This article was first published on SMU’s website on 20 December 2016. Re-published with permission from the Singapore Management University (SMU).
In 2015, SMU Dean of Students and the Charities Unit, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) formalised a collaboration where School of Accountancy (SOA) students would conduct the Charity Transparency Assessment as independent assessors. Associate Professor of Accounting Foo See Liang is the faculty in charge of the project.
Using the Charity Transparency Framework developed by the Charity Council, 40 SOA students assessed 750 charities between Q3 of 2015 to Q1 of 2016. The second run, which commenced in June 2016, will end in December. Over 900 charities will have been assessed by about 60 SOA undergraduates by the end of the second run.
The Charity Transparency Framework was developed to help charities enhance their disclosure and governance practices, and serve as a public education tool for charities and the public by highlighting key areas of disclosure that will aid in informed giving.
The student assessors are trained by the Charity Council Secretariat to assess the charities based on the information found in the charities’ annual reports, financial
statements, governance evaluation checklists and official websites. The students use the Charity Transparency Framework’s Scorecard to award the scores accordingly.
Associate Professor Foo See Liang said, “The primary objective of this pro bono project is to provide an avenue to raise awareness among our students and charities alike on the importance of transparency and sound corporate governance in charities.
“This project offers SOA students hands-on experience on what the transparency standards in Singapore are, as well as what transparency looks like in practice and how charities operate in Singapore.”
Ms Devi, Head, Centre for Social Responsibility at SMU said, “The collaboration with Charities Unit at MCCY has given SMU accountancy students an opportunity to apply their accounting knowledge and utilise their skills in their community service endeavours. Through this pro bono project, the students will now have a better understanding of the charity sector and some of the challenges charities face. We hope that this involvement will spur our students to continue to contribute to the sector, even after they graduate.”
For SOA students, the pro bono project provides an opportunity for them to apply what they have learned in school. For example, they are able to make use of the knowledge learnt to understand the charities’ structures, governance principles and practices. Students apply their knowledge to help them efficiently extract key information from the annual reports and websites and process these key information as they conduct the transparency assessment.
Accountancy students Rajat Porwal and Wang Sizheng, who have been taking the lead in supporting Prof Foo for this project, shared their experience.
Rajat Porwal, a third-year SOA student, said “This project has been one of the most insightful projects that I have had the privilege of being a part of. It helped me understand that the value of studying Accountancy does not necessarily only have to be realised in the form of a career that utilises that particular skillset. As accounting professionals, we are also able to contribute back to the society and bring awareness to critical topics such as the value of transparency and good corporate governance.
“While having learnt these fundamental principles throughout the academic curriculum, this project provided the first real-life experience for me to fully appreciate what these broad concepts are and their importance in an organization.”
Fellow third-year SOA student Wang Sizheng said, “This project has been a great opportunity for us to give back to our community using the accounting knowledge and skills we learnt in class. I also gained a deeper understanding of the importance of transparency and proper disclosure to charities.”
[Photo: Associate Professor Foo See Liang addressed the participants at the seminar on charity transparency on 5 October 2016.] (Photo: Charity Council)
To encourage charities to be more transparent and to recognise charities for their disclosure efforts, the Charity Transparency Awards was introduced in 2016. SMU’s role as an assessor has helped the Charity Council to identify and recognise charities for the 2016 Charity Transparency Awards and Charity Governance Awards. This project is a step towards enhancing the landscape of good disclosure and governance practices in the charity sector. In recognition of SMU’s contributions, Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth presented a token of appreciation to SMU at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards on 28 September 2016.
Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman of the Charity Council said, “SMU’s role as an independent assessor for the Charity Transparency Awards assessment has helped the Council to identify and recognise charities which have performed well in its disclosure practices. The students’ inputs for the seminar have enhanced the understanding of good practices which will strengthen charities’ accountability and transparency. On behalf of the Charity Council, I would like to thank Professor Foo and the students involved in this project.”
On 5 October 2016, Rajat and Sizheng, as well as Prof Foo, presented their assessment findings at the Seminar on Charity Transparency Awards Assessment jointly organised by SOA and the Charity Council. The SOA team shared good disclosure practices as well as disclosure areas which charities can improve on.
[Featured photo: Associate Professor Foo See Liang (right) received a token of appreciation for serving on the selection panel for the Charity Transparency Awards from Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards 2016. On the left is Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman of the Charity Council.] (Photo: Charity Council)