Before he rose to fame in the hit Netflix series Bling Empire, Singaporean millennial millionaire Kane Lim had previously made the headlines in the local papers in March 2015 when he sold his pre-loved designer buys like Christian Louboutin shoes and a rare Hermes bracelet for charity at the Singapore Red Cross International Bazaar.
Last year, Adeline Teo, the daughter of business magnates Andrew Teo and Angela Ng, sold her homemade Basque burnt cheesecakes and donated the proceeds to help foreign workers in Singapore.
And this year, Singaporean socialite Kim Lim pledged to give away meals to 1,500 frontline healthcare workers and help reunite foreign workers with their families by sponsoring air tickets. The daughter of Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim had also previously traveled to Mongolia in 2018 where she donated food and helped build homes she funded for needy locals.
Getting hands-on with paying it forward, it appears, is now par for the course for Singapore’s wealthy millennials.
And then there are those like Rebekah Lin, who is arguably the poster child for millennial philanthropists in Singapore.
Millennials are more interested in catalysing impact instead of simply giving money. It is about connecting people and working with others to do more good in society.Rebekah Lin
Besides running her family’s Jia Foundation, which supports education, healthcare and the arts projects in the region, Lin is also the co-founder of The Social Co., a think tank that champions causes such as geriatric welfare, suicide prevention and support for people with physical and mental disabilities.
The Social Co is also the organisation behind 50 for Fifty, the youth movement that raised funds totalling S$4.5 million to help lesser-known charity organisations in Singapore.
“Generally speaking, the generation before was mostly about writing cheques and making donations. But millennials are more interested in catalysing impact instead of simply giving money. It is about connecting people and working with others to do more good in society,” posits Lin, the daughter of Andy Lim, the founder of private equity firm Tembusu Partners, and former politician Lim Hwee Hwa.
The Asian Venture Philanthropy Network has also noticed this shift in modus operandi, noting that today’s young donors are more focused on “what we can achieve together” than “what I can achieve”, and are more inclined to explore working together with people whom they would not have considered before on charitable projects.
This tenet is reflected in the collaboration between the Free Food for All charity organisation and the Food is Love Foundation by TiffinLabs, an online meal delivery company founded by Singapore’s youngest billionaire Kishin RK.
Last year, the two organisations joined hands to give away tens of thousands of meals prepared by Tiffin Labs chefs to needy individuals affected by the ongoing pandemic.
The gift that keeps giving
This focus on inducing a knock-on effect, Lin explains, is also inherently due to the burgeoning awareness of sustainability.
“Just because someone donates $200,000 this year doesn’t mean he or she would continue to do the same every year. Charities cannot solely rely on donations,” she explains. “The big question today is how we can empower others to create new sources of revenue so that they can sustain themselves.”
Ivan Chang, a millennial serial entrepreneur who sold his first company before he enlisted for National Service, shares a similar sentiment, noting that this is exactly the reason he donated $100,000 to his alma mater Singapore Management University to instate the Eddie and Lindy Chang Study Mission Grants.
The grants are used to help financially needy SMU undergraduates go on overseas study missions and achieve their entrepreneurship aspirations.
“Instead of just making a one-off donation, I wanted this sum of money to be a gift that keeps giving. Basically, the university invests the $100,000 that I donated and uses the resulting profits to fund the grant,” says the 32-year-old, who is also the founder of the Wonderlabs Foundation, which provides support to underprivileged female youth by training them to become software developers. Chang’s venture-backed prototyping development studio Wonderlabs Group has a presence in nine cities.
Chang is hardly the only SMU alumnus who feels this way. In 2015, fellow alumni Jeff Tung Chi Fung and Benjamin Twoon Wai Mun donated $1 million to the university to set up the P.A.K Entrepreneurship Fund.
Popular causes with millennials
But this emphasis on sustainability applies not only to the long-term viability of philanthropic efforts – millennials are also passionate about environmental sustainability as a charitable cause.
Chang, who has been volunteering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation Singapore for the past 15 years, says he has noticed an uptick in the number of youth volunteers who are enquiring about ways to help in this specific area.
One key reason behind this trend is the power of the internet today. “The prevalence of social media platforms like Tik Tok has allowed people of my generation and younger to see the world in a different light and better understand sustainability and its importance, compared with previous generations,” says Chang.
The digital nature of our world today, he adds, has also resulted in a shift in the way people volunteer.
“In the past, many might start their volunteering experience by being involved in, say, a befriender program. But today, there are other means of volunteering, such as coding for a good cause,” he says.
To be honest, I do hope that the era of playing golf to raise funds for charity is over.Ivan Chang
Apart from sustainability, mental health awareness appears to also have a stronger resonance with the younger generation. This certainly rings true for Lin, who has been championing this cause since she was moved by the 2018 documentary Evelyn, which chronicles how its director Orlando von Einsiedel and his family navigated the challenges that arose from his brother’s suicide.
“There’s definitely a gap between the previous generation and this generation in mental health awareness. To the former, struggling with mental issues was viewed as part and parcel of life,” she shares.
“For the current generation, mental health is no different from physical health. Both are just as important to us.”
Democratisation of philanthropy
But it’s not just the moneyed millennials who have been giving back. According to various studies, this generation is generally more predisposed toward making the world a better place.
In 2019, an OCBC Bank survey of people aged 16 to 29 found that those from the younger generation are largely concerned about causes such as helping the elderly, mental health awareness, poverty and saving the environment.
In another survey conducted by Amazon Singapore earlier this year, over half of the Gen Z respondents said they would support online businesses that pay it forward in society.
AVPN research has also shown that technology is playing a critical role in expanding the locus of giving from the wealthy to the average person. Case in point: online fundraising platforms that allow anyone to donate with just a few clicks of the mouse.
This trend of giving among millennials, says Lin, is down to one major factor – privilege.
“People from our parents’ generation had to work hard to afford us the comfortable lives we have now. Because we no longer have to worry about putting food on the table and having a roof over our heads, we can now switch the focus to helping others instead,” she says.
But will the changing winds of philanthropy spell the end of the gilded charity galas?
Chang thinks it might.
“To be honest, I do hope that the era of playing golf to raise funds for charity is over. I think such events are great for networking, but people from my generation aren’t really into such events or charity gala dinners,” he says.
“Instead of just signing cheques to aid a general cause, we much prefer to give in a ‘directed’ manner and be involved in the activities.”
Lin, on the other hand, has no qualms about such events, though she suggests that the way such events are organised could change.
“I think younger donors might be more inclined to sponsor the cost of the event so that one hundred percent of the funds raised go straight to charity causes. This would be more transparent than a charity function where a portion of funds go toward covering the cost of the event,” she says.
“I don’t think charity balls will ever get passe. At the end of the day, charities still need funds to run the kind of programs they do.”