SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Official Launch of the Temasek Shophouse

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Official Launch of the Temasek Shophouse on 3 June 2019.


Mr Lim Boon Heng, Chairman of Temasek Holdings

Mr S Dhanabalan, Chairman of Temasek Trust

Distinguished guests

Friends and colleagues

It is a real pleasure to be here with all of you for this opening of the Temasek Shophouse. It is an energising project. The Shophouse has the ambition of being a cradle for social impact in Singapore, and of stimulating new ways in which we contribute, in our modest way, to the global good. And quite appropriate too that you have chosen to do so in this traditional setting. Most of our early social clans were in fact housed in shophouses.

The spirit of supporting the community was part of the Singapore story from our earliest days, and in each of our early communities. We have been building on that spirit not only in individual communities but more importantly nationally. It is growing.

And we also want to support new and better ways of achieving impact, in society and the environment: Innovation and fresh solutions that can make a meaningful difference to sustainability; New models of philanthropy – aimed at getting more lasting impact and social change; and a stronger and broader culture of wanting to make things better. For example, people being more aware and wanting to do something to tackle the environmental crises that are gathering pace around the world; and a culture that supports a growing community of social changemakers.

These are large objectives, but they are only achieved through concrete initiatives. Temasek Shophouse is an important concrete initiative, and one that aims to catalyse many more.

Innovations for the global good

Innovations are going to be critical to change habits and behaviour, both among corporates and people. Put another way, without innovations that make it appealing to corporates and people to change behaviour, we will need much more drastic policy actions in time –  like very high carbon taxes and other regulatory actions.

We also need innovations at a much larger scale - innovations that reduce the cost of clean energy or create many more sustainable products and services - to reduce the trade-offs that developing countries especially face, between sustainability and growth.

I am happy to see that two of the companies that have already come into the Shophouse are part of this drive to seek more innovative solutions for sustainability. Miniwiz, which is turning post-consumer and industrial waste to create products, is opening its first Southeast Asia office in the Shophouse. ABC World Asia, an investment fund, which aims to support ventures with a positive social and environmental impact.

There are many other innovations happening locally in Singapore. I visited Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory recently and was happy to see the work they are doing with their partners to achieve sustainable agriculture. For example, restoring nitrates to the soil in some countries using Jatropha crops, thereby enabling other crops to grow on otherwise infertile land; and developing new synthetic natural flavours and fragrances - so instead of harvesting materials from nature and adding to problems of deforestation, we create flavours and scents synthetically to meet modern human demands.

Beyond environmental sustainability, we are also seeing many innovations in the way our charities and social sector partners are serving the community. Like community kitchens, which aim at much more than providing food. One good example is Montfort Care, which set up the GoodLife! Makan kitchen, with the support of Tote Board and AIC, in Marine Parade. The seniors in the area, many of them living on their own, cook their own meals together with their neighbours, make decisions on who does what, and build up relationships among each other.

Some of our social service players are also coming together under Community Link, or ComLink, which is designed to create programmes customised for families living in rental housing, aimed at empowering them and helping them uplift themselves.

We are also now witnessing a significant growth of social enterprises, which aim to find market-based solutions to social issues. Foreword Coffee, which is housed here at the Shophouse, employs persons with disabilities and special needs, allowing them to participate meaningfully and contribute to society. The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, or raiSE, which was set up in 2015 to support social entrepreneurs, has over 300 members today.

The reality is that we can do good for our society and our environment in many different ways. And as we develop this whole ecosystem, we hope to encourage more cross-pollination of passion and ideas, stronger support networks, and more innovative ways of financing.

New Models of Philanthropy

Which brings me to a second aim of Temasek Shophouse, which is to champion new models of philanthropy. Even as we grow charitable dollars[1], we want to achieve greater impact and lasting impact from the dollars raised.

Foundations and individual donors are playing a larger role in our national conversations on helping the vulnerable and addressing emerging social needs, and piloting new approaches to social challenges. Many have developed deep knowledge in particular areas. For example, Tsao Foundation specialises in helping people thrive as they age. DBS Foundation gives strong support for the development of social enterprises in Singapore.

And in early childhood development, Temasek Foundation Cares has worked with ECDA to fund and pilot the Abecedarian Approach, which emphasises language development and one-to-one interactions with children to stimulate their development. These efforts to help kids from low-income families go hand-in-hand with the Government’s broader KidSTART programme.

An important part of this whole approach in philanthropy is hence to build up capabilities. And part of the ambition of Temasek Shophouse is to support capacity-building in the charity sector. It is working with the Commissioner of Charities (COC), to provide shared services and consultation clinics by the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership and the Chartered Secretaries Institute of Singapore at the Shophouse. COC plans to make this a one-stop, shared services hub for charities, helping them on governance needs, and to focus on delivering impact for the people and communities they serve.

A Community of Changemakers

But beyond the innovations and getting the most value and impact out of philanthropy, the most important achievement will be in building up a social culture - of wanting to do good and to advance the causes that we believe in, whether in environment sustainability, helping the vulnerable, or tackling something else that is not going right in our world.

Here too, the Shophouse will help raise awareness, build networks, and promote active social citizenship among the people and organisations it works with. It will help build up a community of social changemakers. Over time, the networks of charities, NGOs, social enterprises and spirited individuals will become a real asset for our society.

So congratulations to Temasek Shophouse on its ambition and programmes - I am sure we will grow this asset.



[1] Since the Government introduced the 250% tax deduction for IPCs in 2009, the amount of tax-deductible donations received by charities has increased from about $690 million to over $1 billion in 2017.