This Singaporean businessman believes philanthropy should be more inclusive
The Majurity Trust co-founder Danny Yong is enabling ordinary Singaporeans to address challenges related to COVID-19 through the Singapore Strong Fund.
A team of volunteers who distributed more than 2,000 care kits containing masks and sanitisers to cleaners and security guards. A separate group that hand-delivered daily necessities to vulnerable seniors. Sprung from the vagaries of COVID-19, these are among the 112 local community projects supported by the Singapore Strong Fund (SSF). The fund was activated by local philanthropic organisation The Majurity Trust, which dispenses advice and grants.
Individually, these homespun affairs ring with aphorisms embracing the virtues of paying it forward. The impact of their cumulative efforts, however, are quantifiable. Backed by 10 main donors, the SSF has helped more than 52,800 people, as well as rallied together over 3,700 volunteers. Underpinning the S$550,000 fund, The Majurity Trust's co-founder Danny Yong explained, is a conviction in the power of the collective to forge a sustainable society.
“In my younger years, my first instinct when I saw societal gaps was to question why the government wasn't doing a better job. But as I grew older, and I suppose, wiser, I realised it is not one particular entity or person's job to help those who have fallen through the cracks. Everybody has to chip in, just as we all enjoy the stability and prosperity of our home,” said the co-founder of Dymon Asia, a leading hedge fund firm that manages billions of dollars in assets.
“I'd like to think of The Majurity Trust as a… more collaborative and inclusive model that's not just about a few rich guys writing million dollar cheques.” – Danny Yong
That's not to say his social awareness was cultivated through personal encounters with injustice. Though far from blue-blooded, the son of a nurse and a Public Utilities Board store superintendent who passed away when he was 10 admits his family was never impoverished. Nor did they have cause to suffer the indignation of second-class citizens.
Instead, Yong attributes his introspective nature to an early sense of independence. With his mother as the family's busy sole breadwinner, the St Joseph's Institution student's daily activities included wandering around places such as MacRitchie Reservoir alone.
“What helped me to get to this point was, for one, my education at St Joseph's Institution – one of its key values is to be 'men for others'. There was also my father, a role model who always put others before himself,” he shared.
Yong later honoured his late father through the eponymous Yong Hon Kong Foundation, which has donated millions to charitable causes since being established in 2011.
While his philanthropic portfolio reveals no paltry sum, Yong is a firm advocate of the ground-up movement. Even before establishing the trust together with former Singapore Exchange chief executive Hsieh Fu Hua in 2018, he had orchestrated financial assistance for hundreds of disadvantaged individuals through Ray of Hope, a crowd-funding charity founded in 2013.
Does the 48-year-old, who placed 48th in Forbes’ Singapore's 50 Richest 2019 list, then feel that such ground-up initiatives can be combined with a more democratised model of philanthropy – one that isn't dominated by the elite fraternity?
“In theory, nothing stops any of us from giving. I'd like to think of The Majurity Trust as a consulting service funded by Yong Hon Kong Foundation and board members that accelerates charitable ideas. It is a more collaborative and inclusive model that's not just about a few rich guys writing million dollar cheques,” he said.
Therein lies the beauty of the SSF, which funds up to 80 per cent of an actual project's cost or S$5,000 – whichever is lower – and people can apply for online. Through its uncomplicated fund disbursement process, volunteers can swiftly execute solutions to pressing concerns precipitated by COVID-19, without unnecessary red tape.
“If you make it so much easier for someone to touch a group of people's lives or improve them marginally, wouldn't he be more likely to do it again?” Yong posited.
Call it the multiplier effect, but The Majurity Trust goes beyond funding community initiatives, to dissect specific social issues. For instance, its new Silver is Gold fund is looking into funding interventions and programmes to help persons with dementia and their caregivers.
Thereafter, it will measure their impact, as it does across its quarry of projects, through an in-house system of metrics. These incorporate counterfactuals and translate outcomes into monetised values, drawing from academic literature as well as government and NGO reports.
“If you make it so much easier for someone to touch a group of people's lives or improve them marginally, wouldn't he be more likely to do it again?” – Danny Yong
MOVING THE NEEDLE
Such a methodical approach does not seem superfluous considering how the non-profit is headed by a pair of high-profile finance veterans.
Yong has held senior roles in Goldman Sachs and Citadel Investment Asia. The multi-millionaire became more attuned to social inequality after returning to Singapore in 2008, following a decade working overseas. This, he shares, was a period rife with discussion over income disparity and taxes on the wealthy. Incidentally, Singapore's Estate Duty was abolished in the same year.
“As I analysed how the rich become rich, I realised a lot of my financial success can be attributed to good fortune. Not to belittle hard work, but if I had 20 clones of myself living in different parts of Singapore with different socioeconomic backgrounds and attending different schools, I guarantee they would end up with varying levels of financial success later in life, despite having identical DNA,” said the entrepreneur, who for the record, believes that wealth taxes should be reinstated in Singapore.
“Growing up in a meritocratic society, it is ingrained in us that whatever success we have is due to our hard work. I was initially of that mindset, but as I reflected, the element of luck became more evident. I thus saw it as my duty to help level the playing field,” he added.
And create equal opportunity he has.
Through his social enterprise Tangent – also under the trust - Yong helps firms to look beyond factors such as paper qualifications when hiring, thus overturning monolithic corporate culture. If anything, the global economic downturn, which has experts foreseeing unprecedented job losses, predicates his belief in a diverse workforce.
“In today's world, you need people who are resilient and adaptable. My mother recently mentioned something in Chinese, about opportunity arising from crisis. The way we live, travel and work will all change. This may create challenges, but at the same time, there will be opportunities. We will have to figure it out through experimentation, and an understanding that failure will be a by-product,” he explained.
Economic ramifications aside, the pandemic has given the capitalist with a conscience hope in his countrymen's civic mindedness.
“COVID-19 has brought out the best in Singaporeans, more so than I have ever seen, and I love it. Through social media, Singaporeans of all ages have taken ownership of the issue, and stepped up to the plate. Also, the generosity of the donors and volunteers is extremely heartening,” he concluded.
“COVID-19 has brought out the best in Singaporeans… Through social media, Singaporeans of all ages have taken ownership of the issue, and stepped up to the plate.” – Danny Yong