Issue 116 | Jan-Mar 2019

Building a City of Good

Ms Melissa Kwee (EMBA ’09) wants Singaporeans to have a giving mindset.

Ms Melissa Kwee, CEO of NVPC.

Titled “Building a City of Good”, NUS Alumni Relations’ and NUS Society’s (NUSS) Breakfast Dialogues session at the NUSS Suntec City Guild House on 26 October 2018 could not have been better timed. Just two days earlier, NUS had been named the winner in the “Educational Institution” category of the President’s Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards 2018, administered by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), in recognition of the University’s excellence in giving. A number of outstanding service projects helped NUS clinch the award, including the NUS Day of Service. The speaker at the dialogue was NVPC’s CEO, Ms Melissa Kwee. 

Some 40 young alumni professionals and guests attended the event, which was moderated by Ms Samantha Ng (Engineering ’10) who is a founder of a number of social enterprises in Singapore. 
Ms Kwee shared her ideas on how a “City of Good” can be achieved and also took part in a Q&A session with the audience. 



Popular perceptions of Singapore tend to revolve around national pastimes like eating and shopping, the ‘Singlish’ slang and, more recently, its depiction in the film Crazy Rich Asians as well as its hosting of the Trump–Kim Summit. Singaporeans are sometimes thought of as being apathetic about issues affecting the wider community, such as social inequality, or indifferent to the well-being of people beyond their immediate circle. 

Hoping to influence this narrative, NVPC aims to re-imagine Singapore as a City of Good, where Singaporeans are known for volunteering their time, talent and money to make a positive impact on people’s lives. “I believe that Singaporeans are not apathetic,” said Ms Kwee. Rather, their industrious nature means that they are very busy with their day-to-day lives, leaving Singaporeans unaware of or unexposed to the plight of the less-fortunate. Their general penchant for compliance, paiseh-ness (fear of embarrassment) and reluctance to intrude on others’ privacy could also be mistaken for apathy or disinterest. 

Ms Kwee went on to remind NUS alumni that they are particularly blessed having benefited from a good education. She thus impressed upon those alumni who were present: “What do we do with this great privilege? How can we serve in a way that uplifts not just us but those around us?” 


A collective effort is required to build a City of Good. Ms Kwee elaborated on NVPC’s three-pronged approach involving the public (“agents of change”); organisations, both government agencies and private companies (“the large resource holders and movers”); and leaders (“the mobilisers or galvanisers”). “A City of Good will happen when we have a trusted network of leaders who will each influence their partners [across business and government] to make a change,” she said. 

Based on the guiding principle that all forms of awareness should lead to opportunities for action, NVPC runs a number of initiatives to engage all three segments of society and institutionalise giving nationwide.
Ms Kwee with moderator Ms Ng.
These include:
  • — a one-stop portal that matches donors and volunteers with charities.
  • 15 Shorts — a film project consisting of 15 short films that tell the true stories of everyday Singaporeans and local philanthropists who performed powerful acts of selflessness between the 1970s and 1990s.
  • SG Cares app — an online platform where users can share news, stories, resources and information on volunteering/donating opportunities.


The 15 Shorts series of short films, each one lasting 10–20 minutes, will be screened during NUS Alumni Relations’ Movies On The House nights. As Ms Kwee said of the project, “I hope these films become the way we think about our history, and who we are.”

One question on the audience’s minds was how to make volunteering more sustainable. Referencing NVPC’s ‘Learn-Give-Grow’ framework, Ms Kwee advised people to first find out what needs and opportunities are available, then choose a cause that personally resonates with them. “To inspire that ‘want to give’ feeling in others, they have to see that desire, passion and commitment in you first,” she averred. To young professionals interested in working at non-governmental and non-profit organisations, Ms Kwee recommended that they start out by volunteering: “Get some experience under your belt to decide whether it is a career you really want.”
She also pointed out that the younger generation need not enter the non-profit sector to make a difference; they can pursue a socially-impactful career in the corporate world, too. “The millennial workforce is pushing companies to be socially responsible and ‘do good’. They are changing the landscape,” said Ms Kwee. 


Breakfast Dialogues: 
Mr Martino Tan (Public Policy ’09)

25 Jan, Fri, 7.30am to 9am
Register at

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