I read with a mix of concern and amusement, the news that NKF was in the red for the first time in 10 years. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1018819/1/.html
Yes of course, donations have been down, especially since the scandal. It’s down 26% from the last year.
Expenses, aid and subsidies have gone up — we all know it’s getting more expensive in singapore, and more people are needing help. So its nice that the charity is doing its job and providing help.
The one particular thing that really got me noticing was the 97.5% drop in investment income from $3million to $80,000.
Now I really hope that’s because the current management has decided that investment income was something they no longer wanted to depend on and hence made a deliberate effort to not pursue investment income.
Because otherwise, it’s a 97.5% drop!!!! 97.5%!!! wow. If anyone working in an investment firm, Temasek, GIC, Town Council , whatever. A 97.% drop is hilariously unacceptable, I think. ( Maybe it’s just me being ignorant, and I know how irritating it is to encounter ignorant people acting like they know something in my field of expertise (health & biology, not econs), so I’ll be glad to learn something if you point out i’m wrong, and that a 97.5% drop is perfectly normal and OK cos it’s not like any money was lost?!?! )
But that’s not really the point I’m concerned with. What I was thinking was that the ex-management — yes the very one thrown out first by popular uprising, and then taken care of by the judiciary —- was really quite savy with the finances . Be it investment, marketing, or simply creating a financially sustainable charity —- they were damned good, so good that they could help themselves to some of the excess.
I’m definately not trying to defend their crimes or unethical behavior here. But what I’m actually wondering is that perhaps we should take a leaf from the PAP’s book, and start paying charity workers & social workers decently.
Now I’m not talking about paying people 5times what their next highest-paid peers are paid ( http://timesbusiness.typepad.com/money_weblog/2009/04/the-10-highest-paid-politicians-in-the-world.html (Times Absolute Ranking) ; http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/best-paid-politicians/story-0-1225696964080 (Rank by per capita) oh look at that, Ireland comes in tops in Europe! =D )
I’m talking about simply paying charity workers & social workers the amount they deserve — comparable to their other Singaporean peers with equal educational qualifications and effort put into their jobs! Not only would it be decent and fair to charity & social workers, we’ll also be able to retain more good people!
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying existing workers are no good. What I’ve hear from my charity & social worker friends is that fresh graduates (yes they need a degree, and often a masters degree too! http://www.sasw.org.sg/site/job-vacancies/index.php ) get into the industry with lots of passion, and learn alot on the job through their early years. However, because the pay just isn’t up to scratch, alot of them leave for other better paying jobs when they decide to start a family, simply to give their families a better life! In this way, the industry loses lots of experienced people who could contribute so much more to Singapore’s needy. There are very very few experienced people who stay on after decades, they are so overworked!
Charity and social work is not just about physically taking care of people’s needs. One very important aspect of it is managing the financial sustainability of the organisation and helping it grow. Most companies would hire someone with financial degrees and experience; charity organisations should be no different. But because the Singapore society has this mentality that people who work for charity should be doing it out of their own good heart, they should be unpaid volunteers or paid very minimally. Now we have many people in this industry with good hearts, and rightly so. But lots of this work requires full time workers — who need to live decently, go for upgrading courses, have parent’s who need to see doctors, have children who want to go to the university. Paying people minimally would drive good financial managers away.
TT Durai’s model was actually an excellent one (minus ths fraud and gold toilets, that is). I remember him giving a lecture in NUS about his business model : Instead of a Not-for-Profit oragnisation, he actually has a FOR-profit-charity. This way, good people work for the organisation, grow it, an sustain it. Everyone benefits. Yes, fraud was involved, but with every industry eg. banking, politics etc, as long as the appropriate regulations are not in place, fraud is bound to happen. Profit, however, does not mean fraud. Paying people salaries benchmarked to their peers, is not fraud.
I’ve actually long wanted to write on this, but never got around to doing the research. Today’s article was simply an inpiration.
I did a quick google search and found a few things.
Civil Service Starting Salary for a Basic Degree (2007 ) : $2570, Honours Degree : $2800, Teachers: 2820 http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/277477/1/.html
Social Workers Starting Salary for Fresh Grads (Current) : $1800 – $2400 (Their upper limit doesn’t even come close to a Civil Servant!)
Singapore Top 100 paying jobs (2007) : Social Workers are NOT even in that list!!!!!!!!! The bottom of that list makes about 4000+ . My social worker friends tell me they hit a ceiling of about $3000 after years of experience because of this mentality that social workers shouldn’t be doing this for profit, and definately not on donation money.
I hope this would change.
I started with a simple question.
What can I do contribute positively to humanity? How can I be of help?
I was thinking Africa, thinking East Timor, thinking India, China. Thinking, gosh, am I prepared to live a life without hot water and air-con, without internet and instant food? To live without electricity or sanitation. To live with creepy crawlies. Could I do that?
I thought, maybe I’ll go for a soft launch into saving the world. Let me first start by looking at Singapore, at how can I help in this place that I’ve spent only all my life in. This should be a lot more bearable; I’ll have my sterility and safety, my convenience and comfort.
But seriously, Singapore, the air-conditioned nation with the efficient government who does it all and thinks it all and provides it all for you, with record efficiency and security. What could be lacking here, right?
I thought, well perhaps I could help out with those “First World” type of issues. Given my background in biomedical research, I thought I’ll go into issues with some biology basis. Homosexuality, HIV, sexuality issues. I thought the other issues that should be tackled (but by someone else) in Singapore would be stuff like having Freedom of speech and expression, Political Freedom , social stratification, educational pressures, etc . Stuff like that.
And then, as I began asking, meeting people, attending events by the U60, Calcutta began unfolding in front of my eyes , right here in Singapore. It’s as if, I was spring cleaning a really clean house, thinking there was nothing much, and then lifting the carpet and seeing in underneath infested with maggots, and half me wants to just cover it back again and pretend I didn’t see a thing, and another half makes me sick and I can no longer see my house the same way ever again.
Yesterday evening, I learnt, through films, of how Singapore is responsible for fueling the sex trade in our neighboring countries, where it is COMMON for 13 , 14 year old girls to be sold, forced, cheated into being prostitutes for peanuts, for Singaporean men. For peanuts that they wouldn’t even get.
In the Philippines (and I suspect in other neighbors as well), there are generations of families that grow up IN the rubbish dump. It’s their everyday reality and norm to pick up food scraps, re-cook it and eat it and even savor. It was horrible to watch.
Yesterday I thought that we had major “3rd world” problems with the “3rd world” around us, and though we had a role to play, it wasn’t HERE.
Tonight I was talking to a social worker. She works at a social service center in Bedok. She says, very matter of factly, that there are 5 social workers, each with a caseload of 40, handling just cases involving domestic violence, in the East side area they were in charge of. These are cases of physical domestic violence that were referred to them by the Courts. Meaning that these were the reported cases, 200 in the east side of Singapore, at this present moment. She says that abuse happens across all the family incomes and educational groups, there was no real specific profile or link to poverty. In fact she says, the richer the family, the more likely they would keep quiet and the victim would not leave because there was so much more to lose. Abuse does not start when the marriage has gone stale, often it starts early in the marriage or even before, and it escalates with the first pregnancy when the victims are “forced” to stay for their children. And victims often stay silent. And when they do speak up, women and children find themselves homeless, because they are afraid to stay in their flat with their abuser, but the flat belongs to the abuser, so the abuser gets to stay, and the victims are forced to become charity cases, staying at shelters for years. Yesterday , at the film, a lady related her experience of calling the police to intervene when she heard a violent episode happening in her neighbors flat, only to have the police tell her not to be a busybody.
She says that poverty is common in Singapore. Poverty, where you receive / earn just enough to live from hand-to-mouth, with nothing else. Poverty, where you receive just enough help to give your baby milk and diapers, where you receive just enough to keep you alive , and nothing more. There is a show on Channel 8, Monday nights, called Life Transformers. I think it is the BEST show EVER EVER made in Singapore, for all time. EVER. It shows exactly what it means to live without hope in Singapore.
I think these people tend to be invisible and isolated because of the way our society has been stratified. The scholars, had the best schools, best tuition, the educated parents (LKY is actually right to say that there is a correlation between parental education and child education now, but is it really genetic, or about the starting advantage that the child of grad parents has? ). The scholars who are roped into the government to plan policies have absolutely no idea how it feels to be at the bottom, hopeless. The mid-level people, the teachers, doctors, lawyers, media people – the people who tend to form the bulk of the social activists here – they see issues, but they don’t see or feel the depth of the issue. I must confess, I am somewhere here. The average and below, they are too focused on personal improvement.
The people that really need help. They are invisible on the internet, invisible to the vocal alternative view-generators on the Net. Because they can’t even read, don’t own a computer, may not even have electricity, let alone internet connection. They are invisible to the journalists who write the papers, because the journalists , the people who were in the correct social strata to have the chance of becoming a journalist , never had the opportunities to interact with them. These are people who can’t speak English, probably not even proper mother tongue, they can’t even get noticed by journalists. They are also invisible to each other, because in their helplessness , they can’t reach out for support , they have no voice to call out at all.
There are people dying because they can’t afford medicines. People living on one meal a day because a factory worker supports a family of 6. People in their 70s who scavenge the rubbish bins at 4am. People being raped and abused by their family. People dying because they have no idea of any other way out.
All this is happening, in some home, within a 10minute radius (half an hour if I took the public bus) from where I am this very moment. In my Singapore, my Calcutta.