Events for board leaders
Future of Charity Boards
How can charities future-proof themselves? The answer to this question formed the crux of the discussion at the Future of Charity Boards event, the first-ever in-person gathering of charity board chairs organised by the Council for Board Diversity (CBD).
More than 100 board chairs and leaders from Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) gathered to exchange ideas and solutions to the most pressing challenges facing their organisations and what to prioritise in the months ahead.
Guest-of-Honour President Halimah Yacob, who is also the Patron of CBD, weighed in with ideas such as conducting impact assessment and having a well-constituted, diverse board.
Her thoughts were further expanded upon during the Board Chairs’ Conversation moderated by Mildred Tan, Co-Chair of CBD, with speakers:
- Achal Agarwal Chairman, World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore (WWF-Singapore)
- Hsieh Fu Hua Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees, SBF Foundation, and Shared Services for Charities, among others
- Denise Phua President, Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), among others
Among the highlights were ideas such as being aware of the blind spots that a charity might have, and addressing them, collaborating where possible and how the model of giving is evolving to one where greater accountability is being demanded by donors.
Rounding up the session was Dr Gerard Ee, Chair of the Charity Council, who suggested the audience go back to basics and keep things simple. Remember the purpose of the charity’s existence, he said, and focus on the “why” to eliminate the risk of getting lost along the way.
- Loh Boon Chye, Co-Chair, Council for Board Diversity
- Expect to continue to face headwinds as the world grapples with a confluence of rising interest rates, global inflationary pressures and geopolitical shifts.
- There are also new forces at work, such as digitalisation, cyber security, sustainability and climate change. Charities are not immune to these developments.
- In Singapore, an IPC board has an average of 14 members. A committed team with a variety of talent working together will be able to drive comprehensive solutions, robust governance and optimise long-term value, which can in turn build strong and sustainable organisations.
Guest of Honour Address
- President Halimah Yacob, Patron, Council for Board Diversity
- Institutionalise qualities developed during the pandemic, such as compassion, resourcefulness and the ability to innovate, to leverage their benefits for a brighter future.
- Conduct impact assessment regularly to review the charity’s direction and keep abreast of updates on the code of governance.
- Increase collaborations with other charities, government agencies or even businesses to tap the diversity of strengths and skills that everyone can benefit from.
- Have a well-constituted board with not just the right know-how, but also the breadth of expertise and views to better understand the perspectives of different stakeholders and strengthen decision-making processes; women on boards is one key aspect of diversity, as it is visible, measurable and a useful lead-in to an organisation’s consideration of broader diversity on the board.
Board Chairs' Conversation
- Moderated by Mildred Tan, Co-Chair, Council for Board Diversity
Key takeaways from panel speakers:
- Explore and be open to new channels of fundraising – the pandemic has shown some interesting ways through the use of technology and these should be sustained.
- Collaborate with other organisations with the intention of creating the right kind of impact; do not focus on gaining credit.
- Look to gain trust to strengthen the charity’s brand and consequently, its capability to raise funds, by communicating clearly to stakeholders.
- Half of WWF-Singapore’s board is made up of women who were appointed because of merit. Singapore has a huge talent pool of women and there is no excuse not to have any on a board.
- A sustainable organisation requires diversity of thought on its board, enabling members to hear different points of views and create the best outcomes.
Hsieh Fu Hua, Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees, SBF Foundation, and Shared Services for Charities, among others
- Be aware of blind spots. The pandemic woke the world up to them, such as the way migrant workers were treated and climate change. Be more alert and respond with agility or risk being limited and held back in what can be done.
- As part of impact assessment, charities need to see beyond doing good, i.e. to do more, beyond your usual way of working. For instance, the Ministry of Health is encouraging healthcare groups to think beyond sick care to health care. This is concerned with maintaining well-being so that the population remains healthy and does not fall sick.
- Age diversity is important on a board but as leaders, it is also important to think about succession planning to avoid the pitfall of overstaying your welcome.
- Having a female chair of the nominating committee could enable greater diversity on boards as it helps the board break out of its usual networks.
- The model of giving is gradually evolving from one from the heart, to donors being concerned about impact investing, where they seek change with their funds. Issuing a social impact bond to fund a project and seeing how this fundraising model works might actually change how a charity performs.
- Be mindful that the ecosystem of the charity sector is far bigger than what it currently is. Do not let traditional boundaries, such as for- and non-profit, limit the thought process and be inhibitive. Maybe it is about working together to creating a more fulfilling society.
Denise Phua, President, Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), among others
- Learn to use technology better, such as to communicate, curate content, design experiences or deliver services.
- See board diversity as an enabler to help the charity achieve its mission. It is important to first understand the charity’s mission and the landscape it is operating in; then identify the key focus areas before executing in the respective direction. This will help to determine what kind of mix the board needs.
- Compose a board with members that have a mix of skillsets, knowledge and expertise. Age and gender matter too. Other factors to consider are temperament, chemistry and availability in terms of time. But do not lose sight of the fact that board diversity is a means to an end, and the end is fulfilling the mission of the charity.
- Impact is not always easy to isolate and measure. Consider other facets of the charity too, such as track record and the team running it.
- Balance courage to take action with consideration to others. Even as projects are being executed, remember to be sensitive to other perspectives.
- Dr Gerard Ee, Chairman, Charity Council
- Impact assessment can be a simple exercise of answering how a charity’s work has improved the life or living environment of the beneficiary, or how it has made the world a better place for the community.
- People (or donors) support causes, not organisations. Remember the purpose of the charity’s existence and focus on the “why” to eliminate the risk of getting lost along the way.
- Be mindful of blind spots, which are typically caused by experiences accumulated over a life. Overcome them by engaging directly with beneficiaries to understand their pain points.
- Diversity is important to have on charity boards, especially having members that represent the beneficiaries.
- ESG can be made less intimidating by taking small steps towards it – think evolution than revolution.
- Collaborate with the private sector to see more positive outcomes, such as the borrowing of innovative ideas.
Mdm Halimah Yacob was sworn in as the 8th President of the Republic of Singapore on 14 September 2017.
Mdm Halimah Yacob served in the National Trades Union Congress for 33 years. She held various positions, as Deputy Secretary General; Director of departments including Legal Services, Women’s Development and Labour Studies; and Executive Secretary of the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries. She was on various national committees including the Economic Review Committee.
She was Singapore’s representative in the International Labour Organisation for 12 years and the first Singaporean to be elected into the ILO. She represented workers in many ILO committees.
In 2001, Elected as a Member of Parliament for the Jurong Group Representation Constituency. Her final and fourth term as an MP was in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.
In 2011, Appointed Minister of State for Community Development and Sports. She introduced various programmes for seniors and enhanced services for the disabled. She also laid the foundation for the Social Services Offices.
In 2013, Elected as Speaker of Parliament, the first woman to hold the position.
With her passion for social causes, Mdm Halimah is patron to more than 40 charitable and community organisations. She also championed women’s issues and was awarded Woman of the Year by Her World Magazine (2003) and AWARE Heroine Award (2011). She was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (2014) and conferred the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year (2001).
Mdm Halimah obtained her law degree and Masters in Law from the National University of Singapore. In 2016, she was conferred the Doctor of Law by the NUS.
Loh Boon Chye joined SGX as CEO in 2015. He has close to 30 years of experience in the financial industry and has played a key role in the development of Southeast Asia’s capital markets.
Prior to SGX, he was Deputy President and Head of Asia Pacific Global Markets, and Country Executive for Singapore and Southeast Asia at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. He spent 17 years in Deutsche Bank where his last role was the Head of Corporate and Investment Banking for Asia Pacific. He started his career with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York.
Mr Loh currently sits on the boards of GIC, Economic Development Board Singapore and World Federation of Exchanges, and is a council member and Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Banking & Finance Singapore. He is also Chairman of the Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics Advisory Board.
Mrs Mildred Tan is Co-Chair, Council for Board Diversity and Chairman of Tote Board Singapore and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) Board of Trustees.
She was previously Managing Director of Ernst & Young Advisory Pte Ltd from 2002 to mid-2018. She is known for her extensive work in large and complex organisation transformation both in the private and public sector organisations.
She is a member of Council of Presidential Advisors and National University Health Systems (NUHS). She is also an independent director at Wing Tai Holdings Limited and AIA Singapore Private Limited.
Mrs Tan was conferred Justice of Peace in 2008. She was awarded the PBM (Public Service Medal) in 2007 and BBM (Public Service Star) in 2014 for outstanding community service by the Singapore Government. She was also appointed as Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore from 2009 to 2011.
Achal Agarwal is currently the Chairman of the Board of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), Singapore and a non–executive Director on the Amcor PLC and SATS Ltd boards. He also acts as advisor to various corporate clients.
He was till recently the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer and member of the Global Executive Leadership team at Kimberly-Clark, with a mandate of leading the corporate strategy and company’s transformation agenda to drive top tier growth for Kimberly-Clark. Prior to this, Achal was the President for Kimberly-Clark’s Asia Pacific business.
Before joining Kimberly-Clark, Mr. Agarwal was the Business Unit GM in PepsiCo’s sub-Sahara business and prior to that spent a decade in China and became the Chief Operating Officer of PepsiCo’s China Beverage Business Unit. He also served in India as PepsiCo’s General Manager in the East and South India Market Units and in a variety of roles in ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries Plc).
Achal was recognized as Asia Business Leader of the Year by CNBC in 2016. He has spoken in business schools like Insead, NUS, SMU and in forums organized by the Economist, Milken Institute, HCLI, Forbes CEO forum, etc. He is based in Singapore with his wife and two daughters.
Hsieh Fu Hua serves on the boards of a number of non-profit and business organisations. He chairs the National University of Singapore, the National University Health System and the Singapore Business Fed eration Foundation Limited. He is currently also a member of the National Research Foundation’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.
He is active in the social sector and co-founded a number of charities, especially in the area of mental health. He was previously President of the National Council of Social Service and Chairman of Stewardship Asia Centre as well as the National Gallery Singapore.
In business, Mr Hsieh is the Chairman of Eastspring Investments Group Pte Ltd and GXS Bank Pte Ltd (a Grab-Singtel joint venture for digital banking). He is also a board director of GIC Private Limited and adviser to the PrimePartners Group, which he cofounded.
Mr Hsieh started his career in merchant banking and capital markets in 1974 when he joined Morgan Grenfell Asia Holdings upon graduation, eventually rising to head the organisation. He subsequently served as Group Managing Director of BNP Prime Peregrine Group Hong Kong, CEO of Singapore Exchange, President of Temasek Holdings and Chairman of Tiger Airways Holdings, United Overseas Bank and Asia Capital Reinsurance Group respectively. Mr Hsieh is an alumnus of the NUS Business School.
Denise Phua is best known for her advocacy for those at risk of being left behind in Singapore, including the disabled and Singaporeans with low-skilled and low-income backgrounds. She is one of the architects behind three 5-year Enabling Masterplans for the Disabled in Singapore.
An active volunteer, Ms Phua co-founded Pathlight School, the largest and first autism school in Singapore. She also started The Purple Parade movement and The Purple Symphony to support inclusion and celebrate abilities of persons with disabilities.
Prior to joining politics in 2006, she acquired more than 20 years of corporate management experiences in Hewlett-Packard and the Wuthelam Group.
She is currently also a Member of Parliament and serves in the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPC) for Education and Social and Family Development.
Dr Gerard Ee is the Chairman of the Charity Council which promotes and encourage the adoption of good governance standards and best practices to enhance public confidence in the charity sector.
Dr Ee was an Audit Partner and retired from E&Y in 2005. He had been Chairman of several entities including the National Kidney Foundation, Public Transport Council, Changi General Hospital cluster and was President of the National Council of Social Service.
He is currently also the Chairman of the Agency for Integrated Care, the Group Chairman of the Canossian entities in Singapore and is a Board member of MOH Holdings Pte Ltd.
The Council for Board Diversity (CBD) believes that board diversity catalyses robust governance and responsible stewardship, and is a valuable driver for growth.
Having diversity in the board brings together the diversity of judgement to chart the best course through uncertainty, challenge, opportunities and risks – applicable to both for-profit and non-profit organisations. The mix of knowledge, skills, experience, gender, age and other relevant features is harnessed to devise strategy and manage its execution. Against this backdrop we believe that including women on boards, in particular, adds a powerful lead-in to the other forms of diversity that bring value to the board’s role in the company.
CBD, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, endeavours to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards of listed companies, statutory boards and non-profit organisations as a stepping stone to broader diversity.