1. On the board of Community Foundation of Singapore and chairman of NUS ACSEP advisory board.
2. Believes in the need to research philanthropy in the context of the local society and culture to propel the future of giving.
3. Initiated the idea of introducing philanthropy as a university subject.
4. Donated an initial $1.5 million to establish ACSEP.
5. Executive chairman of ABR Holdings.

[dropcap size=small]M[/dropcap]ore than 100 years ago, Mrs Lee Choon Guan was a trailblazing woman of many firsts. One of the few Chinese women to be educated at the time, she championed many causes, including women’s education and reduction of child mortality.

Mr and Mrs Lee Choon Guan (far right) at the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital opening in 1923.

Today, her great-grandson Keith Chua, who is trustee for the Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund, sees himself as one in a long line of givers, and a successor to his great-grandmother’s legacy of supporting the evolving needs of society. Through the trust, Chua continues to support her causes in education and health care in Singapore and abroad.

Since 2012, the trust has been supporting non-profit Children of Cambodia to reduce infant mortality in Cambodia, by building a neonatal ward and encouraging the sharing of medical expertise. “What’s fascinating is that my great-grandmother herself was involved with helping to reduce infant mortality 100 years ago in Singapore,” says Chua, 62. “We’ve come full circle.”

But what Chua, who is also executive chairman of ABR Holdings, is particularly invested in is the need for philanthropy to keep up with the times. Realising that not much was being done to study philanthropy in Asia, he approached the dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School 10 years ago with the idea of introducing philanthropy as a subject of mainstream study at university level.

Chua’s interest culminated in an initial $1.5 million donation to support the establishment of the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy in 2009 (later renamed Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, or ACSEP, in 2011).

Since then, ACSEP has produced many notable studies under Chua’s guidance as chairman of its advisory board, including papers on innovation in Asian philanthropy, philanthropy’s role in Singapore’s national development, and the contribution of women philanthropists in Singapore’s history. He believes such research in Asian and Singaporean philanthropy is especially timely, considering that Asian wealth and philanthropy are growing at an exponential rate.

“Many Asian countries today are still looking to research done in the Western world. But there’s perhaps value and opportunity to research philanthropy in the context of our society and culture. It will help us better understand how philanthropy is unfolding in this current phase of our economic and political development.”

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Such studies have already provided tangible value to local organisations. The Community Foundation of Singapore, where Chua is a board member, regularly taps into ACSEP’s research to better direct its programmes to help wealthy donors undertake philanthropy journeys.

Chua is also heartened by the substantial interest in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship among young Singaporeans. Two years ago, 29 NUS undergraduates were asked to evaluate Singapore charities that they deemed most donation-worthy in terms of relevance, impact, sustainability and excellence. Through the trust, Chua donated $40,000 to seven charities including Care Corner Family Service Centre (Admiralty), Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore and New Life Community Services. “There is significant interest in philanthropy among the younger generation in Singapore and regionally. We need to support and encourage that. It’s indicative of an evolving society.”

“There is significant interest in philanthropy among the younger generation in Singapore and regionally.. It’s indicative of an evolving society.”

ACSEP is conducting a large-scale study of the last 200 years of philanthropy in Singapore from 1819-2019, which Chua hopes will offer strategic insight into how philanthropy can continue to be practised here. “We hope to attract groups within the philanthropic eco-system and help them move forward in their giving journey. I have taken a very broad overview of how philanthropy is being increasingly embraced.

“It shows me that philanthropy will increasingly be a practice that will grow very quickly in the coming years.”


In 60 Seconds

The historical period that interests me the most is: The period about 100 years ago in Singapore where there seemed to be quite a strong movement in philanthropy to help shape society and communities.

My greatest weakness is: Saying yes. Itʼs both a strength and a weakness. Another weakness is not being able to say no to good food. I enjoy local Singaporean food more than anything else.

Misery is: That I somehow attract mosquitoes all the time.

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