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Going Beyond Financial Assistance - The Importance of Long-Term Solutions

It takes big hearts to alleviate the effects of poverty, and it takes the whole community to eradicate it. The Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) is Singapore’s only community foundation, and a registered charity that encourages and enables philanthropic efforts. CFS provides philanthropy advisory and grantmaking for donors to establish donor-advised funds, and facilitates collaboration between donors, charities and other stakeholders to achieve a measurable social impact on society. 
Ms Christine Ong, Chairperson of CFS and a judge on the =Dreams Asia Breakthrough Prize, shares her understanding on poverty alleviation and why we should shift the focus away from only providing financial assistance. She said, “A common view on addressing poverty is to provide financial aid to the disadvantaged. However, this is only a short-term solution. CFS recognises poverty as a complex and interlinked social issue, and adopts a macro lens to determine critical gaps and unmet needs.”
Singaporeans have proven time and again to be compassionate and enthusiastic in helping others. Yet, poverty persists as a significant social issue in the country. Christine shared that there may be a lack of understanding and visibility of the poverty problem in Singapore. She said, “Extreme poverty is often out of sight - we rarely see beggars or homeless people on our streets. With a thriving economy and low unemployment, many Singaporeans may assume that everyone has equal opportunities and poverty is not a prevalent issue.”
Even though there is no official poverty line in Singapore, poverty is very real. Christine shared that there are two ways of identifying poverty - by understanding absolute and relative poverty. The former defines poverty through household income - when it falls below a minimum level required to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. According to an earlier study based on data from the five-yearly Household Expenditure Survey, an estimated 110,000 to 140,000 households in Singapore fall under this category. 
On the other hand, relative poverty refers to households that may meet these basic needs, but lack resources beyond that. This causes social exclusion and the lack of upward social mobility, trapping them in their situations.
Financial assistance is helpful and can help those in poverty meet basic needs, but it is not enough. It is important to think about long-term implications and focus on solutions that can support households in breaking the poverty cycle in a sustainable way. Christine shared, “To this end, CFS has identified ‘accessing quality education’, ‘improving employability’, and ‘inclusivity and integration’ as some of the key causes that need support and will contribute towards enhancing social mobility, enabling individuals and families to break free from the vicious poverty cycle.”
These facets are actually inter-related - with quality education paving the way for better employability, and so on. However, those in poverty face difficulties in these areas, such as accessing after-school care, or being distracted from their academic pursuits by other commitments such as helping the family make more income, or taking care of younger siblings when their parents are not around. Those in poverty may also face difficulties accessing skills training, or struggle with discrimination and health issues. Furthermore, some persons experiencing poverty already struggle with difficulties such as disabilities, further impeding their upward mobility. 
An example of an integrated solution is the Learning Initiatives for Employment (LIFT) Programme by CFS. In addition to providing vocational training, it ensures marginalised individuals have the socio-emotional and job support they need to stay employed, re-training them if necessary. However, such programmes require much financial and human resources. Donors and stakeholders provide resources and networks that are essential to the programme’s effectiveness.
Christine added, “CFS encourages stakeholders to partake in strategic philanthropy, to go beyond addressing basic needs to consider long-term impact such as behavioural and systemic social change. The grants CFS has given out align with the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s social assistance framework to improve the lives of low-income and vulnerable groups in Singapore. By complementing the actions taken by the government, our philanthropists have a greater chance of successfully helping their beneficiaries break the poverty cycle.” 
It is clear upon research and the sharing of experts that eradicating poverty is no mean feat. In this competition, we challenge teams to find creative, innovative solutions that seek to make a lasting impact for these households. We look forward to sharing more about their winning ideas in the coming months. Stay tuned to this space!  

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