Culture / Events

For Love Shines: 200 Years of Philanthropic Work in Singapore

For Love Shines: An Ode to 200 Years of Philanthropy in Singapore is an honour to all our founding fathers of great philanthropic works.

Sep 01, 2019 | By Joe Lim

If you’re in the mood for more of Singapore’s rich bicentennial history and heritage especially after having visited the multi-sensory experience at Fort Canning – The Bicentennial Experience, then you’ll want to check out For Love Shines: An Ode to 200 Years of Philanthropy in Singapore.

Temasek Shophouse Front Entrance in the evening where Love Shines: An Ode to 200 Years of Philanthropy in Singapore is showcased (credit: Temasek Shophouse)

Steeped In History: Philanthropic Work
Launched on 21 August 2019, this other Singapore Bicentennial exhibition is an insightful look into philanthropic work in Singapore’s earlier years. Our nation’s work in philanthropic work is steeped in history and it appropriately marks the Little Red Dot’s bicentennial in 2019, too. This exhibition is a collaboration with Temasek Shophouse and NUS Business School’s Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy (ACSEP). The exhibition runs from 21 August to 31 October 2019 and is housed in the reimagined Temasek Shophouse that serves as a social impact hub.

Ms Yvonne Tay, Director of Temasek Shophouse, giving her welcome remarks during the event. (credit: Temasek Shophouse)

Temasek Shophouse – A New Purpose
The current building has been given a striking makeover both interior and exterior. The modern interior aesthetics are made relevant and purposeful in order to present historic moments of our nation’s different philanthropic practices which started in 1819. The crux of the exhibition is to shed light on the societal impact that philanthropic efforts have made in the nation-state’s history. Singapore’s deep roots in giving have never been glorified and explained in detail.

Temasek Shophouse Atrium with its conserved facade and reimagined spaces (credit: Temasek Shophouse)

This exhibition highlights five significant eras that demonstrate the evolution of Singapore’s philanthropy-scape and the different facets and mechanisms of giving:
• 19th-century colonial era (1819 to 1900) Efforts were focused on primary needs such as building places of worship, burial and basic healthcare
• Early 20th-century colonial era (1901 to 1945) Asian women philanthropists gained prominence and grassroots philanthropy emerged to support communal purposes, including relief efforts during WWII and the Japanese Occupation
• Post-war reconstruction and nationalism era (1946 to 1965) Relief work by local broad-based volunteer welfare organisations in reconstruction and alleviating social problems fostered a greater sense of belonging that cut across ethnic lines
• Nation-building era (1966 to 1999) During the development of the nation’s economy, volunteer groups and services sprang up to provide social services to those in need, while the government supported by introducing structures to better co-ordinate philanthropic donations and activities
• Professionalization and global-giving era (2000 to present) Philanthropy had grown into an ecosystem comprising national bodies, private sector donors and the community

Tan Tock Seng – one of Singapore’s most famous philanthropic individuals (credit: Margaret Tan Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

Philanthropic Work – Early Years
Unbeknownst to many people, the philanthropic works often go unnoticed or largely unrecognised, especially in the formative years. While many people believe that philanthropy is conventionally understood as the donation of large sums of money to charitable causes that help the needy, the less fortunate and/or civil society organisations, it is most often associated with wealthy individuals and families who make large contributions to improve education or alleviate social problems like poverty, hunger, and disease.

Ngee Ann Kongsi – a former iconic building where philanthropic work was offered (credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

In a more modern context or setting, the concept of philanthropy has expanded to mean more than just monetary donations; it can also mean the giving of time and expertise to causes and the organisations that champion them. Increasingly, philanthropy is also no longer
seen as the domain of the well-to-do. The giving of money, time and effort, even in small amounts, is an act of philanthropy. This seven-week exhibition is free for the public to attend and learn more about the significant role philanthropy has played, and still plays, in addressing Singapore’s social needs.

Thong Chai Medical Institution in its former days giving free medical service (credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

In The Beginning
Most interesting philanthropic works in Singapore are the ones from the 19th-century colonial era of 1819 to 1900. With many poor families prevalent in this challenging colonial era, philanthropic works had to address primary needs such as erecting burial places, places of worship and even basic healthcare. Local communities and social networks were able to form as a result of these focal sites.

In the mid to late 1800s, the first instances of family philanthropy emerged as contributions from local-born philanthropists grew. Many of them were the children of first-generation philanthropists, carrying on the generous giving and leadership of their fathers (i.e. Tan Tock Seng). Intellectual influences from the West also began to change traditional worldviews, leading to greater philanthropic efforts in providing formal education and English education.

This extensive philanthropic exhibition is based on eight research papers where Singapore’s deep roots in giving have been documented across 200 years; definitely there are more eras to discover and learn from just one visit! Read about other current philanthropic individuals who continue to contribute to their societies such as Warren Buffett.

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