Mr James Ong has close to two decades of experience working in various fields including banking and mergers and acquisition. He has been volunteering on the SPD Board of Management, Audit Committee as well as the Resource Mobilisation and Partnerships Committee. In this final instalment of the Supporters’ Series, we speak to James to learn more about his giving journey thus far.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview, James! For a start, how did you first get involved in charitable work?
When I was young, I often heard my friends telling me how they had been helping charities and I had always wanted to do the same. The opportunity came when a few years ago, a good friend of mine, Mrs Diana Ee-Tan, invited me to SPD’s Charity Dinner. I gladly accepted the invitation. I had turned up expecting that it would be a traditional sit-down Chinese styled dinner event, but I was wrong. SPD’s Charity Dinner was filled with talented singers and stories about how people’s lives had been changed through the good work of SPD. I was thoroughly impressed and knew at that moment that I had to get involved.
A few months later, Diana called me up and asked if I would like to be a part of the Committee to organise the following year’s Charity Dinner. I happily agreed and since then have been contributing in my own small ways to SPD.
Could you share some memories of your earliest giving activities? What’s your most memorable experience?
I had the privilege of being part of a fundraising effort for a scholarship fund that helped students from the National University of Singapore who needed financial support. The scholarship covered the tuition fees for their entire undergraduate studies. As a result of my involvement, I had the chance to meet with a few awardees. Being able to understand firsthand how the funding helped them to focus their energy on doing well in school left a deep impact on me. It showed me if I spent some time helping the community, the effects of that could be felt in someone’s life.
Some time back, I also had the honour of speaking to applicants who had applied for the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities. Though the applicants came from different backgrounds, what struck me was one similarity – their desire to not just strive to survive, but to flourish. When I spoke to them, I could tell that they had the passion for the things that they did and would not let their disabilities drag them down. I distinctly remember an applicant who had congenital muscular dystrophy but despite her physical challenges, she continued to volunteer to help others.
It was an inspiring day for me, and I will forever be reminded of the power of determination and resilience.
What motivates you to keep doing what you do in the charity scene?
Hearing how lives have been made better makes me smile. That is more than sufficient payback for me and keeps me motivated to continue to serve for as long as I can contribute back meaningfully to SPD. It is also very helpful that I have a very supportive wife who sees the value in serving the community. I also think it is very meaningful for my children to understand some of the challenges that other members of our community face.
Has your giving experience helped you in any way, or changed your perspectives?
Though my service to SPD has only been a few years, I think it has taught me more than I expected. I have learnt to be more patient and understanding. Working closely with the staff at SPD, I can see that their dedication to serving the community comes from their heart. I can tell that they are working out of passion and not treating it as a job or work.
I also am inspired by the clients of SPD and how they are extremely determined in the face of adversity and challenges. Their never-say-give-up attitude is one I admire and something that I can learn much from.
What does giving mean to you?
Many people think of giving in terms of money and this is often measured against one’s ability to give a certain amount. However, the act of giving means so much more.
It means time, compassion, attention, presence, wisdom, and a whole slew of other things. What this means is that it is available to each person regardless of social stature or financial status.
I believe that the act of giving, in any context, can inspire us all to live a life of generosity and abundance.
Any advice for people who are looking to contribute to the charity scene?
Don’t wait. You can start small or big. You just need to start.