In conjunction with the upcoming International Volunteer Day on December 5, we shine the spotlight on two big-hearted members who are paying it forward through ISCA Cares.
Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” At the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), we recognise the power and purpose of giving and, to this end, set up ISCA Cares in 2015. A charity platform for the accountancy profession as a collective, ISCA Cares gives back to society, and invests in the future generation at the same time.
Our ISCA Cares Education Programme complements existing government assistance schemes to finance tertiary-level accountancy education for academically-inclined youths from disadvantaged backgrounds. To date, approximately $510,000 have been awarded to our bursary recipients. While donations serve as financial aid for the recipients, our members lend something even more invaluable: their insights and guidance, in their capacity as mentors to the youths, and the opportunities to gain accountancy work experience through internships.
Here, two of our members who are actively involved in charity work, and also contributing their time and expertise as mentors in the ISCA Cares Mentorship Programme, share their thoughts about the joys of giving, as well as what keeps them going.
INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEER DAY
International Volunteer Day, mandated by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, is held annually on December 5. It is viewed as a unique opportunity for volunteers and organisations to celebrate their efforts, share their values, and promote their work among their communities, non-governmental organisations, UN agencies, government authorities and the private sector.
Apart from mobilising thousands of volunteers every year, the UN Volunteers programme contributes to peace and development by advocating for the recognition of volunteers and working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming.
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME… AND EXTENDS BEYOND
LIM FANG SUNG, CA (SINGAPORE), DIRECTOR, UNITY ASSURANCE PAC
For many well-to-do Singaporeans, year-end family holidays are luxe affairs with shopping sprees and five-star hotel accommodation. However, for his son’s last holiday before commencing National Service about four years ago, Lim Fang Sung brought his wife and son to a village in Laos, where living conditions were so poor that the children did not have access to optometry care. “Oh, he complained! ‘Why couldn’t you just let me enjoy my holiday?’” chuckles Mr Lim, as he recollects his son’s initial reaction. Yet, by the end of the trip, the youngster had found it to be a meaningful experience.
The “holiday” was actually part of the Gift of Sight initiative by the Lions Club of Singapore Bedok, of which Mr Lim has been a member since 2015. With the objective of helping school children see better, the group of volunteers, which included opticians, had flown to Laos specially to organise eye examinations. “It’s something that we take for granted; we can just walk into a mall and get our eyesight tested at a shop. But these kids can’t even afford eye-testing, let alone a pair of glasses. One student had myopia of 1,500 degrees and couldn’t even see the blackboard clearly!” recounts Mr Lim. The prescriptions were sent back to Singapore where the glasses were made, then shipped to Laos to be distributed to the children. “Seeing the joy of the students when they received their glasses gave my son great satisfaction, and he was glad that he came along,” says Mr Lim.
The 53-year-old shared this as an example of how he integrates volunteerism into his busy life, and how he gets those around him to join him in charity work as well. In his firm, he also intends to assimilate charity work into the company culture, such as by organising orphanage visits during festive seasons. “It’s all about exposing more people to the joys of charity work – one that can only be experienced though participation.” Unfortunately, this has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many people regard volunteer work as a huge commitment, but it’s all about balancing your time. Just like how I turned the volunteer project into a family-bonding experience, there are many ways to integrate it into your life,” says Mr Lim, who also contributes his time and expertise as Vice President of a social services organisation. He was recently invited to join the ISCA Cares Mentorship Programme, and has since been providing guidance to youths. “I felt that it would be good to share my life experiences with youths who are at different stages of their personal or professional journeys. While this helps them to improve their lives, I get to discover the issues the youths might have, and learn from their ways of thinking.” Indeed, while those who give never think about having their efforts repaid, what they receive in return is often invaluable.
DIFFERENT WAYS OF GIVING
Like many others, Mr Lim’s giving journey started with monetary donations. His perspective of social work changed when he was given the opportunity to take a more hands-on approach through the Lions Club. “At that point, I felt that I had worked hard to get to a certain place in life, and it was time to give back to the needy in Singapore and in the region,” he recalls. “Once I started, seeing the joy on the faces of those I helped spur me on.”
Doing charity work, which opened Mr Lim’s eyes to the plight of the underprivileged, has also been a humbling experience. “During the circuit breaker, I bought necessities for needy families and saw the living conditions of those living in the rental flats. I was surprised to see the number of people cramped into these tiny apartments, and my heart truly went out to them,” shares Mr Lim. He has come to realise that although Singapore is an affluent country, there are many who still need help, and it is not always about donating money. Sometimes, all it takes is for one to be a good listener, learn about the issues of the needy, and leverage one’s resources to help them. “And hopefully, those we help will one day be in a position to give back to society too.”
Mr Lim feels that his professional background bestows some advantages on his volunteering efforts. “Accountants often get to build a network of connections with people from different trades through our work. This allows us to reach out to a wider audience and rope in others to contribute to different causes,” he says. “With our own network of chartered accountants, we can also contribute by kickstarting our own initiatives, such as what is being done through ISCA Cares. I hope that ISCA Cares might be able to expand to different areas, such as adopting an orphanage, or organising visits to old folks’ homes. No project is too small. Every bit helps.”
2015 to present
Director, Unity Assurance PAC
FROM RECEIVING TO GIVING
BRYAN ZHAO, CA (SINGAPORE), FOUNDING PARTNER, HARVEST ACCOUNTING PTE LTD
Having co-founded technologically forward-looking firm Harvest Accounting when he was just 28 years of age, Bryan Zhao epitomises the business-savvy accountant of tomorrow. Yet, his life might have been very different had it not been for the financial assistance and scholarships he received as a student. “I come from a humble background, and my parents never had the chance to pursue higher education. Growing up, I relied on scholarships, without which I wouldn’t have been able to pursue quality education all the way, follow my dreams, and be where I am today,” says Bryan.
Today, Bryan is giving back to society by supporting youths as they embark on their own journeys towards becoming professional accountants – the same way he had been supported. “One of the revelations when it comes to giving back is discovering causes that are meaningful to you. It is important to get educated on the various social topics that you are interested in – which can span from tackling inequality and helping the vulnerable, to protecting the environment – and understand the issues deeply,” shares Bryan. He dispels the notion that giving back is a very intensive and exhausting endeavour. “Many have the perception that doing charity work takes a lot of time and effort. However, if you are working on something driven by passion, the commitment wouldn’t be a pain point.”
For Bryan, nurturing future generations stands out as a cause – and the work of ISCA Cares resonates with him. “It is meaningful to enable disadvantaged Singaporean students to pursue a finance and/or accountancy education at the tertiary level,” he maintains. To put his support for ISCA Cares into action, he ran a fundraising campaign on Giving.sg for ISCA Cares in August this year, successfully raising $5,000. “I had just turned 30 on National Day, and I thought a meaningful way to commemorate it would be to rally everybody to contribute to a good cause, rather than spend money on gifts for myself. It was also a celebration of the SGUnited spirit at a time when the country was working as one to steer through the Covid-19 pandemic,” he relates. Given the government’s dollar-for-dollar matching for qualifying donations, Bryan felt that everything was in place for him to start his very first fundraising initiative for a cause that he was passionate about. “It was now or never!” he says.
On top of the monetary donations, Bryan also volunteers his time as a mentor with ISCA Cares. “The ability to impact youths positively, beyond lending monetary support, was what made me choose ISCA Cares as the beneficiary of my fundraiser,” he explains. As someone who believes that businesses should exist for a social purpose, Bryan also hopes that offering internship opportunities in his company, through ISCA Cares and SGUnited Traineeships Programme, will give his staff and associates a chance to positively impact those around them.
“(By adopting a giving mentality) our company becomes a platform to support people. I see that the interns who had joined us through the different programmes have managed to learn a lot within just a few months. Being able to contribute to their professional development is my way of positively impacting their lives,” asserts Bryan. “I may be just one person, but if I can inspire others – be it those who work with me or our beneficiaries – to pay it forward, the ripple effect could be great. That is something I find amazing about charity work.”
NEVER A BAD TIME TO GIVE
While the entrepreneurial drive for many people is solely powered by the desire to “get ahead”, starting a business was in fact what inspired Bryan to think about charity work seriously. “At Harvest, we help small businesses digitalise their accounting efforts and I realised that I was improving the livelihoods of the people behind those businesses. This brought my co-founder Matthew Phua and I a lot of joy and we started thinking about what we could do for the community,” he reveals.
While Bryan, as a young entrepreneur and business owner, might be in a seemingly better position to do charity work than others, he emphasises that everyone can give back. He first started volunteering in school, helping with local and overseas projects on an ad hoc basis, and continued to take part in charity work in different ways – from helping out in community homes to doing coastal cleanups. “I have come to learn that charity work and volunteering can happen anywhere and at any time; everyone has something to offer. Some may feel like they don’t have enough resources nor experience to contribute, but you are never too young to give back. You don’t have to be a director to mentor; you can also do peer-to-peer mentoring, or even be a sounding board for somebody older.”
“It’s about being a good steward of your resources, skill sets and experiences. For example, an accountant can share his knowledge on tax deductions, or even initiatives such as donation-matching schemes by the government, to help with fundraising efforts,” advises Bryan on how those in the finance and accountancy industry can give back.
By leveraging what he has and giving in a sustainable manner, Bryan also puts himself in better stead to continue his charity work. Apart from joining the ISCA Cares Mentorship Programme, he hopes to run a similar Giving.sg fundraising initiative next year, and is also dedicated to promoting a giving culture within his company. “I grew up worrying that I wouldn’t have enough and always thinking that I needed more,” admits Bryan. “However, the mindset of abundance, rather than scarcity, will change your perspective, and you will realise that everybody has something to give.”
2015 to 2016
Product Accountant, Bunge Asia Pte Ltd
2016 to 2018
Senior Credit Analyst, Corporate Banking and Trade Finance, KBC Bank
2018 to present
Founding Partner, Harvest Accounting Pte Ltd