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Can The Media Influence You To Donate Generously?

These are the un-vetted musings of a professional keyboard-pounder. But first, thank you Dr Tahir and Mr Kuok Khoon Hong for your generosity.

Can The Media Influence You To Donate Generously?

Anchor image: Do more, Donate! Image created by Mirna Talaat. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives — help stop the spread of Covid-19.
(Image: United Nations Covid-19 Response/Unsplash)

And Razer too. 

By June 1, when Circuit Breaker measures are expected to ease, the island will be dotted with 20 vending machines stocked with surgical masks produced by Razer, the gaming firm whose consoles, keyboards and other paraphernalia regularly sends gamers into a tizzy.  

The mask production line was set up within 24 days of enigmatic founder Tan Min-Liang announcing plans on his Facebook page on April 1 “to produce a couple of million certified masks” each month. It was no April Fool’s joke. Within hours, Frasers Property, JustCo and PBA Group became the first Singapore-based companies to each commit US$50,000 upfront for the initial shipments of masks.

A few days later in April, the most fascinating read appeared in The Straits Times (ST), which detailed Indonesian tycoon Dr Tahir’s $500,000 donation to needy individuals and families affected by Covid-19 in Singapore. 

The philanthropist, during his Zoom interview with reporters, was quoted to have said: “The Singapore Government has done well, and done so much. But I’ve had a strange observation — I don’t see Singaporean businessmen or tycoons responding, at least not yet. So I hope that a small donation from a Singapore PR will encourage them to also participate. (Fighting the coronavirus) is a combined government and public job. Everyone has an obligation and responsibility to participate.”

Within five seconds of reading the above sentence, I had screenshot the article, circled the statement in blue, and Whatsapped it to colleagues accompanied by two words: “ya hor?!” 

My instinctive exclamation could have been absolutely wrong. 

But then veteran diplomat Tommy Koh seemed to second Dr Tahir’s observation when he noted in a ST op-ed: “The billionaires of Singapore have been conspicuously silent during this crisis. We have, unfortunately, no one like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos among our super-rich people.”

It had slipped my mind that Catherine Loh, CEO of the Community Foundation of Singapore, had told us in an email interview conducted in late March (but published earlier this month) that “Singaporeans are generous. They think deeply about how to create giving that will improve things and impact lives.” 

Donations to the foundation’s Sayang Sayang Fund, which supports healthcare staff and the vulnerable, had far exceeded its initial target of $500,000. “The response has been tremendous from private individuals as well as corporate donors,” Loh had said. [Update: As of 19 May 2020, donations and pledges to the Sayang Sayang Fund have exceeded $6 million.]

Gaming firm Razer’s #ForSingaporeansBySingaporeans initiative will see 20 surgical masks vending machines deployed island-wide by June 1, 2020.
(Image: Razer)

The frequency of reports on volunteerism and charitable giving by Singapore’s ultra-affluent in the mainstream press before the start of Circuit Breaker and now, in mid-May, is at a vastly different pace. Good-doings by the wealthy are saluted daily, often in the most respected of formats, still — the broadsheet. (Yes, I still maintain a print subscription, and you should too.) 

Did Dr Tahir’s and Prof Koh’s comments in the press inspire or shame us into giving more generously? Did the media, roused by their observations, scramble to get quotes from do-gooders? Or did the public simply begin to realise the sheer magnitude of Covid-19 and having woken to the fact that everyone can and must play a part in protecting and embracing our wider community, are giving more readily?

Like me you’ll have since read how the philanthropic Lien family had quietly donated $2 million in early April to charities affected by the pandemic. How billionaire Kishin RK, founder of food firm TiffinLabs has paired with Free Food For All to distribute 30,000 restaurant quality meals. And that Peter Lim, owner of Spanish football club Valencia, is picking up the tab for $1 million worth of meals for hospital staff.

You know that doctrine about not announcing with a trumpet when you give to the needy? You’d think more philanthropists would be adamant about being discreet. (Actually, a big name automaker did tell us not to report about their contributions to Covid-19 relief efforts.) Instead, the notion of good deeds inspiring more good deeds has refreshingly taken off.

And as more learned people have put forth, giving is rather contagious.

Even with a team of writers, it’s now hard to keep pace with the charitable. I was already wondering if my higher ups would question why we spoke to Mr A and Mrs B, but not Ms C or Mr D about their donations; when this morning, our national English broadsheet carried news of Wilmar Chairman Kuok Khoon Hong committing a total of $7 million to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund over the next three years.

I suspect Mr Kuok would turn our interview request down. 

As a luxury publication and brand that also believes in casting spotlights on good leadership, advocacy and social issues, I can’t help but ruminate every so often about the role us mainstream media can, and has to play. 

Sometimes my thoughts wriggle around in circles. Often they don’t actually make any kind of headway. This piece, I suppose, is written to remind myself — and anyone who has miraculously made it this far down the page — that even though we’re not all volunteering at a soup kitchen (like my friend Jess), we can all do something.

It just so happens that my “do something” is putting information on a page. Now back to the question: Can the media influence you to donate generously? Yes, the power is in our hands. (“Newspapers are the most important food for me,” said Dr Tahir.) But we’re story-tellers not subject matters. We need good fodder. We need more Dr Tahirs and Mr Kuoks to share thought leadership. Because giving is contagious.

We don’t have to wait for another Covid-19 to see that hearts can be bigger than wallets.

Lauren Tan is Editor-in-Chief of A Magazine and has written for and steered luxury lifestyle publications for over a decade. Where once she worked from an office, this CB she types away in solitude on a laptop on her bed.

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