Poverty and Inequality in Singapore - Challenge and Response



6.50pm:          All to be seated in Tembusu College Multi-purpose Hall

7.00pm:          Assoc Professor Gregory Clancey, Master of Tembusu College, will introduce the Tembusu Forum

7.05pm:          Professor Tommy Koh, Rector of Tembusu College, will introduce the topic and speakers

7.10pm:          Mr Jonathan Chang

7.25pm:          Dr Mathew Mathews

7.40pm:          Mr John Lim

7.55pm:          Mr Alex Lee

8.10pm:          Question & Answer session with students

8.50pm:          Concluding remarks by speakers and Chair

9.00pm:          End of forum



Mr Jonathan Chang is the Executive Director of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, and Adjunct Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Singapore Management University. He educates and nurtures change-leaders across the region on social impact projects and pioneered SMU’s accreditation as Asia’s first Ashoka Changemaker Campus.

As a global public speaker, Jonathan has given lectures and talks to thousands of people. His TEDx talk at Harvard about the importance of a mission-driven life was featured on Voice of America. Prior to his career in academia, Jonathan founded and co-founded four tech startups across sectors in Silicon Valley and Manhattan. He continues to advise, mentor, and invest in social ventures.

Jonathan is a graduate of UC Berkeley, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He received Stanford’s Miller Social Change Leadership Award, Harvard Law School’s Digital Problem Solving Initiative Fellowship, and Columbia’s The Earth Institute Fellowship. He received the prestigious EFMD Case Writing Award for his research on a Balinese social enterprise. Currently, Jonathan serves as an elected member of HKS Alumni Board of Directors and as Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Ambassador to Singapore.
Jonathan is a passionate mountaineer, having trekked to Mount Everest Base Camp (5350m), and has climbed four peaks – Kilimanjaro (5895m), Kala Patthar (5644.5m), Nagarjuna (5100m), and Kinabalu (4095m).

For the forum, Mr Chang will speak on inequality and unmet social needs in different sectors of the Singapore community.


Dr Mathew Mathews is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. He has worked on more than 40 research projects examining social policy issues revolving around race, religion, immigrant integration, family, ageing and poverty. His research on poverty include a recently completed longitudinal study of low income families (led by A/P Irene Ng), a study of single Indian mothers and several studies examining the usefulness of interventions that seek to better the lives of the poor. Mathews is active in several NGOs including  being President of Alive Community Network, a VWO which offers a programme to paint and clean the homes of low-income families. He is a Research Advisor to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, is part of the VWOs-Charities Capability Fund Panel and Families for Life Council.

For the forum, Dr Mathews will speak on the challenges of helping the low income, particularly the issue of balancing the need to maintain the dignity of the poor while not undermining the principles of personal and family responsibility.


Mr John Lim is Senior Director of the Social Policy and Services Group at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).  He oversees policy formulation and the planning and delivery of social services for vulnerable individuals and communities in Singapore including the poor, persons with disabilities, and families with other social issues.  The Group has 24 Social Service Offices spread across Singapore, which provide social assistance to low-income households and coordinate social services at the community level.  The Group also works closely with and through various Voluntary Welfare Organisations, which receive substantial funding and infrastructural support from MSF.  

Prior to MSF, Mr Lim served in various capacities at the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, Public Service Division, and Monetary Authority of Singapore. He graduated from Cornell University with Bachelor’s degrees in Economics (magna cum laude) and Operations Research & Industrial Engineering (magna cum laude with honours).  He also earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he was designated Arjay Miller Scholar.

For the forum, Mr Lim will speak on how the Government helps the low-income today, and how our collective response to inequality has implications on the society and nation that we will become.


Mr Alex Lee worked as a banker cum IT professional for 28 years, mostly in Hong Kong and Singapore, and volunteered in various capacities during this period.  He then joined the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) as its CEO from 1994 to 1997. 

He currently serves on the Executive Committee of Singapore Children's Society, and is associated with several other voluntary welfare organisations, such as Bright Vision Hospital, Cheng Hong Welfare Service Society, Geylang East Home for the Aged, and the Society of Sheng Hong Welfare Services.  He is also a volunteer in several Ministries, including Health, Home Affairs, and Social and Family Development.  Between 2010 and 2016, he was a Board member of NCSS.  He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 2005.

For the Forum, Mr Lee will share how Singapore Children's Society help children from poor, needy and dysfunctional families meet the different challenges they face.


The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.