be useful, we will convene more Shared Gifting Circles in future, as we work towards more collaborations to deliver more client-centric services and reduce duplicative efforts.  Tote Board would be sharing our learnings from the Shared Gifting journey when the initiative is completed.  

Develop Leaders 
8. Next, we believe in the need to develop talents and leaders in the non-profit space. This has always been a key focus area for Tote Board, and our efforts include the ACE Capstone Leadership Programme, conducted in partnership with the Social Service Institute.  Tote Board has also been running an Overseas Scholarship Programme for the past 11 years. To date, 42 non-profit leaders have attended executive education programmes at overseas universities such as Harvard and Stanford. We have just completed a review and have decided to extend the Overseas Scholarship Programme for another 3 years.  We have also decided to include INSEAD’s Social Entrepreneurship Programme in France as a new Programme for our prospective scholars.  Tote Board will open the call for applications next month, in February. Through these efforts, we hope to imbibe NPO leaders with the right leadership mindset and skills as well as an entrepreneurial drive to make a difference.

Entrepreneurial Mindset in the Non-Profit Sector 
9. This brings me to the importance of being enterprising or entrepreneurial in the non-profit sector, which is a key theme of today’s talks, and indeed throughout the entire Global Leader Series. 

10. The world is undergoing a period of huge change, with geo-political forces and technology advancements impacting a global economy like ours. The non-profit sector will need to adapt quickly. Needs on the ground are becoming more complex and varied, as expectations rise. However, resources are always limited. I believe that it is only with an entrepreneurial mindset that NPOs can surmount the challenge of resource constraints and be sustainable in the longer run.  I’m sure our speakers today, with their wealth of experiences in Singapore and many countries, will share many useful insights with us on how we can leverage resources outside our own organisation, be it volunteers, the community and also the corporate sector, to do more to share their capabilities and expertise with the People sector.  

A-Grade People Sector 
11. To summarise, I’ve talked about Building organisation capabilities (that starts with B), Collaboration for multiplier effect, Developing talent and leaders and having an Entrepreneurial mindset.  You recognise that I’m using the acronym BCDE. But where is the A? 

12. A is to be an A-Grade People Sector. At the heart of an A-Grade people sector is like-minded people with the heart to serve for the greater good.  Achieving this A-Grade people sector also requires a combination of building NPO’s organisation capabilities, collaboration developing talent and leaders and having an entrepreneurial dare to do things differently. 

Concluding Remarks
13. The unique thing about the People Sector is that the total is far greater than the sum of the individual parts.  When people in the community come together to work at solving issues or exploring new areas, the sense of collective involvement and ownership is strengthened. In Singapore style, some might call this gotong royong or kampung spirit for short. Regardless of what we call this, a strong People sector strengthens the cohesiveness and resilience of us as one people. This I believe, is the true purpose that we strive for.

14. It remains for me now to specially thank our key partners, amongst whom are NCSS, SSI, SIM Professional Development and SG Cares for being such valuable partners with us in this Global Leader Series. I wish you all a great conference ahead. Thank you.