Stories > Friendships That Transcend Borders
Friendships That Transcend Borders
As it marks its 30th anniversary, the Singapore International Foundation continues to champion enduring friendships and hopes, while building a better world through the power of cross-cultural collaborations.
BY ANNIE TAN
fellow humans, our identities and responsibilities transcend borders. This sense of global citizenry is powerful; it builds bridges, breaks down barriers, connects people across cultures and enriches communities in extraordinary ways. It was this friendship and synergy that illuminated the event, as more than 300 people from 17 countries gathered physically and virtually to celebrate the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) 30th anniversary last December. They included the SIF’s Citizen Ambassadors (CA), programme alumni and partners, SIF country representatives, Friends of Singapore, as well as members of the diplomatic community.
“Many of us believe strongly in the power of working together to solve global challenges. None more so than the SIF. The SIF has played an important role in building people-to-people relations, building up its reputation as an organisation that is committed to being a catalyst for good,” reflected President Halimah Yacob, patron of the SIF and Guest-of- Honour at the event.
CATALYST FOR GOOD
Founded in 1991, the SIF has spearheaded countless cross-border collaborations in healthcare, education, arts, culture and business for three decades. It has weathered major global changes – not least the Covid-19 pandemic of the last two years, which created much uncertainty, anxiety and disruptions to the way people live, work and play around the world. Besides the challenge it caused to global economies, the pandemic also became a test for social solidarity and those in the “business of doing good”. For the SIF, it added an extra layer of complexity to its work in building relations across diverse communities – an endeavour that is largely achieved through faceto- face engagements.
To continue serving its communities, the organisation took its suite of in-person programmes online while rolling out new initiatives to meet the demands of a changing milieu. This included Climate Hack, an e-volunteering programme leveraging technology and international networks to empower participants to develop solutions for climate change, and the Impact Media Fellowship, which aims to build capacity and promote an exchange of ideas among media professionals, publishers, and broadcasters who want to use their platforms for social change. Significantly, the SIF also hosted the region’s firstever public diplomacy conference, which brought together 40 public diplomacy practitioners, scholars and thought leaders to exchange insights on the multiple facets of public diplomacy and its impact on nations and people.
RECOGNISING THE GOODWILL CHAMPIONS
The 30th-anniversary theme “Ties that Bind”, celebrated the unwavering friendship between Singaporeans and global communities that have been strengthened through the SIF’s work. The occasion also marked the annual International Volunteers Day, with President Halimah honouring 33 Citizen Ambassadors and Friends of Singapore with awards for continually pushing the boundaries of global citizenry through their volunteer work.
Dr Ramaswamy Akhileswaran received the highest honour – the Global Citizen Award. A consultant in geriatric medicine at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, the Singaporean doctor has worked to enhance palliative care in Indonesia since 2009 by leading and training local clinical staff and specialist Singapore International Volunteers. His contributions have significantly bettered the lives of thousands of seriously ill patients, including children, in Bandung and Jakarta.
“I used to practise Radiation Oncology and sometimes in the course of doing that work, I would focus on the disease, forgetting that there was a person who was actually the patient. Palliative Care opened that aspect of care in me where I could connect with my patients, form that relationship and help them go through the difficult journey that they are going through,” he shared.
“I hope we can all respect and accept differences in culture, religion and customs, and eliminate polarisation. This will make it easier for us to collaborate to build a better world, I believe we can change the world with partnerships.”
Dian Permatasari Mashari, Gotong Royong Award winner
“MANY OF US BELIEVE STRONGLY IN THE POWER OF WORKING TOGETHER TO SOLVE GLOBAL CHALLENGES. NONE MORE SO THAN THE SIF. THE SIF HAS PLAYED AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN BUILDING PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE RELATIONS, BUILDING UP ITS REPUTATION AS AN ORGANISATION THAT IS COMMITTED TO BEING A CATALYST FOR GOOD,” SAID PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB.
Dr Akhileswaran’s tireless dedication and exemplary work have forged strong cross-cultural friendships. “We are here (in Indonesia) to share our knowledge and learn from them (the Indonesians) as much as they learn from us. There is mutual trust and respect. Sharing our knowledge and gaining the kinship of numerous healthcare professionals and others in Indonesia has brought a lot of joy to my fellow volunteers and me,” he said.
Dedication awards were also presented to the SIF’s long-serving CAs who have given their time and talent to a myriad of SIF programmes. These included the organisation’s community service programmes, Water for Life and Words on Wheels, as well as its Young Social Entrepreneurs, Arts for Good, and Specialist Healthcare and Education programmes – the latter of which encompasses areas such as neonatal care, paediatric care, haemodialysis, physiotherapy, and emergency preparedness.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Two long-serving Citizen Ambassador awardees share their greatest takeaways.
“When I first started Wateroam, the support from the SIF Young Social Entrepreneurs programme enabled me to gain access to mentors and develop business models for greater social impact across the world. Being able to support budding young entrepreneurs and growing and nurturing the social enterprise ecosystem is something that gives me a lot of joy.”
David Pong, YSE 2014 alumnus and co-founder of social enterprise Wateroam, who organises workshops and offers mentorships for the Young Social Entrepreneurs programme.
“I want to make a lasting impact on children’s lives. Helping children to learn and grow has provided me with many opportunities to grow myself.”
Kannigadevi Narayanasamy, team leader of the SIF Early Childhood Education Projects in Mumbai, India and Jakarta, Indonesia.
FORGING INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIPS
This friendship and support run both ways. The Gotong Royong Award – Friends of Singapore was created to honour international friends who have contributed to enhancing mutual cooperation between Singapore and other countries.
One of the awardees is Sriram Iyer, founder of the NalandaWay Foundation. An SIF Arts for Good (A4G) Fellow, Sriram had worked with the non-profit since 2018 to host the SIF A4G exchange programmes in Chennai, New Delhi, and even virtually – when travelling restrictions were in place.
“Mutual cultural learning helps reduce the ‘othering’ effect that has become a common phenomenon around the world. It makes us understand and foster friendship and empathy for people from different cultures. This is definitely lacking in our world today. The more polarised the world is, the more important it is for the Fellows to come together,” he added.
Another Gotong Royong Award winner, Dian Permatasari Mashari, who has contributed to strengthening cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia, and supports alumni engagement as an SIF representative, agreed.
“Cross-cultural problems in pluralistic societies often stem from problems of interaction between communities, gaps in knowledge levels, social status, geography and customs. I hope we can all respect and accept differences in culture, religion and customs, and eliminate polarisation. This will make it easier for us to collaborate to build a better world, I believe we can change the world with partnerships,” she reflected.
These dreams are voiced in the new rendition of the SIF song “Better World, Brighter Future”. A collaborative effort among volunteers, partners, friends, and staff of the SIF, this anthem of hope reflects the SIF’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusivity.
Founded on common values of humanity and proclivity to nurture hope and new collaborations, the SIF continues to advocate for a better world for all, regardless of nationality, race or culture.
In the past 30 years, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) has reached out to and collaborated with world communities in diverse areas with the aim of strengthening ties and creating positive social impact.
LAUNCH OF SINGAPORE VOLUNTEERS OVERSEAS
This project was launched the same year the SIF was founded, beginning with a three-month preventive dental care programme in the Philippines. Capacity building and insight exchanges between Singaporean volunteers and international communities in the healthcare and education sectors have since become a mainstay of the SIF. These programmes contribute to long-term sustainable development in Asia by enabling the SIF’s partners, healthcare and education professionals to become champions for the positive change they desire in their organisations, professional sectors, and countries.
LAUNCH OF MISSION STATEMENT TO NURTURE ACTIVE GLOBAL CITIZENS AND FRIENDS OF SINGAPORE
At the turn of the new millennium, the SIF unveiled a new mission statement to nurture Global Citizens and Friends of Singapore. Today, the non-profit counts more than 5,500 Citizen Ambassadors from Singapore, who build and strengthen relations with the international community through the transformative work they do. The SIF also has some 51,000 Friends of Singapore from the cultural, business, social and government sectors, who share its aspirations for building a better world. Thus far, it has positively impacted over 16 million lives.
LAUNCH OF NEW STRATEGIC DIRECTION IN PEOPLE DIPLOMACYE
The non-profit unveils a refreshed vision, mission, and strategic direction, to strengthen ties between Singaporeans and world communities by working together to effect positive change. This remains the cornerstone of the SIF’s programmes today.
LAUNCH OF YOUNG SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS PROGRAMME
Nurturing the seeds of social innovation, this signature SIF programme supports social enterprises aiming to start or scale up. It equips budding changemakers with the requisite networks and knowhow via workshops, mentorships, study visits and the opportunity to pitch for funding. In 2020, this programme pivoted to a fully digital experience to overcome travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
LAUNCH OF COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAMMES
SIF’s Water for Life brings clean drinking water to rural communities in Cambodia, Myanmar and Indonesia. SIF’s Words on Wheels harnesses the transformative effects of education by bringing books and multimedia facilities to villages in Vietnam and Indonesia through a mobile library. It also enables volunteers to nurture the love of reading in children.
LAUNCH OF OUR BETTER WORLD
The storytelling initiative of the Singapore International Foundation harnesses the power of digital networks to power change. It tells compelling stories of people doing good all over Asia to inspire passive online audience who care about social causes to act. Its positive impact has been recognised with accolades such as the Social Impact Media Awards, Shorty Social Good Awards, and The Anthem Awards.
RECEIVES THE PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR VOLUNTEERISM IN THE NON-PROFIT SECTOR
This is a recognition of the then over 3,500 Singapore International Volunteers, whose hard work, dedication, and passion have made a difference in overseas communities.
LAUNCH OF ARTS FOR GOOD PROGRAMME
The A4G programme aims to grow a community of practice that harnesses the power of arts and culture for positive social change. Since its launch, the SIF has brought together diverse professionals through four editions of the A4G Fellowship – who connect, support, and collaborate on projects that drive social impact. In 2020, the SIF launched its first A4G Projects callout, which led to the launch of five projects that positively impacted over 37,000 beneficiaries.
LAUNCH OF SIF E-VOLUNTEERING PROGRAMME
These programmes contribute to digital inclusion in Asia. Volunteers from Singapore work with global communities to share skills, expertise and knowledge in digital readiness to effect positive change, while fostering greater cultural understanding.
IMPACT MEDIA FELLOWSHIP
The inaugural Impact Media Fellowship is launched with 14 journalists from six countries — China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The virtual programme aims to build capacity and promote an exchange of ideas among media professionals, publishers, and broadcasters who want to use their platforms for social change.
LAUNCH OF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY IN ASIA 2021 CONFERENCE
The region’s first-ever conference of its kind brought together — in a hybrid format — 40 public diplomacy practitioners, scholars and thought leaders from the public and private sector to discuss new strategies for global engagement and transformative social change.
RECEIVES THE CITY OF GOOD AWARD AT THE PRESIDENT’S VOLUNTEERISM & PHILANTHROPY AWARDS
The PVPA is the pinnacle award and platform to recognise individuals, organisations and leaders who have achieved excellence in giving.