A Matter of Taste: It’s Better to Give

Opening this issue dedicated to the spirit of giving, our columnist looks at conscious luxury, lavish philanthropy and youthful lingo
Published: 24 March 2024
Yassss, parenting can be a real drag (GETTY IMAGES)

Gen Z youngsters, like my 12-yearold daughter, are fond of dropping the expression “It’s giving” into conversation. For those readers unfamiliar with this particular turn of phrase (a group comprising many Millennials, a lot of my fellow Gen Xers, and very likely, all Boomers), it’s an abridged way of saying, “This is giving off a vibe much akin to something-or-other.” For example, a toddler scribbles a marker on their face: “It’s giving Post Malone.”

In its brevity, “It’s giving” is giving Singlish, I think—eliminating every possible extraneous word, the same way “Can” radically contracts the statement, “Indeed, we can pursue that course of action, if you wish.” However, much like “Yasss, queen,” “It’s giving” was born in the LGBTQ drag ball subculture, an environment of vibrant creative self-expression. Singlish, meanwhile, was born in Singapore.

Family-friendly, eco-friendly luxury at Nikoi Island

At the time of press, we’re still finalising where we’ll be spending this Christmas as a family. Possibly it’ll be Nikoi, the eco-luxe private island resort off Bintan. My wife and I had the chance to visit the neighbouring adults-only sister island Cempedak earlier this year and were very impressed by its environmentally friendly design and philosophies, the warm and genuine service, paradisical setting, and terrific cuisine. (They’ve just put out a cookbook—could be a nifty gift idea.)

What’s really great about Nikoi and Cempedak, though, is resting easy in the knowledge that your vacay budget isn’t going to some faceless multinational corporation. Instead, it’s supporting a local business that in turn, is funding a foundation actively uplifting some of the most underserved communities in our region.

The Island Foundation, which was founded in 2010 by the owners of Cempedak and Nikoi, aims to provide better learning opportunities for children in small island and coastal communities across Indonesia’s Bintan Regency. Through local teacher training, and the establishment of learning centres (12 thus far) teaching primary-aged kids subjects including English, IT, local culture, health, and environmental protection, the foundation is making a big difference in areas where typically, 77 per cent of children don’t finish school.

“We set out to give back to the community from day one,” says Nikoi cofounder Andrew Dixon. “We began with conversations with local villages. They expressed a need for education, especially in English, so first we set up libraries, providing reading materials.” The libraries quickly evolved into formal learning centres. “We connected with the United World College in Singapore, who assisted in creating a fantastic curriculum,” Dixon explains.

“We have about 600 children enrolled now, and the impact is evident, with over 3,000 kids benefiting so far,” he says. “We conduct teacher training workshops and have identified individuals in the villages to manage these learning centres, investing heavily in their training. They’ve become influential figures in their communities.”

Dixon says there’s a multiplier effect to these efforts; he reckons around 15,000 people have benefited directly or indirectly from the Above: Family-friendly, eco-friendly luxury at Nikoi Island. Opposite page: Yassss, parenting can be a real drag. 29 Agenda foundation’s community programmes. “That’s a significant figure for a small resort,” he says. When COVID shut down the hotels, Dixon explains, individual donors who’d been guests in the past stepped up to continue funding the foundation’s initiatives.

Sustainably constructed bamboo villas at Cempedak Island. Each year, Nikoi and Cempedak donate nearly SGD500,000 to supporting responsible tourism, conservation, local culture and education

Nevertheless, while many who stay at Nikoi and Cempedak do appreciate the fact their spending at the resorts helps support worthy causes, Dixon says the organisation is careful not to shove the charitable angle down people’s throats. “Guests come for the experience, and while we appreciate and welcome their interest in the foundation, we want them to enjoy their stay without feeling overwhelmed by sustainability messages,” he says.

A few years ago I had the chance to interview one of our region’s biggest charitable givers, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, a signatory to Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge (where the world’s richest commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy). This June, in his latest mega-generous endowment, the Aussie mining multibillionaire and his wife gave AUD5 billion to their Minderoo Foundation. The largest single charitable donation in Australian history, this sum will fuel the foundation’s various initiatives, including cleaner oceans, cancer cures, and an end to modern slavery.

Forrest told me he makes grand gestures like this not only to fund the work but to set an example for his fellow super-rich. He said, “Across Asia, including Australia, there’s a defensive mindset” among the very wealthy that leads them to horde their gold like real-life Scrooge McDucks. Instead, Forrest believes, the rich should utilise the talents that got them to the top in business—and the money they’ve earned in that position—to do some good. “The skill you have, which allowed you to accumulate that capital, you should use that skill to distribute capital in the wisest, highest leverage, highest benefit way possible,” he said.

Successful entrepreneurs have a responsibility to give both generously and strategically—in Forrest’s view, they are better qualified to rectify the world’s ills than politicians. When I asked him, playing the devil’s advocate, how he’d respond to the suggestion that perhaps the rich should just Sustainably constructed bamboo villas at Cempedak Island. Each year, Nikoi and Cempedak donate nearly SGD500,000 to supporting responsible tourism, conservation, local culture and education. pay their fair share of tax and let governments fix the big issues, suffice to say, Forrest disagreed enthusiastically.

“I’d say that is moronic—at its kindest. The greatest waste has happened under political leaders who say that. I’ve seen train wrecks created by politicians who’ve said, ‘Actually, we should just pay more tax.’ My response is, ‘Well, can you show me what you achieved with everyone else’s money, once you got your hands on it in the past? Answer: a train wreck,” Forrest said. “To those who’d suggest, ‘Oh, you should just pay more tax’—I’d say, ‘What, so politicians can waste more of it?’”

It’s giving… but not to the tax man. Season’s greetings, dear readers. May 2024 be a gift to us all.

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