Singapore, with its short modern history as a city-state, exploded into Southeast Asia as the region’s most developed city in a mere 50 years. Today, the tiny red dot that spans across 710 sq km is a political, economic, and cultural mecca for the world, attracting internationally renowned businesses like Rakuten and Facebook while driving strong home-grown brands like the United Overseas Bank and Singtel overseas. As the 7th highest GDP per capita in the world, as reported by the International Monetary Fund, Singapore has been called innovative, competitive, dynamic, and business friendly.
Its economy is also imbricated with cultural diversity and the genesis of Singapore’s demographic heritage can be traced back to the early 1400s when early merchants travelled, traded, and settled in the then-rural Malay fishing village. Colonial history had also played a part in attracting a large Chinese and Indian labour workforce when the British were building trading ports in the 19th century. Finally, large scale Chinese emigration to Singapore, precipitated by war and civil strife within the Republic of China in the early 1900s spurred a greater exodus of diaspora into the Malayan peninsula.
This multiculturalism and transnationalism have shaped Singapore’s present non-profit landscape. As a hub for transnational non-profit organizations and philanthropists in Southeast Asia, Singapore has a long and rich tradition of associational life based on different types of social relationships (e.g., kinships and clans). It also has a well-developed philanthropy and charity tradition inherited from its multi-cultural and ethnic background. Recently, the government promotes the ideas of social enterprises, social innovation, and social impact. The co-existence of traditional civic associations, grassroots philanthropy, and the modern form of conducting socially-oriented business or organizations makes Singapore one of the best places to study the evolution of the non-profit sector and the emergence of organizational models that transcend the duality of business and non-profit organizations when multicultural traditions overlap with the city-state’s preference for socially oriented businesses. Moreover, Singapore’s special geopolitical position opens it up to difficult transnational issues, such as the haze created by a neighbouring country, which have on occasion been adopted under the purview of some non-profit organizations. In addition, technology has been widely adopted by non-profit organizations in Singapore, making it a great context to examine the impact of technology on non-profit organizations.
The research team is interested in understanding how the non-profit organizations in Singapore navigate themselves through the cultural, geopolitical, and technological forces they face, and how they shape the lives of its residents and the city-state itself. In doing so, we believe the study of the social sector in Singapore can provide a valuable addition to our global comparative research on non-profits.
Assistant Professor, Gender Studies Programme, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2020-21)