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HomesingaporeBorn poor and started work at age 6, philanthropist gives back to...

Born poor and started work at age 6, philanthropist gives back to society through a new foundation

SINGAPORE – Ms Anthonia Hui, 65, describes herself as a “graduate of life”.

At the age of six, she started working in a factory in Hong Kong assembling plates for a year, to put herself and her younger sister through school.

As she was born in Hong Kong to a poor family, her father felt that it was more important to educate his two sons, and told Ms Hui she had to find the money if she wanted an education.

And so, she walked two hours each way from her home to the factory to earn her school fees.

Her childhood poverty, among other life experiences, has shaped her views on philanthropy, said Ms Hui, a former banker who founded wealth management firm AL Wealth Partners with her husband Leonardo Drago.

Ms Hui is now head of Singapore for global wealth and asset manager AlTi Tiedemann Global. The Nasdaq-listed firm acquired AL Wealth Partners recently.

Ms Hui, who is married without children and became a Singaporean a decade ago, said: “I’m trying to use my philanthropy to give people the tools and skills to help themselves and others.”

For a start, she has committed to donating $1 million to various charitable causes close to her heart through a donor-advised fund at the Asia Community Foundation.

These causes include supporting the education of girls from poor families, the mental health of youth and the elderly, and the performing arts, and raising awareness of human trafficking.

The Asia Community Foundation, a registered charity which describes itself as the first Asia-focused independent community foundation, was launched on Friday afternoon to promote and facilitate charitable giving by those with very deep pockets in Asia.

It is founded by members of the Asia Philanthropy Circle, such as Mr Laurence Lien and Mr Stanley Tan. The Asia Philanthropy Circle is a network for Asian philanthropists to collaborate and address social issues.

Mr Lien is the chairman of the Lien Foundation, which was started by his grandfather, the late Overseas Union Bank founder Lien Ying Chow. Mr Tan is the chief executive of property firm GYP Properties.

Mr Lien said of the new foundation: “We want to make giving easier and more impactful.

“Singapore is a wealth management hub and there is so much money here. We want to put that money to good use.”

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He said the community foundation comes at a time when more ultra-high-net-worth individuals and family offices are keen on pursuing philanthropy, and they are looking for expertise to help them channel their donations to causes they are keen on.

Through a community foundation, donors can set up a donor-advised fund. The foundation will advise them on the various needs in society and disburse their donations according to their wishes.

It is much less costly and much easier to set up a donor-advised fund at a community foundation, instead of setting up one’s own foundation, Mr Lien said.

So far, nine donor-advised funds have been set up at the new foundation. Most of these donors are Singaporeans or based in Singapore, and have made their own fortunes or inherited wealth.

They also pledge to give at least $200,000 a year to charitable causes through their donor-advised fund, Mr Lien said.

The donors want to give to causes such as mental health issues and the arts in Singapore, and to help marginalised communities here such as transnational families.

In Asia, they want to support education and poverty alleviation initiatives.

Community foundations are uncommon in Asia, Mr Lien said.

The only other one here is the Community Foundation of Singapore, which was spearheaded by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.

The Community Foundation of Singapore is focused on Singapore, Mr Lien said, while the Asia Community Foundation is focused on Asia as a region.

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The foundation aims to support 50 donors and to administer $25 million of grants a year by 2026, Mr Lien said.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who officiated at the foundation’s launch, said: “Asia is a dynamic and diverse region, with many opportunities for economic development but also many gaps in addressing the diverse social needs of people.

“With Singapore’s extensive linkages in the region, and our emphasis on good governance, we can play a valuable role in facilitating the deployment of capital and to serve as a hub for philanthropy.”

Ms Hui set up a donor-advised fund at the foundation, to be more informed in her giving and to reduce her administrative burden.

This is because the foundation’s staff will do all the due diligence and administrative tasks for her philanthropy work.

One cause she hopes to bring more attention to is human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery, she said. 

People across Asia are conned by the pretence of better-paying jobs and forced by criminal gangs into working as scammers in Cambodia.

“With human trafficking, their very being is being erased,” she said. “And so I’m trying to raise awareness of this form of modern slavery so that people would not be conned into it by people they meet through social media.”

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