Tan Hwee Hwee | Giving back in the business of fun
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Giving back in the business of fun

(This article was published in Catalyst Asia, a magazine from the Singapore Management University)

Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) takes seriously its business of providing fun to visitors of Sentosa Island. SDC also wants the underprivileged who might not necessarily be able to afford to visit Sentosa to enjoy its fun attractions as well, a desire which led to the launch of its Sentosa Gives initiative in 2011. According to Mr Chan Mun Wei, Divisional Director, Corporate Planning, Sentosa Gives and other corporate giving initiatives are created to provide a “broad-based variety of platforms for our staff and island partners to do good, build the spirit of volunteerism and contribute back to society throughout the year.”

Sentosa Gives is a week-long, island-wide community initiative that consists of a series of outreach activities, conducted both on Sentosa and mainland Singapore each year, targeted at spreading joy to families, children, youth and the elderly served by social service organisations. These include hosting beneficiaries for a day of fun at Sentosa, allowing those who may not have had prior opportunities to visit Sentosa to enjoy the various offerings on the island.

In 2016, Sentosa Gives’ “Sentosa Experience”, held from September 5-9,  allowed nearly 1500 needy children from 31 voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to enjoy having fun on Sentosa Island.  The children had the opportunity to visit some of Sentosa’s popular attractions, including the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, Madame Tussauds Singapore and the Sentosa Merlion.

Aryati Hajis, Deputy Director, Service Ambassador & Transport, said that “for many beneficiaries visiting Sentosa as part of Sentosa Gives, it is their first time on the island. Their reactions are extremely heart-warming, and they are genuinely awed and intrigued by the things that they see on the island. They are also extremely appreciative and thankful towards the volunteers for hosting them. Their faces light up even at the smallest of gestures, such as when we buy them ice cream as a treat. While my role requires me to engage with guests regularly, the experience of hosting beneficiaries is extremely different from what I experience in my day-to-day work, and this has also allowed me to grow as a service ambassador for Sentosa. After volunteering last year, I’ve decided to join the organising committee to help put together the ultimate Sentosa Experience for our beneficiaries. It was a memorable experience last year, and I look forward to playing a larger role this year as part of the organising committee.”

According to Chan, VWOs have shared that they enjoyed the activities and attractions made available to them on the island during Sentosa Gives. “They have also highlighted the patience that staff volunteers have shown when having to engage with energetic and boisterous children,” says Chan.

In addition, Chan notes that “Sentosa Gives thus provides an opportunity to engage and unite SDC and island partners’ staff for a good cause in line with our service values, while leveraging on our core business to do good.”

Beyond Sentosa Gives, SDC also engages in other community-giving efforts through various activities. The Sentosa Recreation Club, which has members from across SDC, organises charity events such as an internal staff car wash fundraisers, Hair for Hope hair-shaving fundraisers for the Children Cancer Foundation and blood donation drives, and recently raised over $8,000 for the Caregiving Welfare Association (CWA) through a bazaar which included traditional carnival games, as well as the sale of handicrafts and food items. The Sentosa Golf Club (SGC), a division of SDC, earlier this year raised $200,000 for the beneficiaries of Arc Children’s Centre and Assisi Hospice through a fundraising drive comprising charity golf games, auctions of limited edition golfing paraphernalia and donations from corporate partners, organised in conjunction with the opening of SGC’s New Tanjong Course.

In 2016, some 240 members of staff from SDC and various island partners contributed their time to the various activities under Sentosa Gives. Each year, the estimated value of Sentosa Gives is over $150,000, made up of contributions from island partners sponsoring attraction tickets and meals for the beneficiaries. In addition, to further encourage staff volunteerism, SDC grants each employee a day of leave to volunteer at any local registered charity of their choice.

Chan offers his tips and advice to companies on how to run a successful corporate giving programme. “For companies looking to incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their work culture, synergy is key. By leveraging on the organisation’s core business strategy and expertise, companies are able to tap on existing resources and partners to create the most optimal experience for beneficiaries. In SDC’s case, we are in the business of fun and leisure activities, thus our CSR focus is on providing platforms and opportunities to make these accessible to all members of our society. It is also beneficial if you’re in the position to rally your partners – when more come together, the impact increases exponentially. In addition, it is important to understand that employees engage in CSR activities in varying degrees. Through this understanding, organisations are able to arrive at the optimal mix when it comes to participation – first, put together a dedicated team for sustained movement; next, rally willing members to organise the entire event; and finally, engage enthusiastic employees to participate. Finally, the organisation must also walk the talk by supporting these staff-led activities – for example, this can be done by providing sufficient budget for the activities, as well as providing employees with time-off.”