Singapore Prize Winners Celebrate Philanthropy

For many, Singapore is a model for small states, boasting good quality of life and a well-functioning government. It is also becoming a global hub in Asia for philanthropy. As the economy grows and the nation faces new challenges, a healthy civil society depends on people who are committed to their communities and will, at pivotal times, put the common good before their own interests. The President’s Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards 2023 celebrates these individuals and their acts of generosity.

A philanthropist in his early 40s, Lionel Li, is one such person. He has been running marathons for the past 12 years to raise funds for SymAsia, a home-grown charity which provides financial assistance to low income families for their children’s education, and has donated more than S$1.5 million over three years. In addition, he founded the Li Foundation, a private equity fund with a focus on technology and healthcare.

The foundation’s founder is a self-made man who has built up his wealth through investments in property and biotech. He also holds a doctorate in computer science from Harvard University, where he has worked for a few years. The foundation was established after he met other philanthropists who were also alumni of the university, and wanted to give back to the community that had helped him.

Having grown up in Singapore, Mr Li believes that the country has a rich heritage to share with the world. “We want to be a place where people from all over the world come to learn about the unique story of Singapore,” he says.

In this spirit, the Li Foundation has partnered with various local organisations to promote Singapore’s history and culture, including the National Museum of Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum and the National Library of Singapore. In addition, it runs a series of talks and events in partnership with various universities to help young Singaporeans understand our past better.

Last year, the foundation launched the Singapore Prize, a S$50,000 award for the best publication on Singapore’s history. It was introduced in support of the SG50 programme to mark the country’s golden jubilee. The first winner was archaeologist Prof John Miksic for his book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, senior advisor (university and global relations) at NUS’ Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has said that there are plans to expand the categories for future editions of the prize, which may include works in fiction or other forms of creative expression. He has pointed out that sometimes historical subjects may be better told through movies, comics and other mediums than in books. NUS’s department of history has already started work to develop such projects. The competition will open for entries on Jan 1. The NUS Singapore History Prize will be awarded every three years. Submissions will be reviewed by a five-member panel. The winning book will be published in 2024. Non-fiction is preferred but other creative works with clear historical themes may also be nominated.