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Philanthropy Asia Summit 2023 Opening Remarks by Mr Desmond Kuek, CEO, Temasek Trust
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Philanthropy Asia Summit 2023 Opening Remarks by Mr Desmond Kuek, CEO, Temasek Trust

15 Sep 2023


President of the Republic of Singapore Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam,

PAA and Temasek Holdings Chair Mr. Lim Boon Heng,

Temasek Trust Chair Ms. Ho Ching

Temasek Trust Chair Emeritus Mr. Dhanabalan

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and a warm welcome to the Philanthropy Asia Summit.

 This is my first PAS since joining Temasek Trust this year. I am honoured to be in the company of so many of you who have been working tirelessly in your own spheres of influence bringing positive change and impact to climate and community. 

Making sense of the future

Where are the needs most urgent, the impact best felt?

How do we steer to a positive future in the face of the social, economic, political, environmental and technology challenges before us?

I would like to offer five trajectories that we want to be mindful of:

  • The first is climate change which, coupled with industrialisation, will have adverse consequences for Asia’s social, economic, and natural ecosystems.  Already we can feel that the world has become hotter, weather effects are more severe.  Temperatures are projected to rise two times faster in Asia than the global average.  This will impact island and coastal states profoundly, and we need to accelerate efforts to reduce emissions, capture carbon from the air and sea, and catalyse an effective and inclusive energy transition.
  • Second, the loss of biodiversity and natural habitats because of climate change and human activity will harm lives and livelihoods.  The estimate is that 42% of all species in Southeast Asia could be lost by 2100.  In Asia, where large segments of population live off the land, this sharpens the plight of the poor, heightens the risk of forced migrations, threatens food & water supply and security, and undermines ecological sustainability.  We need a nature-positive future where nature can co-exist more harmoniously with humans.
  • Third, people are living longer but not necessarily healthier lives.  Studies show that health-spans lag lifespans by almost a decade.  In other words, many spend the last 10 years of their lives in a sickly state.  This statistic, plotted against a backdrop of ageing populations and declining fertility rates, puts the spotlight on the need for strengthening of our social fabric, healthcare systems and infrastructure.
  • Fourth, we know that the next pandemic is not a question of if, but when; and in all likelihood, will be more infectious and deadly.  We need to work across the region to cooperate on early warning and predictive capabilities, public resilience, and emergency preparedness, in order to be more robust, ready and responsive. After all, in our inter-connected world, no one is truly safe until everyone is safe.
  • Finally, geopolitical tensions, uneven economic growth, competition for resources, widening divides exacerbated by primordial lines of ethnicity, religion, or nationality, as well as social media misinformation and artificial intelligence misapplication – these can present major disruption to civilisation and humanity.  We will require ever more devotion to building bridges of trust, goodwill, mutual respect, and harmony in the region and across communities.

Revisiting our 4 Pillars of philanthropic activity

It is against this backdrop, that we framed our 4 pillars of philanthropic work at Temasek Trust:

  • Planet – because there is no future in an unliveable world.  Well before this, climate catastrophes will fall disproportionately on the poor and disadvantaged;
  • People – so that lives and livelihoods can be uplifted with better access to holistic healthcare, life-long skills and education, and inclusive growth;
  • Peace – without which there can be no promise of a certain future; nor any certainty of a promising life; and
  • Progress – where change, transition and growth must be just and inclusive, leaving no one behind in our efforts to build better for every generation.

Diving deeper into each of these pillars, we have identified a set of focus areas and capabilities to bring in or build up that would help address these imperatives in a structured, systemic, data-driven way – with impact clearly in mind. 

We can’t move the needle on all or any of these on our own.  No one can, singlehandedly. Which explains why our fifth P, underpinning the 4Ps, is Partnership – connecting, convening, catalysing, and collaborating with like-minded partners across the public, private, people and philanthropic sectors to bring about greater good. 

In wanting to forge strong partnerships, we know there may be differing needs, expectations and perspectives – but it is our belief that only in coming together can we address the problem of the commons.  As they say, we may not all be in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.

Climate Crossroads: Pathways for Action

Indeed, it is a complex storm, ever evolving and in multi-player mode.  More profoundly, in the thematic areas of climate, health, education, social mobility, financial inclusion, there are intersections and cross-effects at multiple points.

It will require that we take a broader systems-view to sense-making, an integrated multi-disciplinary approach to solutioning, as well as coherent and synchronous lines of action by all stakeholders. 

This year’s summit theme is “Climate Crossroads: Pathways for Action” which paints a vivid picture that we stand at a critical juncture where paths diverge and difficult choices must be made. The language of climate action is often framed as trade-offs between competing needs for a sustainable and thriving future.

I would like to offer a different take on the idea of crossroads: it is where two or more roads meet.  Where we come together, the more important question is: how might we pool our collective resources and resolve to take a concerted view toward making timely, pertinent, and impactful change by working together?

In Asia or beyond, whether private, public or people sector, whether first-mile catalyst or last-mile delivery in philanthropy, the way to the future must be through collaborative pathways and collective action.

It is with this in mind that we are formally launching today the Philanthropy Asia Alliance as a platform for us to come together in a coalition for action, to prime Asia as a force for good.

The impetus for such collaboration came from many of you present today.  Thank you for being a pioneering member and partner in the Philanthropy Asia Alliance.  Your pledges toward the causes and calls-to-action, as of yesterday, amount to more than SGD 1 billion – more precisely, USD 777 million, a winning number, and tremendous step forward.  We already have more than 80 members and partners in the PAA, and hope many more will be encouraged to join us in our alliance, on any boat – as a donor of any sum, a knowledge expert in any related field, or a programme partner championing any of our calls-to-action. 

For Temasek Trust, we look forward to growing our partnership and shaping collective impact together with you – harnessing your best intentions, ideas and efforts in re-imagining the future.  We hope to draw inspiration and synergy through our networking. And we aim to unlock capital and accelerate funding for innovative solutions that will make a difference for this and future generations.

Building better for every generation

Even as we are starting up, we are also thinking about what’s next – how else we can build better for the future, for every generation. In our various conversations over the past year, some questions consistently surface:

How do we address the trillions in funding gap needed for climate action?

What is the shape of philanthropy in the context of our Asian families and economies?

How do we work together so that 1 plus 1 can equal 5 or 10, even 100?  

According to the IMF, the prospect of Asia is a “bright spot in a lethargic global economy”, and its potential for philanthropy is correspondingly increasing.  There is a positive mood, and a desire to do more, do better, be bolder.  We know that while we might well be able to move faster alone, we can move much further and more impactfully together

The PAA harnesses the collective strengths of our global member core to Accelerate, Scale, Innovate with an Asian focus. There are many calls-to-action that will be discussed at this afternoon’s break-out sessions.  Beyond these, let me outline four new enablers that we invite you to build with us:

-       First, building capacity and competency.  I’m pleased to announce that with our partners, we are seeding the establishment of a new Asia Centre for Changemakers. This is a learning lab for philanthropists, advisors and managers, social entrepreneurs and community partners who want to nurture the talent pool, raise their professional competency and share resources to bring game-changing solutions to life.  Do join us to set up this new centre which we are targeting for the first programme run early next year. 

-       Second, building systems and knowledge for innovation.  We want to develop systems thinking, exchange analytics and insights in order to better understand the theories of change and drivers for sustainable, comprehensive solutions, especially where there are cross-boundary effects such as with planetary health, inclusive growth and catalytic finance.  With your support, we aim to build a shared global and regional knowledge hub and network of research institutions that can power up new innovation.

-       Third, building momentum in our solutioning.  Impact startups often lack funding, and operational or commercial experience.  They need investors who are patient, and partners who can help them navigate tough markets and that extended “valley of death”.  Many do not make it.  PAA with the Centre for Impact Investing & Practices will be launching an Amplifier programme to incubate and support impact innovators. The Amplifier will be a 12-month programme with mentorship, professional services, and training to add momentum to development and financial sustainability.  We thank our partners and mentors, some of whom are next-generation philanthropists themselves, who are offering their networks and experience. We will be making a call for impact project submissions in time for the Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology (SWITCH) this year.

-       And fourthly, building the infrastructure for an impact marketplace. Less than 25% of the USD 1 trillion global impact investing market is in Asia, and this presents a compelling need and opportunity.  We want to engage many more partners in setting up Co-Axis, short for collaborative action to x-celerate impact and sustainability – as a catalytic capital marketplace that will connect projects with funders who share the commitment to making impact.  It’s an exciting new initiative to build an infrastructure that will unlock, potentially also blend, liquidity across the entire spectrum of capital.  We aim to unveil a beta version of Co-Axis at the next Philanthropy Asia Summit in April.  Over lunch, our Panel will speak more about this.

Closing Remarks 

By way of concluding, let me share one of my favourite sayings that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now”.

You can take this literally, as we strive for a greener world.  More than that, of course, is the notion of seizing the moment, taking responsibility for what’s before us, and striving to leave an impactful and positive legacy for the future. 

In this regard, today’s launch of the Philanthropy Asia Alliance is especially timely and meaningful. Thank you all for being herenow, coming together to build better for a positive future, for every generation.

Thank you.


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