Between the three of them they have raised almost $4.5 million and championed more than 280 bursaries and student programmes at their alma mater. Mr David Ho (’72), Mr Yeo Keng Joon (’85) and Mr Seah Cheng San (’82) are the stalwarts of Class Giving at NUS, galvanising many to support a cause dear to their hearts.
A Class Gift, which sees groups of alumni band together to support current students in need, is an expression of the strength of the collective giving spirit. Mr Ho, who launched the first Class Gift at NUS – the Class of ’72 Student Bursary Fund – says, “A Class Gift is perpetual and endowed. It will be remembered forever! It is a shining star, for many to follow. Already, the Class of ’72 is much talked about by other cohorts and we hope other Classes will be similarly encouraged to do more for our alma mater.” Mr Ho is the current president of the National University of Singapore Society, the University’s graduate club.
A Named Class Gift with sub-naming can be established with a collective gift of $250,000. Sub-naming offers individual donors who have made a contribution of $25,000 or more to this collective gift the opportunity to set up named bursaries as a part of the Class Gift. By giving to a Class Gift with sub-naming, you celebrate your time at University, help the next generation and commemorate someone you love or honour with a named gift.
Mr Yeo’s first significant gift to NUS was to set up the Yeo Kim Neo Bursary Fund in the memory of his sister under the Class of ’72 Fund. He says, “A Class Gift is a good way for alumni of the same cohort to do something meaningful. I had worked with David on a number of projects during the NUS Centennial celebrations and was impressed with his efforts, leadership and sincerity in wanting to make a difference to needy students. So when David approached me for a donation, I did not hesitate. My sister had died much too young, in her 40s, with three very young children, one of whom had just graduated from NUS. I wanted the children to have another way to remember their mother.”
And so the Class Giving spark was lit. The idea of the Class Gift made a deep impression on Mr Yeo and he went on to launch the NUSBSAA Bursary Fund using the Class of 72’s model when he was the President of the NUS Business School Alumni Association (NUSBSAA). He also helped to organise the NUSBSA Student Experience Fund, which has enabled 11 students with financial difficulties to go on exchange programmes this year. These gifts caught the attention of Mr Seah, who pushed for the establishment of the DRH/Sheares Hall Alumni Endowment Fund and the Engineering Class of 1982 Bursary Endowed Fund. Since then, other Faculties have launched their own Class Gifts, like the Class of ’76 Engineering Fund and the Department of Real Estate Endowed Bursary Fund, among others, and the hope is that this chain reaction will perpetuate and amplify. “I hope every Faculty will work towards having their own Class Gift,” says Mr Seah. “We need people who will be the champions for Class Gifts.”
Mr Ho adds, “The challenge is to set in motion fundraising projects that are scaleable and sustainable. As the University grows, so do our plans. We want to create giving platforms that will be easy to use and will last in perpetuity. It is not enough to just set up the Fund, we must challenge ourselves to grow it. That is what makes this so exciting.”
The urgency and the worthiness of the cause they are promoting are brought home regularly to Mr Ho, Mr Yeo and Mr Seah in their frequent interactions with the students, which they all treasure.
Mr Yeo says, “People think that there is no poverty in Singapore, but that is not true.” Students face many different kinds of financial challenges – whether it is the death of the sole breadwinner or ill-health.” He says, “I see students breaking down when talking about their financial circumstances. By helping one person attain a tertiary degree, you are helping an entire family and future generations.” When speaking to donors, Mr Yeo likes to remind them that while there are many worthy causes out there, this is “our alma mater”.
Mr Yeo is a living example of what financial aid can help one achieve. His father passed away when he was six, leaving his illiterate mother to cope with her three children. Mr Yeo received financial assistance throughout his educational life. He says, “Without this financial support, it would have been impossible for me to break the proverbial poverty cycle.”
In fact all three Class Giving champions have benefitted from philanthropy. Mr Seah received the Singapore Armed Forces (Local) Scholarship to study Engineering at NUS while Mr Ho received the Lee Wah Bank Scholarship, which enabled him to live in Dunearn Road Hostels, an experience that left a lasting impression. Mr Yeo says, “We benefitted from our education at NUS. We had a good time. We built strong relationships here. Now we want to help others. It is very satisfying to be able to do this.”
Adds Mr Seah, “We want young people from financially depressed families to have a fair chance in life. If they have to spend a lot of time working part-time to make ends meet, it makes it very difficult for them to keep up with school work. We don’t want them to fall behind.”
Mr Ho adds, “I hope more Class Champions will emerge over the years to use the Class Fund platform to raise funds and support financially challenged students to walk the same path as we did. This passion for giving back to our alma mater must be passed on from generation to generation.”