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A PASSION FOR COMPASSION

THE GIVING OF “HEART” WORK

In a Forbes article, Professor Karl Moore from McGill University in Canada wrote this, “Every individual has gifts and talents that can make a lasting impact. However, only a minority of people utilise those gifts and talents to live up to their full potential. Tying your gifts and talents with your personal purpose not only leads to a more successful career, but a significant one.”

In this sound piece of career advice lies a truth that can be applied to all pursuits, for there is power in connecting passion with purpose, and this is especially true in community service. With December 5 being International Volunteer Day, we celebrate three extraordinary individuals in the field of accountancy whose community service work is guided by the needs of those they serve, yet driven by their personal convictions and interests. For Max Loh, EY Singapore and Brunei Managing Partner and EY ASEAN IPO Leader, it extends beyond purely making monetary donations into putting his efforts where he can create maximum impact for the underprivileged. In the case of Sarjit Singh, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore for In.Corp Global Pte Ltd, a focus on education and mentorship sees him tirelessly contributing to youth development. There’s also Genevieve Chua, CEO of OVOL Singapore Pte Ltd, whose passion for promoting health among young and old alike has led her to contribute in a wide range of initiatives, from national programmes to an organisation of senior volunteers.

As corporate leaders with their own share of work, family and personal commitments, each of them is a time-strapped individual juggling multiple responsibilities. Yet, all make time to give in ways that are meaningful not just to those they serve, but to themselves. For as industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller once said, “Giving is not a duty, but a privilege.” And to these three ISCA members, it is also a source of joy.


IMPACT MATTERS

MAX LOH, FCA (SINGAPORE), EY SINGAPORE AND BRUNEI MANAGING PARTNER; EY ASEAN IPO LEADER

Growing up in a middle-class family, Max Loh asserts that while his family was never very rich, he never wanted for anything. That said, he remembers his Hakka mother to be extremely thrifty. “Why should one carefully consider one’s spending when one can afford what one wants? Because it’s about saving for the future and not spending all on yourself, but also giving back to society,” he shares, reflecting on the family values instilled in him from an early age. Naturally, when he started contributing to social causes, he did what many people in his position would do: donate money. He continues to do so today, such as when he and his family donated a portion of what they saved from not being able to go on overseas holidays during the pandemic, instead of spending it all on alternative forms of recreation or wants.

His motivation to give stems from an awareness of his position of privilege. “I think we all aspire to be better and, invariably, wish to have the things others have,” he explains. “But as I tell my children, for each of your wants and desires, there are many people out there who wish for what you already have.” To him, just being a Singaporean, and living in a safe, stable and prosperous country, is a privilege in itself. “And among the privileged, I am even more so, having been given the opportunity to work in a global organisation, and to lead,” he admits. “This realisation makes me want to give back to society and help elevate others.” Recalling a fundraising initiative where EY donated money to build a gym and a science laboratory in various schools for underprivileged kids, Mr Loh contributed by purchasing, packing and distributing gifts and hampers to needy families.

Apart from lending financial and physical muscle, EY also has initiatives that allow their staff to leverage on their financial, accountancy and business skills to aid the underprivileged, so as to help them move up in life. “Such initiatives might not have a definitive financial value tied to them, but they go some way to help level the playing field between the haves and have-nots,” Mr Loh points out. He speaks also from his experience of being the Chairman of ISCA Cares, a charity set up by ISCA that provides a platform for the profession to support meaningful causes. “Education and life skills such as financial planning are critical social mobility tools and social levellers. As part of ISCA Cares, we contribute by both helping to finance the education of young, aspiring accountants from underprivileged families as well as providing mentorship.” Mr Loh shares that talking to the ISCA Cares bursary recipients always brings a tear to his eye. More importantly, they have also made him and his fellow members more aware of the struggles of the underprivileged – struggles that cannot be solved just with money.

“Mentorship is thus important in that it helps these youths navigate their way and gives them a guiding light as they make the choices that can lead them to a successful career and, hopefully, progress to moving their entire family up the social ladder.” Looking at giving back beyond dollars and cents also allows Mr Loh to zero in on the long-term impact of his contributions. “When I started giving back to society, I focused more on the financial value of things,” he reveals. “But along the way, I gained a different perspective of social work – that it should be about impact, and what resonates with you.” This is one of the reasons why, beyond donating as a family, he also engages his sons, who are aged nine and 15 years, in his social work. “When my boys join me in the Share-A-Gift distribution events, such as packing the gifts and distributing them, walking up the stairs with me and seeing for themselves what a one-room flat looks like… the experience can help them build values of their own, which is more than what donating a sum of money as a family would do for them.”

STRONGER TOGETHER

Having been an ISCA Cares Mentor since its founding, Mr Loh’s interactions with his mentees have given him a greater appreciation of the struggles of those with different life circumstances. “That knowledge allows one to empathise. It also gives you a deeper desire to help and give more,” he shares. “That is when you realise that a single person’s effort is not enough and that you should rally others to do it with you, and so you build a core volunteer group. But even that ultimately isn’t enough. Nor is building a group of say, 50 to 100 volunteers. You need every member of that group to reach out to others just as you have, and only then can you harness the true power of the ripple effect. Do good, and don’t do it alone.”

While he steers the EY’s broad directions for CSR initiatives, Mr Loh encourages the teams to come up with their own ideas centred around the core themes. Meanwhile, as Chairman of ISCA Cares, he is actively expanding the charity’s reach and fundraising capabilities through collaborating with new partners. “No one has all the answers and the capacity or capability to solve all the problems of the underprivileged,” says Mr Loh. “But through teaming up with partners and collaborators, we can find ways and means to bring the work of ISCA Cares to another level.”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1986 to 2002
Partner, Arthur Andersen

2011 to 2019
Managing Partner, Singapore and ASEAN, EY

2019 to Present
Managing Partner, Singapore and Brunei, EY


SERVICE AS A WAY OF LIFE

SARJIT SINGH, FCA (SINGAPORE), CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SINGAPORE, IN.CORP GLOBAL PTE LTD

Those who do volunteer work are often asked, “What motivates you?” For Sarjit Singh, it is simply a way of life, and something that was instilled in him as a young boy. “My father was my role model. He ignited my passion for community work. When I was about five, my father suffered a stroke that paralysed the right side of his body. Yet, he continued his commitment to serve the community as a grassroots leader during the day, while supporting the family as a night watchman at a school.” As a child, Dr Singh used to accompany his father on his walks around the neighbourhood, helping him note down issues that needed to be resolved for the residents. Dr Singh’s father would then call the relevant authorities to resolve these issues, which could be anything from faulty streetlights to choked drains. “I saw the happiness on the faces of the residents when they thanked my father for his help. From him, I learnt how a single person can positively touch the lives of many.”

Although his father passed away when Dr Singh was 10, the boy carried on his legacy of serving the community. “I was fortunate to have had many role models, such as my grandparents, mum, siblings and their spouses who helped shape my character and values. As a result, I graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and went on to win an overseas post-graduate scholarship with PricewaterhouseCoopers.” Another source of inspiration was his grandfather. “He was a watchman in Singapore, with limited income sources. But he sold our landed house in Singapore to start an English-medium school in his village in India, for which he took 18 months of leave from work to supervise the construction project. He never had the opportunity to learn English, but he wanted to enrich the lives of others in his village.”

With community service being such a big part of the family, serving seemed a natural thing to do for Dr Singh. He took on leadership roles in school and university, and progressed to joining the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC), where he is currently a District Councillor and Chairman of the Finance Committee. He is also the CDC’s representative on OnePeople.sg, which champions racial and religious harmony. In addition, he serves as Chairman of the Learning and Assessment Committee – Foundation Programme at the Singapore Accountancy Commission, which aims to build a vibrant and future-ready accountancy profession in Singapore, and is Vice President of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA).

For his community work, Dr Singh was conferred the Public Service Star (Bar) – the BBM(L) – by the President of the Republic of Singapore in 2021. This is his fourth award conferred by the President of the Republic of Singapore, after the Public Service Medal (PBM, 2007), Public Service Star (BBM, 2011) and SkillsFuture Fellowship (2019). But while others might be dazzled by awards, his view is, “Community service is about planting trees under whose shade I do not expect to sit. Happiness comes from giving, not getting.”

THE GIFT OF INSPIRATION

Walking in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dr Singh has taken leave from work to raise funds for underprivileged students. Together with his wife, he also created the Sarjit Singh and Kiranjeet Kaur Book Prize in 2010 – an endowment fund to inspire outstanding students at Nanyang Business School, NTU – as a way of leaving a legacy to benefit future generations.

As one who deeply believes in the power of education as a way to uplift the underprivileged, Dr Singh is a lifelong learner himself. “My various community leadership roles have provided me an opportunity to understand and appreciate issues from a different perspective, which further fostered my interest in continual learning.” This has spurred him to constantly reinvent himself throughout his career as he took on different roles ranging from audit professional at PricewaterhouseCoopers to Chief Financial Officer of AIA Singapore and Aviva Asia, business owner, and now, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore for In.Corp Global – a leading professional services firm headquartered in Singapore. He has also completed three professional qualification courses over the past two years, including the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School, all while juggling a full-time professional practice and family commitments of being father to four-year-old twin girls, Ashlyn and Jaslyn.

The student is also the teacher: Dr Singh served as an Adjunct Associate Professor at NTU from 2010 to 2016. The experienced CEO doesn’t just impart professional knowledge. “I worked extraordinarily hard to ignite the passion in my students to live their dreams, learn more, do more, share more and become more. It was priceless to see the joy and smiles of my students at the end of every class. My wish is for my students to exceed me,” he says of his teaching stint. As President of the Nanyang Business School Alumni Association for over 12 years and Advisor to various youth organisations including the NTU Investment Interactive Club and SINDA Youth Club, he further developed strong bonds with a network of students and graduates. “I have also contributed my time and effort as a mentor to graduating students, and have encouraged others to do the same,” he adds. “I truly enjoy mentoring and supporting everyone around me to achieve success in the way defined by them. We always rise by lifting others. We are rewarded by peace, in knowing that we did the right thing in service and in significance.”

Beyond uplifting youths, he also works at imparting the values of good citizenship through acting as a role model. “I was fortunate to have role models who shaped my values and passions in life, and I would like to play that part for others, so that our youth are actively engaged and connected to the community,” he says.

PAYING IT FORWARD, PLANNING FORWARD

Looking back at 2021, Dr Singh shares that it has been a year of new highs, from graduating from Harvard University and receiving an honorary doctorate to being conferred the national honours of the Public Service Star (Bar). “Many good things have come my way this year resulting from years of hard work. We often overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can achieve in 10 years!” he quips.

Dissecting his strategy – developed through his years of professional work and community service – he shares, “The idea behind the strategy is to plan the changes you would like to see in incremental steps, and that’s how you progress.” But first, he adds, one has to find his/her own purpose, set goals and strive to achieve them. “Goal setting has played a huge part in ensuring that I get things done effectively in my life. I have big-picture goals that give me a clear line of sight and keep me motivated, while everyday goals help me learn something new each day,” he reveals. Secondly, he stresses the importance of finding one’s own passion and developing one’s talent, for only then can one make possibilities happen. “Surround yourself with people who inspire you, who mean the best and want the best for you,” adds Dr Singh. Finally, it is vital to then share this passion for giving back.

He also points out that giving back can be as simple as sparking joy. “For me, success is when I spread a smile to others around me,” he says. “A smile has the power to improve the day of those around us. The positive peaceful vibes bounce back, making me much stronger than ever before. That’s when magic happens. That’s my secret sauce. Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile.”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1991 to 2007  
Financial Services Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore and Sydney

2007 to 2011  
Chief Financial Officer, AIA Singapore

2010 to 2016  
Adjunct Associate Professor, Nanyang Technological University

2011 to 2014 
Chief Financial Officer, Aviva Asia

2015 to 2018  
Executive Chairman, Ardent Associates LLP

2018 to Present
Chief Executive Officer, Singapore, In.Corp Global Pte Ltd


DOING GOOD IS THE BEST MEDICINE

GENEVIEVE CHUA, FCA (SINGAPORE), CEO, OVOL SINGAPORE PTE LTD

Proving early on that age is no obstacle when it comes to giving back, Genevieve Chua started doing volunteer work as a secondary school student – by choreographing dances for the hearing-impaired at the request of the Canossian sisters of her school. “I enjoyed dance back then, so it was turning an interest into something more meaningful for others,” Ms Chua recalls of that experience in the late 1970s. That first foray into volunteerism made her realise that she could make a difference to the lives of others, even if it is in small ways. “It was a very humbling and gratifying experience interacting with these wonderful people who could still move and feel the music even if they could not hear it.”

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE HEART

This belief that every little effort counts has guided Ms Chua throughout her life, and she motivates herself through combining personal passions with her volunteer work. “Just as it began for me with an interest in dance and finding a way to go beyond my own enjoyment, I have developed a passion for health and wellness, particularly over the last few years,” shares the CEO of paper distributor OVOL Singapore. “I stay very active and keep healthy. Health is the true wealth, and health and wellness is a key and immutable priority in my life.” She believes that we all owe it to ourselves to take control of our health. “Some might attribute their health issues to genetics, but it is also said that while our genes load the gun, it is our choices that pull the trigger.” Given that many chronic diseases stem from modifiable lifestyle factors, her maxim is, “It’s never too early and never too late to start taking small steps to make a difference in our lives.”

As a passionate advocate for healthy living, Ms Chua was invited in 2017 to join the Ministry of Health’s first Citizen’s Jury – War on Diabetes, which was part of a nationwide effort to rally various stakeholders to come up with community-driven recommendations to combat the problem of diabetes. This led to other volunteering opportunities where, through the South West CDC, Ms Chua gave several health talks to primary schoolgoing children, emphasising healthy eating and avoiding too much sugar and refined carbohydrates. In 2017, Ms Chua also joined RSVP The Organisation of Senior Volunteers and the National Centre of Excellence for Senior Volunteerism. “We have a rapidly aging society and, while we are living longer, there is a serious upward trajectory in chronic diseases,” she observes. Her plan was to not just enhance the life span of the elderly but also their “health span”, drawing from her insights on health advocacy. From serving as RSVP’s Honorary Treasurer, she is now its First Vice-Chair. “Over time, I was involved in the setting up of RSVP as one of the AWE (Age Well Everyday) centres recognised by NUS Mind Science Centre. The AWE programme is an evidence-based, volunteer-driven community programme that aims to prevent or delay the onset of dementia and improve the quality of life of the elderly. And we get seniors to help seniors! There are many other programmes and initiatives at RSVP including Befriending, Guiding and Training activities, but this dementia prevention programme remains near and dear to my heart.”

LENDING HER EXPERTISE

Ms Chua is also a Board Member with RSVP Singapore, but to anybody who aspires to work towards contributing at that level, her advice is simple – start with a genuine interest to contribute to the cause that you support. “It goes beyond the title, that resume statement and a good story to tell,” she emphasises. “Not all NPOs (non-profit organisations) are well-resourced, so there may be a need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. It is imperative to think of the appointment as a call to serve, rather than to be served.”

From that starting point, she reiterates that the role of a Board Member in any organisation is a fiduciary one, with responsibility in overseeing and providing direction for governance, strategic direction, risk management and sustainability. She elaborates that an NPO will have its own challenges due to sustainable funding requirements and adequate and capable resourcing, talent recruitment and retention. “Hence, it will require a strong commitment to the mission, and it might require more personal time and effort such as tapping into one’s network for support.” She is of the opinion that chartered accountants like herself can contribute by lending their professional insights and expertise. “Skills-based volunteerism is an area where individuals can combine their professional pursuits with philanthropy, and companies which support this can leverage their employees’ skill sets for social impact,” she says. Ms Chua notes that the unique skill sets of an accountancy professional can definitely help the charity sector, where many could benefit from better reporting systems, management of information, setting up and tracking of performance targets, incorporation of IT and processes for more efficient workflow, and improved internal controls which contribute to good governance. These, she feels, are all familiar territory to an accountancy professional. But she stresses that what cannot be overlooked, and is required, are the soft skills – the people management abilities and persuasiveness – to engage and communicate one’s proposals and recommendations to the Board, senior management and various committees.”

Accountancy professionals can maximise their impact by being directly involved with the Finance Committee and Investment Committee, and in the strategic planning discussions that would be required to fulfil the vision and mission of the NPOs. “Controls and procedures need to be put in place to monitor the organisation’s programmes and services in support of the mission and strategic plans,” Ms Chua advises. “Sustainability is always of critical importance, and ensuring adequate resourcing, cashflow projection and planning is required for people development, organisational growth and changes.” She also highlights the importance of keeping an open mind when volunteering at an NPO, especially in the capacity of a Board Member. “Those of us from the corporate world might be used to a certain way of working, such as in terms of action plans, response times and standard operating procedures,” she says. “Things in the charity organisations can be different though not necessarily negative, so we will need to manage our own expectations and understand the culture and specifics of the organisation.” What is vital is for such volunteers to bring with them not just expertise and experience but a sense of understanding, patience, people management skills and an openness to listening and learning. “For example, one might need to spend more time understanding how the accounting and reporting are managed and the understanding and expectations of the Board before making and explaining the recommended changes.”

Other than her volunteer work at RSVP, Ms Chua has also offered her accounting expertise pro bono in other capacities – she was the Honorary Treasurer in organisations such as Financial Planning Association of Singapore and Print and Media Association Singapore, and was also involved as a Board Member with Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – a Geneva-based non-profit international organisation that supports sustainable forest management.

Although she always yearns to do more, she also bears in mind never to spread herself too thin. “I need to take care of myself in order to be able to go the distance with all my various commitments,” she reveals. “Placing high priority on my health ensures that I have the boundless energy to engage myself positively in various activities, while meticulous planning allows me to schedule my time productively – though I do use up a great deal of my annual leave for such activities,” she quips. That said, she highlights that studies have shown that volunteering has cumulative positive impact leading to better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and social well-being. “Beyond the fulfilment and sense of purpose that volunteerism provides, we get healthier as a result!”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1986 to 1990 
Audit Supervisor, KPMG Singapore

1990 to 2019      
Managing Director, Spicers Asia

2010 to 2020  
Board Member and Co-Vice Chair, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification

2010 to Present
Honorary Treasurer, Print and Media Association Singapore

2012 to 2014
Council Member, ISCA

2015 to 2016 
Honorary Treasurer, Financial Planning Association of Singapore

2017 to Present
First Vice Chair, RSVP Singapore The Organisation of Senior Volunteers

2019 to Present 
Chief Executive Officer, OVOL Singapore Pte Ltd

2021 to Present 
Independent Non-Executive Director, Tye Soon Limited