ACSEP 29 June 2016

Singapore’s Early Women Philanthropists (1900-1945) Research Seminar

Consultant Ms Yu-Lin Ooi conducted an enlightening talk on the nature of philanthropy acted out by Asian women in early Singapore during a 2016 research seminar. Four key questions were discussed:

  1. Who were Singapore’s early women philanthropists?
  2. What contributions did they make?
  3. How were their contributions expressed?
  4. Were there any key factors that hindered/enabled women in doing philanthropic work?

Over 70 participants packed the room for insights into the nuanced understanding of women in philanthropy that consultant Ms Ooi had gathered in the context of her interviewees’ life experiences and memories. From the Chinese/Straits Chinese to the Indians/Ceylonese to the Jews to the Arabs and Malay-Muslims, women had superseded formal notions of monetary philanthropic giving to volunteer and contribute informally in sharing resources like food, helping mark key rites of passage, and passing on culture, values and faith to next generations. These contributions differed from traditional giving by men in philanthropy, but no less supported the growth of communities and identity in early Singapore.

The working paper, Philanthropy in Transition: An Exploratory Study of Asian Women and Philanthropy in Singapore, 1900-1945, is the culmination of months of research and was launched at the seminar. The impact of these unsung heroines has just begun to be uncovered and we look forward to more stories to come.

We thank Mr Robin Thevathasan, Ms Joy Thevathasan, Ms Roshini Prakash, Ms Siu Tin, Ms Su-Lin Ang, Mdm Ng Siu Yue, Prof Jin Bee, Mr Neil Ang, Ms Norhidawati, Ms Nurfarhana and ACSEP Chairman Mr Keith Chua for their gracious support at the seminar and contributions to the research.