The word “progressive” repeatedly comes to mind as one listens to the leaders of Singapore Leong Khay Huay Kuan (SLKHK), a Hokkien clan group set up in 1939. The Chinese clan association, with over 200 members, has a longstanding practice of awarding bursary and scholarship awards to the members’ children at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Then in 2013, under the leadership of then SLKHK Chairman, Mr Francis Ko Oon Joo, the association officially set up a $10 million Education Trust to help needy students in Singapore. Mr. Francis Ko has been the Chairman of the Education Trust since its inception. Under his leadership, the Trust doubled to $20 million in 2016. Today, it is probably the largest trust fund set up by a Chinese clan association to support education, according to its Secretary General, Ms Chen Teck Shing.
Ms Chen shares that SLKHK then adopted an inclusive policy and extended its aid to include all Singaporeans, regardless of their races or Chinese dialects. Every year since 2015, eight National University of Singapore (NUS) students have been receiving the SLKHK Bursary. The number will increase to 12 from Academic Year 2018/19. While two-thirds of the recipients must have at least a parent who is Hokkien, as a nod to the clan’s heritage, the remaining recipients couldbe of any ethnicity.
When asked if the Education Trust would soon be disbursing scholarships to academically-inclined students or awards to nurture artistic or sporting talents, Mr Francis Ko, shares the strategic thinking behind its fund disbursement, “Our commitment is first to help students who need financial assistance. We will see our progress in growing our investments. We cannot be in debt. In one to two years’ time, if we are not increasing the number of students we are supporting, we might create award programmes to support the arts and sports.”
Mr Francis Ko also sheds some light on why advancing education is a key priority of SLKHK. He says,“Some of our older clan members have passed on but there are still a few of us left who understand our forefathers’ heart for education. Our ancestors had bought land and started some schools.
“After selling the land which the schools were built on, we had some money so we said,“There is no way we can build and run schools but we can still make education the foundation of our social mission, so let’s set up the Education Trust.””
The issue of continuity is not only in remaining true to the clan association’s mission, but also grooming their future leaders. Mr Francis Ko explains,“We set up an Education Trust with a mandate to disburse bursaries for a hundred years. None of us here will be around to see that through. Our duty is to ensure that this Trust can continue, so we stay in close touch with the recipients we sponsor, to cultivate their interests in our Huay Kuan’s matters. After they graduate, they may have an interest to come back to serve. Of course, there is no obligation.”
To illustrate the association’s keen interest in succession-planning, Chairman of SLKHK, Mr Ko Oen Tjiang, says,“When we met our student recipients for the first time in 2016, we did not choose to meet them on our clan’s premises. Instead, we took the students to an ice-cream parlour. We also invited them to a movie-screening, investment talk, as well as our anniversary and Chinese New Year celebrations. We learned a lot listening to and conversing with them. We like to have new blood to come in and give us new ideas. We have also invited graduate bursary students to join us in our Education Trust council meeting to learn the ropes.
“We have been fortunate in having a good and dedicated team of committee members and volunteers. All of them have helped make our Huay Kuan successful.”
Mr Francis Ko adds,“We want to explain to the students about the value of giving, so they can understand the social mission of our Huay Kuan and know what we want to achieve for the community.”