BY LAURENCE LIEN
This month, APC celebrated its sixth birthday. It is also the time I have moved on to becoming the non-executive Chairman at APC.
I am certainly proud of what APC has achieved so far. We set out to build a community of philanthropists, the principals, and we have 47 now. Many warned us at the start that the task was hard. It would be like herding cats. (I like cats.) Then we set out to put together joint projects, and we have more than 10 now. Many said that philanthropists did not like giving up control. And lastly, we set up to contribute to developing the philanthropy ecosystem in Asia, and we have planted a few seedlings and saplings. Many said this work is a bottomless pit; I would just urge patience, to see what grows.
However, there is still so much to do. Hence, I am still committed to APC, albeit in a different role. Having Mafruza, who took over from me officially on 12 July, gives me more time to think strategically and act boldly. This is necessary because the work for all of us, in all sectors, is unprecedented and colossal.
COVID-19 has set back most improvements in the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), which we had painstakingly achieved over decades. The greatest health crisis of our lifetime is becoming the greatest human and economic crisis of our lifetime too. We cannot go back to business as usual.
There are deep structural changes happening in the world of production. During this crisis, we have discovered that there are a lot of things we don’t need. The good news is that we all discover how we can simplify our lives. The bad news is that all the products and services that we really need are produced by very few people. Technology is ensuring that this number becomes even smaller, with COVID-19 accelerating digitisation and automation.
In health, COVID-19 will be with us for a long while more. And even as it exits stage left, imagine if another pandemic emerges stage right. This has been made less improbable because of climate change. At the same time, while the good news is that global population will probably peak by 2050 at just under 10 billion, the bad news is that in most of Asia, many populations are ageing very first, and ageing is biggest cause of ill-health.
We are also facing a climate emergency. We are adding 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year. We need to reach net zero by 2050. Last year, due to the pandemic, we made the largest ever reduction in emissions. But it was only 5%. Hence, it is likely we will see sea levels rising by close to 1 metre on average by 2100, devastating coastal communities, and much more extreme weather. This summer, we are already seeing unprecedented wildfires and flooding around the world this summer.
COVID-19 has caused great learning loss; at one stage more than 90% of all schools in the world were closed. ADB has estimated that learning loss ranges from 8% of a year of schooling in the Pacific where schools have mostly stayed open, to 55% in South Asia, where school closures have been longest. The value of these losses, in terms of lost future earnings, is estimated at US$1.25 trillion for developing Asia.
There has also been increasing inequality. IMF has estimated that 120 million has been pushed into extreme poverty. At the same time, Credit Suisse has estimated that the world gained 5.2m millionaires last year during the COVID crisis last year.
Lastly, mental health. Already, one in seven persons will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In Singapore, the age group that has the highest incidence of mental illness is young people aged between 18 to 34. COVID-19 has also exacerbated the mental health challenge. In Singapore, there was a 13% increase in suicides last year over the previous year.
However, despite all these challenges, I remain optimistic. I am the sort who would prefer to buy a decrepit house and transform it, than a spanking new house. I believe in the resilience of the human spirit, in our ability to remediate and heal, and to make things right. I think it is an exciting period to be in. Precisely because the problems are so many, and we are in a ‘never normal’ reality, we need everyone participating in the action—reimagining, rebuilding and reuniting.
Many of the well-to-do have ironically done even better financially during this crisis. Dow Jones keep hitting all-time highs, rising more than 20% today from pre-COVID levels. At the same time, many governments are technically insolvent. If they were commercial entities, we would have pursued bankruptcy proceedings in court. So all the wealthy have to step forward.
However, what do we step forward to do? Most of us do want to help but don’t know how. And the more we know, the more overwhelming the work seems. Hence, I see no choice but for us to collaborate. Not just with one another but with government and the private sector. We need to mobilise many creative minds, and their hearts and souls too, for a global ‘new deal’.
So the work at APC—and at all the institutions that many of you, readers of APC Voices, are working in—is even more important now. At APC, I continue to be involved in our projects to build the first assisted living facility in Singapore, in leading our mental health collective, and in reviewing the future of Asian Philanthropy. I am also looking at how we can support the vision of Singapore to be an international philanthropy hub. So join me in this work. And while I am still working—I’m keeping my APC email address!