Friday, August 29, 2008

Relative Welative

It's been a relatively successful day. Started off with a very successful interview for GE Commercial Finance South East Asia. Interview was on alternative financing for SMEs and it felt good to do my part to let the small business people know that there are other ways to getting cash - that most valued of commodities - other than waiting for government grants or conventional loans. If there's anything I've learnt in the last few years of running my own show, cash is a very precious commodity and its always important to find ways of getting hold of it. Big organisations have a terrible habit of needing to delay payments or have ultra long credit terms, but you still need to live.

Anyway, its been an interesting week. Lunch with Balji and the guys at Ammado went well. They seemed quite happy to tell him about what Ammado does and he offered to link them up with Lucas Chow, the CEO of the MediaCorp Group. It seems that Lucas is quite big into the philanthropy scene and I think there are many ways in which Ammado can help make philanthropy a very interesting value proposition to industries - though I think its going to take sometime to get the philanthropic habit working in Asia, especially in Singapore, where, thanks to our culture, we tend to be a bit more selfish.

I'm not sure what it is but I think we live in a culture which is a "Me First" culture. You could blame it on the fact that we are secular state - unlike Catholic Philippines, which means the population has a tradition of 'tithing' or Muslim Malaysia or Indonesia, where Islam has instilled the values of Zakat, another form of tithing.

But then again, you can't blame secularlism for everything. The US of A, is founded on the principle of being a secular state, that keeps Church and State separate. But the USA is the home base of the people turning philanthropy into an industry. You have some of the richest men in history like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros making it a point to give in a way that is effective.

For some reason, Singapore is rather lacking in the 'giving' department. I don't what it is. I suspect a culture of over dependence on the government is to blame. Life is such that the only way to get ahead is to work for the state and to climb the bureaucrates ladder - It's a Confucian Wet Dream - but I think when you get a society where the only way to get ahead is in the civil service - you cut people off from the idea that they are actually dependent on the widder community to stay alive and thus the need to contribute. Instead, you get a population that thinks - "Screw you, I'm not going to endanger my job." Nobody sees opportunity in solving problems and so, we ignore it until it's way too late.

Hong Kong, on the other hand has proven to be much better in developing the 'giving' mentality. I think this has something to do with the fact that the city is owned by business tycoons rather than bureaucrates. Sure, tycoons like Li Ka Shing have an exceedingly powerful grip on certain industries - but business people like Mr Li don't get cut off from reality. Why? That's because they realise that their survival depends on their customers. As such, you realise that you need to give back to the widder community to keep going. If you bleed your customers too much, they will go out of business. If you help them grow, they can spend more on you. If you're a bureaucrate, you don't actually need to care what goes on in the real world. If you need money, you can always get your political masters, the politicians to raise taxes and throw them into your pet projects.

Interestingly enough, Li Ka Shing is leading the drive for Asian tycoons to go into charity work. In Singapore, the charities are doing quite nicely thanks to the likes of the Shaw and Lee Foundation (established by China born tycoons), and we have the community chest, which is funded by.........?

Of course, the Singapore government is working desparately hard to make Singapore into a 'Philanthropy' Hub, amongst the other things we're a hub off (Oi, Hub Off). I'm sure, it will use the usual tools of schoolarships and incentives....something which they're even trying to do to get people to have more babies.

Not sure if this will actually work. Sure, people might go on a spending spree (which yields sales tax) if you give them $100 but I don't think people are just going to go out of the way to take on a lifelong commitment for a few thousand....

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