Born to do Good
For Annie Yeo, the Singapore International Foundation’s Citizen Ambassador, lending a helping hand to those in need is second nature.
BY Alywin Chew
nnie Yeo spent much of her childhood helping her parents to make ends meet. While her classmates were out playing, she had to shuttle between homes in the neighbourhood, delivering clothes that her parents had laundered.
Despite her less privileged circumstances, Yeo never wasted any time wallowing in self-pity. In fact, she has always been inclined to help those who are at a disadvantage, even when she was much younger.
“There was a particular girl in my class who came from a poor family. She was timid and was always scolded by our form teacher. One day, the teacher dragged her from her seat to the boys’ class next door. I stood up and told the teacher to stop treating the girl so badly. She was angry at me and ordered me to stand on my desk as punishment,” she recalls.
“I just had to speak up about this unfair treatment. Till today, my ex-classmates tease me about that heroic act against our tyrannical teacher!”
Yeo didn’t lose this penchant for doing good even after she became an adult. During her first job as an insurance salesperson, she would go from door to door to pitch policies to families living in oneroom flats. Yeo often returned to the office without new contracts – but with a lighter wallet. “I just had to give them money as the family situation would often be so bad,” she shares.
COMMITMENT TO SOCIETY
She turned doing good into a career, making her foray into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the mid-1990s when she started working at the Bankers Trust Foundation, a boutique American investment bank where she helped to design programmes that aimed to alleviate poverty in Asia.
Years later, after the American operation was acquired by Deutsche Bank, Yeo started managing corporate events and CSR activities for the latter. In 2009, as director of CSR, it became her main responsibility. After more than a decade of managing CSR, Yeo came to an important realisation: Companies can and should make a positive social and economic impact on communities around the world.
Yeo played a critical role in getting Deutsche Bank to support the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) signature Water for Life programme in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The bank was a sponsor of this initiative for six years. Today, it continues to be a supporter of two SIF projects – the Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme and the Arts for Good initiative.
“The Water for Life project resonated with the bank’s broader commitment to enhance the quality of life of people and communities in Asia by bringing clean water to villages,” explains Yeo. The project also facilitates better healthcare, education and income generation opportunities that may otherwise be impacted by water-borne diseases.
“With trust and transparency, corporate donors can be encouraged to embrace a more involved approach in their contributions.”
Annie Yeo, director of CSR, Deutsche Bank
“The YSE programme is aligned with our CSR strategy of helping fledgling social enterprises, while we believe in the power of the arts to unlock the potential of the next generation. The arts broadens perspectives and transcends borders. It can strengthen the social fabric of a community by connecting people of diverse backgrounds.”
Citing how the divide between the rich and poor is getting more pronounced as the world becomes more globalised, Yeo believes that more corporate entities should be engaged in CSR. She notes that while the Singapore Stock Exchange imposes mandatory Sustainability Reporting by listed companies, many small and mediumsized enterprises actually lack a culture of corporate giving. Many, she opines, also have a misunderstanding of what CSR is about and what the best practices are.
“Money is not the most important contribution that a company can offer. Rather, it is the people who can make the most enduring difference,” she explains.
“I particularly like our regional volunteering initiative, where we invite colleagues in the region to join us on a trip to a specific country where we work alongside our local colleagues on CSR programmes. Not only do colleagues feel good to be able to contribute to the community, this is a great cultural experience for them to see parts of the country that a tourist typically would not be able to see. It is also the best team-building exercise that bonds colleagues across countries to come together for a meaningful cause.”
Yeo adds that non-profit organisations, too, can play a part by focusing more on developing closer relationships with donors. “Increasingly, donors want to be better informed, more involved and more strategic in their giving. With trust and transparency, corporate donors can be encouraged to embrace a more involved approach in their contributions.”
GAINING NEW PERSPECTIVES
Despite her work commitments, Yeo herself has supported many of the SIF’s programmes. She has volunteered for the Water for Life project in Siem Reap. She has also served as a member of the Arts for Good advisory panel and as a judge for the YSE programme.
Outside of the SIF, Yeo is a management committee member at her golf club where she drives CSR initiatives, such as fundraising events and activities for people with disabilities. “The challenge is that there are not enough hours in a day!” she says, referring to the problems she faces with juggling so many commitments. “But once you get into a routine, things fall into place.”
With regard to the sort of advice she would give to those who are aspiring to pay it forward in the community, Yeo highlights that volunteering doesn’t only help those who are less fortunate – it is a precious learning and enriching experience for the volunteer as well.
“ VOLUNTEERING BRINGS ABOUT HAPPINESS AND MANY BENEFITS. BESIDES CONTRIBUTING TO THE COMMUNITY, ONE ALSO GAINS NEW KNOWLEDGE, PERSPECTIVE AND SKILLS THROUGH VOLUNTEERING. ”
“If you are passionate about helping a cause, just go for it. Volunteering brings about happiness and many benefits,” she says. “Besides contributing in a small way to the community, one also gains new knowledge, perspective and skills through volunteer work.”
Citing her numerous trips to Siem Reap with the SIF, Yeo shares that she is always fascinated by its deep-rooted history and the beautiful heritage temples. “They are so rich in culture and much respect is paid to the elderly or to the monks,” she says.
“I remember when we were at the official ceremonies, we had to take off our shoes and sit on the floor. We could not sit higher than the elders or the monks due to their status, so we had to sit in a slouched position during the ceremony – not the most comfortable, but we had to respect their traditional practices.”
“It is very humbling when one volunteers as you come across people in unfortunate circumstances,” she adds.
Most of them could have done well if they were given opportunities. I always remind myself that it could have been me in their place, so I am always thankful for the life that I have, and that is why I continue to lend a hand whenever I can.”
For the relentless do-gooder, volunteering opens up the mind. “It is also a good way to meet like-minded people and learn from each other.” she says. “It is good to roll up our sleeves and do something different versus the routine work at the office. Nothing makes me happier than when I put together the right people and the right project, and help make good things happen.”
The Singapore International Foundation (SIF) brings together Singaporeans and world communities to do good through our various programmes.
To achieve this goal, many Singaporeans and Friends of Singapore enable our work by giving generously of their time, talent and treasure. Their collective efforts bring us closer to being a nation of responsible global citizens.
In particular, Singaporeans play the role of Citizen Ambassadors when they volunteer to work alongside their overseas counterparts to shape new realities, while fostering greater intercultural understanding.
All our volunteers abide by the SIF Global Citizens Charter, which sets out the principles, values and behaviours expected of them, based on our mission.
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