“Welfare groups must do more to address the “trust deficit” and spread awareness of their work here” (Welfare Groups Need to Build Up Public Trust, Low De Wei).
The “Doing Good Index 2018” made bold claims about charities or social delivery organisations (SDOs) needing to do more “to address the ‘trust deficit’ and spread awareness of their work [in Singapore]” (ST, Jun. 22), yet did not clarify what exactly constitutes that perceived “trust deficit”, and beyond broad platitudes offered few policy or practical recommendations. Neither is it constructive, in addition, to call on these SDOs to do more without understanding their manpower and resource constraints. The full report – published by the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS) – did not define what is meant by the “trust deficit”, and in fact explicitly mentioned that Singapore is one of three economies (alongside Japan and Taiwan) where public trust is “less of an issue”.
This is confirmed by its own findings from the 48 for-profit and non-profit organisations sampled and surveyed, who were asked whether they thought SDOs were trusted. Notwithstanding the framing of the question and the response options offered, 54 per cent said yes, 40 per cent said somewhat, and only six per cent said no. To conclude the presence of a “trust deficit” based on these results seems odd. Tangentially, the 54 per cent figure is close to the 59 per cent trust in non-government organisations – according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer – which puts its above the institutions of business and media, but below the government.
A key argument which undergirds the CAPS report is that because the Singapore government is already doing a lot – with the 250 per cent tax reduction for donations in Singapore, for instance – the SDOs therefore have to step up. The assumption in other words, it would appear, is that the organisations have to make use of what is already available. Both co-authors called for these organisations to measure their work, to make information available, and to communicate impact, since “People don’t want to give because they don’t trust the organisations to use their money”, and also that “You can bring a horse to water, (but) you can’t make it drink”.
Two counter-arguments ought to be considered. First, both government and philanthropic resources may be available, though they are more likely to be channelled into direct programmes or services than into support functions, ranging from research to fundraising or publicity. Despite already been swarmed by their day-to-day responsibilities with their clients, the social workers I have worked with are cognisant of evidence-based practice, and their agencies appreciate the value of needs analysis and programme evaluation, yet manpower and resource constraints are pervasive. And second – perhaps ironically too, since it was flagged in the “Doing Good Index 2018” – is the challenge of recruiting skilled staff to execute these support functions effectively. Faulting the SDOs or non-profits for not attracting the best and the brightest is not necessarily fair, if the structural problems are left unaddressed.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.