One Small Voice: Jenny Santi

Published on 22 December 2015

What compels philanthropists in Singapore to give to the arts? Philanthropy advisor and author Jenny Santi sheds some light.

INTERVIEW BY PAMELA HO

There is a misconception that a philanthropy advisor’s job is to advise rich people where to donate their money —  that’s hardly the case. As a philanthropy advisor, I’m a strategy consultant, a family facilitator, a personal career counsellor, an event planner… all rolled into one.

Philanthropy means ‘love for mankind’. You make an impact on the world by giving, but I also help clients see how giving can be personally rewarding, life-changing and fun for them. I advise clients to be proactive about their giving; don’t simply respond to something. What happens with reactive giving is that you end up donating your time and resources to the most aggressive charity or the most persistent friend. It may not necessarily reflect what you’re truly passionate about.

Rather, take time to ask yourself: what do I care most about? If you make that the foundation of your giving, you’re going to be very committed to it. You have to say ‘no’ to the things that are not your focus, so you can say ‘yes’ to the things that are; because the moment you’re known as a “philanthropist”, everyone is going to approach you.

Philanthropy in the arts is an interesting area. Often people will say, ‘What? You’re supporting the arts? Is that your philanthropic cause? That’s not really doing philanthropy!’ When people think of the arts, they often think of paintings selling for hundreds of thousands a piece, or random sculptures in the middle of the road, or multimillion-dollar museums.

But the arts has many different aspects — programmes that build vibrant communities or rehabilitate victims of abuse — so it’s really how you communicate it. People who give want to know; so the more concretely they experience the impact they’re making, the more they’ll get involved. It’s not enough to say, ‘Support the arts.’ What exactly about the arts do you want to support? It’s breaking it down.

All over Asia, including Singapore, people are keen to support education. It’s the surest way to a better future — that’s how a lot of Asian philanthropists think. So how do we tie that in with the arts? The biggest motivation for philanthropists in Asia is to leave a legacy — what will your name be remembered for? It has to do with family values. In my book The Giving Way to Happiness, I talk about how giving together brings family members closer to one another.

Singapore-based entrepreneur Jayesh Parekh and his family have a tradition of ‘service vacations’, where the parents share their skills with charity leaders, while the kids spend time with less-fortunate children. Although the kids grow up in affluence, they are kind and generous; they don’t take things for granted. Walk the walk, and the talk becomes unnecessary.

So find your passion and make that the foundation of your giving. When you give, it might be happiness or purpose that you stumble upon, it might be a closer relationship with your loved ones when you give together, or a profound shift in the way you think after being through a painful experience. The Giving Way to Happiness is the antithesis to the typical self-help book that tells you to do things for yourself to achieve happiness.

Jenny Santi is a philanthropy advisor to some of the world’s most generous philanthropists, and for five years, was head of Philanthropy Services (Southeast Asia) for UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager. Her consulting firm Saint & Partners, based in Singapore and New York City, serves clients including an Oscar-winning actress. Santi holds an MBA from INSEAD, graduated summa cum laude from the Ateneo de Manila University, attended New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising, and is a chartered advisor in philanthropy. Her debut book, The Giving Way to Happiness (2015), is published by Penguin Random House.

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