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Social Insight Research Series


Social Insight Research Series is a series of research papers which explore topics of contemporary interest in Singapore and the region, such as Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy, Social Finance, Poverty and Unmet Social Needs. Our research has generated insights, highlighted new thinking and fostered innovative practices. Six research papers have been published since 2010:

stateofplay1) The State of Play of CSR in Singapore

The presence, profile and prominence of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore is ambivalent at best. Many Singapore-based companies regard CSR with wariness or indifference. Unsurprisingly, the limited CSR efforts in Singapore are generic, and lack the contextualisation to local needs and conditions. Too often CSR is viewed in limited terms as a compliance issue or public relations exercise, rather than as a way of doing business.

In seeking to manage the CSR agenda and to formulate broad CSR strategies, Singapore has opted for the tripartite approach, involving the unions, the employers, and the government. Undergirded by the core values of consultation, consensus and an acute aversion to confrontation, this engagement process has evolved over the years and is now an integral part of the CSR landscape here. Download PDF

csrinasia12) Contextualising CSR in Asia: Corporate social responsibility in Asian economies and the drivers which influence its practice 

This publication seeks to present a narrative about the practice of CSR in ten Asian economies – China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. The aim is to present a uniquely Asian perspective on the CSR story in these countries that will inform CSR practitioners, researchers and interested corporate stakeholders.

Drawing on historical and traditional notions of business responsibility and engagement, the research looks at modern day drivers of CSR in these countries such as the government, civil society, globalisation and enlightened self-interest. The research also throws light on other underlying influences and looks at frameworks such as ISO 26000 for Social Responsibility. Download PDF


unmetneeds3) Unmet Needs in Singapore

Unmet Social Needs in Singapore begins with an understanding of needs in general. It then identifies the different levels of social protection that can be put in place to meet those needs. In the context of Singapore, the study then reviews the support structures—compulsory savings, public housing and the non-profit sector—that directly relate to those who need help in the community. In the process, the needs of six vulnerable groups—the disabled, mentally ill, single-person-headed poor households, silent workers, foreign workers and new communities—are identified and analysed. Read about the impact assessment of this publication hereFor the full text of this report, click here.

Media Reports

Al Jazeera – Singapore poverty in the spotlight
Channel News Asia – Singapore should measure poverty but not only by monetary means: SMU
Free Malaysia Today – Poverty in wealthy Singapore
The Straits Times – The invisible poor?
The Sunday Times special report – Singapore must define poverty, say experts
Wall Street Journal – In Singapore, calls for poverty line amid rising inequality
Xinhua – Singapore should measure poverty but not only by monetary means : report


From Charity to Change34) From Charity to Change: Social investment in selected Southeast Asian countries

From Charity to Change looks at how social investing is evolving in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It examines the emerging ecosystem for social investment in each of these countries, with a view to identifying gaps and obstacles to the advancement of the field. A section containing reports on current social investing developments Cambodia and Vietnam is also included in this publication. For the full text of this report, click here. To view the slides from the presentation at the Singapore launch, click here.

In addition to the launch in Singapore, there has been four sessions arranged in Thailand, three with Paul Carttar formerly of the U.S. Social Innovation Fund whom AVPN had brought to Bangkok. These were with companies, philanthropists and government respectively including a deputy PM and former Governor of Bangkok.


Handbook on Inequality25) A Handbook on Inequality, Poverty and Unmet Social Needs in Singapore

The Lien Centre for Social Innovation (LCSI) has published the first handbook covering literature on poverty, inequality and unmet social needs in Singapore. The launch took place on 17 March and featured a panel of speakers whose work is cited in the handbook. A writeup of the panel discussion has been published by the Institute of Policy Studies, and can be found at this linkThe soft copy of this handbook can be downloaded from this link.

Entitled A Handbook on Inequality, Poverty and Unmet Social Needs in Singapore, the report is the first of its kind to be released in Singapore; it compiles information from a variety of sources to present current data, analyses and debates regarding inequality and poverty in Singapore.

The handbook also provides an overview of publicly available information on existing social assistance policies and future policy options. This publication presents the information from a neutral perspective, citing the sources of all arguments so that the reader has both a starting point to engage with these topics, and the information to pursue areas of interest further. Key contributions of this handbook are an overview of existing literature on the following topics:

  • Current estimates of inequality, absolute poverty and relative poverty in Singapore as well as discussions of the relevance of these indicators in the domestic context.
  • Hypothesised causes of inequality and poverty in Singapore.
  • The intersection between poverty and race, and poverty and gender in Singapore.
  • Existing social assistance policies and programmes including CPF, Workfare, Public Assistance, and housing provided through the HDB.
  • Suggested avenues for reform from various academic sources.


The authors of the handbook conclude that efforts to address poverty, inequality and unmet social needs in Singapore would be greatly enhanced by: (a) the development of locally relevant and nuanced monetary and non-monetary measures of poverty that are made publicly available; and (b) more sharing of disaggregated data from government studies and surveys. These steps would enable academics, VWOs and the public at large become more aware of the issues related to poverty and inequality in Singapore, and be placed in a better position to weigh in on debates and solutions.

Media Reports


vitalyetvulnerable16) Vital Yet Vulnerable: Mental and emotional health of South Asian migrant workers in Singapore

Numbering nearly one million persons, low-waged, low-skilled migrant workers are a vital yet vulnerable part of Singapore’s economy and society. This study, undertaken several months before the Little India riots of December 2013, measures the psychological distress of 261 South Asian Work Permit holders, and 344 South Asian injury and salary claim workers. While most regular Work Permit holders are relatively happy and healthy, our study finds that 62 per cent of injury and salary claim workers meet the screening conditions for a Serious Mental Illness. We find that the three main drivers of psychological distress are (1) the housing problems of injury and salary claim workers, (2) threats of repatriation against both injured and regular workers, and (3) agent fee debt. We recommend a range of policy options to address these problems, including alternative housing for injury and salary claim workers; delinking Work Permit holders’ visas and employment contracts; and regulation of offshore migration agents. It was launched on 4 Nov 2015. See the press release here. You can hear more about the author, Assistant Professor Nicholas Harrigan, with this podcastFor the full text of this report, click here.

Media Reports

Last updated on 21 Dec 2015 .