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Levers for Change

leversforchange2Levers for Change: Philanthropy in select South East Asian countries

Asia’s explosive economic growth over the past three decades has led to considerable focus on the impact of economic prosperity on philanthropy in the region.  Unparalleled wealth creation has lifted millions out of poverty, led to a broadening middle class and fostered a rapidly growing population of High net Worth Individuals (HNWI).  Yet, many social challenges persist in countries across the region. Income inequality is rising faster than living standards for the majority, while inequities in access to services and social protections have left many marginalized. Has philanthropic giving in the region matched the fast pace of wealth accumulation and has that philanthropy been strategic and targeted enough to address the issues of the day?

Levers for Change: Philanthropy in Select South East Asian Countries, examines the extent of strategic philanthropy in four of the largest economies in South East Asia – Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – and explores the role of public policies in shaping institutional philanthropy and influencing the charitable decisions of the regions wealthiest givers.

This research study was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada (IDRC). An article based on the study was also published in the Mar 2014 issue of Alliance magazine. Please download the pdf version of this research study at this link.

Levers For Change launchMedia Reports

The Straits Times – Singapore ahead of other South-east Asian countries in non-profit sector, report shows
The Business Times – Charity donations don”s address root causes: study 
Business World – Study says Philippines leads in philanthropy
Manila Bulletin – Philippine NGOs cited as benchmarks for the rest of ASEAN




Nearly two decades after the Asian financial crisis of 1997 ushered in a period of economic and political upheaval, Indonesia has emerged as a stable democracy with a strong economy, an active civil society, and a growing philanthropic sector. Indonesia’s rapid economic growth over the past decade has made it the largest economy in South East Asia, lifting thousands out of poverty and generating substantial wealth for many. At the same time, democratization and the decentralization of power to local governments has created a participatory environment in which civil society has thrived.

Against this backdrop of rising wealth and a supportive operating environment, philanthropy in Indonesia has grown and evolved.

  • Individual giving, particularly religious donations (zakat) have been rising on an annual basis. Some local NPOs have pioneered the deployment of zakat for public welfare.
  • Like several other countries in the region, Indonesia has witnessed an overall decline in donations from foreign philanthropies since the late 1990s as its economy prospered. But domestic institutional philanthropy has been slow to fill the gap.
  • Media philanthropy, which refers to fundraising for social causes by print and electronic media, has been growing in recent years and has become an important and unique feature of philanthropy in Indonesia.
  • Rising corporate wealth together with proactive policies such as a 2007 government regulation mandating that corporations in the natural resources sector contribute 2 percent of their profits to charity or to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, has reportedly led to increased corporate engagement in the social sector. However, the lack of comprehensive data on corporate giving, makes it difficult to ascertain the true impact of corporate giving in growing local philanthropic resources.
  • The growing ranks of HNWIs has led to some large family foundations being established in recent years.


Country Partners and Philanthropic Resources

Perhimpunan Filantropi Indonesia (PFI) – Association of Foundations
Public Interest Research and Advocacy Centre (PIRAC)
Indonesian Centre for Law and Policy Studies  (PSHK)
KEHATI (Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation)
TIFA Foundation
Kemitraan (Partnership for Government Reform)
Dompet Duafa
Rumah Zakat
The Asia Foundation
Ford Foundation


See here for a link to various resources on philanthropy in Indonesia.




The Philippines has a robust institutional philanthropic sector that is in many aspects more advanced than elsewhere in South East Asia. This can be attributed to the fact that Institutional philanthropy has a longer history in the Philippines than elsewhere in the region and has benefited from a supportive political environment and strong field-building organizations, that are the hallmark of the country’s non-profit sector.

Key features of the institutional philanthropic sector in the Philippines include the following:

  • Organized philanthropy in the Philippines is characterised by a mix of private and publicly supported organisations.
  • The largest funders in the country are three publicly endowed foundations: the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, the Foundation for a Sustainable Society, and the Peace and Equity Foundation.
  • Corporate donations are an increasingly important source of income for NPOs in the Philippines. In fact, for NPOs working in health care and community development, corporate donations are a sizeable source of income, after fees for services and grants.
  • Though a recent phenomenon, there is a growing movement in community philanthropy in underdeveloped areas of the country, with several hybrid versions of community foundations having been established in the past decade.
  • International philanthropic resources have been declining steadily as the country’s economy has prospered and local philanthropic resources are unable to meet the needs of the vast non-profit sector. Thus, mobilizing local resources to expand domestic philanthropy is imperative to sustaining the social gains of recent years.


Country Partners and Philanthropic Resources

Association of Foundations (AF)
Foundation for a Sustainable Society Inc. (FSSI)
Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF)
Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP)
League of Corporate Foundations (LCF)
Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO)
Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC)


See here for a link to various resources on philanthropy in Philippines.




Philanthropy in Singapore has been growing steadily in recent years, fuelled by the country’s remarkable economic growth and favourable tax policies. Private charitable contributions in recent years have grown with the enormous wealth creation that has taken place in Singapore and have been rising annually since 2006. Along with the growth in charitable giving, there are indications that institutional philanthropy is being adopted, with several new foundations having been established in the past ten years and philanthropic organisations and corporations accounting for a larger portion of the income of registered charities than ever before.

In an environment of robust economic growth backed by favourable tax incentives and policies, there have been notable developments in philanthropy in Singapore in recent years:

  • Private charitable contributions to registered charities have more than doubled in the past five years, fuelled by economic prosperity, a progressive tax framework, and government incentives such as matching grants programs.
  • Institutional philanthropy has become more prevalent with increasing charitable donations from corporations and philanthropic organisations.
  • While private philanthropy has grown steadily, the government still remains the largest funder of the non-profit sector and government-sponsored organisations continue to play a dominant role in delivering social and welfare services.
  • In sharp contrast to many other countries in the region, the supporting infrastructure for the larger non-profit sector—and to some extent, philanthropy in Singapore is well developed. Several factors have contributed to this, including significant government investment in facilitative and capacity-building entities, bank advisory services directed to Singapore’s growing population of HNWIs, and the recent entry of international non-profits, some of whom are support service providers for philanthropic and non-profit organizations.
  • Like most Asian countries, education is the top area of focus for most private philanthropy, followed by healthcare and social development.


Country Partners and Philanthropic Resources

Community Foundation of Singapore
National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre
Centre for Non-Profit Leadership
National Council of Social Services
International Organisation Program Office
Asian Venture Philanthropy Network
Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy
SymAsia Foundation
Charities Aid Foundation


See here for a link to various resources on philanthropy in Singapore.




Philanthropic giving in Thailand has a long history and is largely rooted in religious and cultural beliefs, which emphasize moral and civic responsibilities to help the less fortunate. This has traditionally manifested in making donations to temples, for religious purposes and to well-known public charities.

While charity by individuals appears to be widespread in Thailand, strategic philanthropy is still emerging. Some key factors that have contributed to the limited scale of strategic philanthropy in Thailand include:

  • An overriding preference among the general public to make donations to religious entities or for religious purposes.
  • Declining foreign donor support stemming from Thailand’s transition to upper middle-income country status, which has led many international funding organisations to shift their resources to other less-developed countries.
  • Limited tax exemptions for non-profit organisations and scant tax privileges for donors.


Country Partners and Philanthropic Resources

The Centre for Philanthropy and Civil Society
Thai Fund Foundation
RAKS Thai Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation
Ashoka Thailand
Population and Community Development Association


See here for a link to various resources on philanthropy in Thailand.

Last updated on 21 Dec 2015 .