A nondescript man walks in through the museum door and offers S$1 million. The stuff of fiction you say? Not so, say Professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore’s Department of Biological Sciences, the two protagonists spearheading the creation of Singapore’s new natural history museum, opening on the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus in 2014.
Not only did that incident really happen, the anonymous gift towards the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) at NUS was later upped to S$10 million. To Prof Leo Tan that incident was “a mandate from above” to wholeheartedly pursue what has been a longstanding dream, both for himself and the University: to set up a new, spacious museum to house the huge, historic collection of South-east Asian flora and fauna that RMBR has been holding in a tiny space for about 40 years. He says, “For 40 years I had been harbouring the thought of how this precious collection could go back to the people. The RMBR is an internationally known education and research centre, but a new, bigger museum would allow it to better fulfil its role of public education.”
He teamed up with ex-pupil and current colleague, the Director of RMBR, Prof Peter Ng, to raise an additional S$35 million within the next six months to “reserve” a space for a new natural history museum on the NUS Kent Ridge Campus.
“It was a daunting, if not an impossible, challenge but we felt it was worth doing for the next generations of citizens who have to understand the critical importance of biodiversity to their survival and well-being,” says Prof Tan. “We believe that this is good for the country, good for our grandchildren.”
The duo went to the community with their dream and what followed was an extraordinary six months that saw a huge outpouring of interest in the museum (full story). People liked what they heard and they gave generously of their time, money and expertise. The result: S$46 million raised in record time. Profs Tan and Ng have now set themselves a new challenge: to raise another S$10 million over the next two years to furnish the new gallery with high quality exhibits.
Come 2014, the children of the 21st century can see, in its full glory, a trove of natural treasures of the region dating back to 1840 – the year Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, when the First Opium War was on, and the population of Singapore was around 35,000… it’s a window onto a lost world that’s been thrown open thanks to the vision of two professors and the community of people they fired up with their passion.
If you wish to make a gift to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, please contact Ms Ho Yuen Kwan on 6516 5755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org