Singapore’s Great Philanthropist Toh Soon Huat
The gratitude and consciousness from the public shall make the world peaceful and in harmony.
- Datuk Seri Toh Soon Huat JP, BBM, PVPA
- Ancestral home in Fujian, China
- Due to the financial constraints of family, he dropped out of Hwa Chong Institution in Secondary 3.
- He worked hard to make money for the family in childhood and later founded Novena Holding Ptd Ltd and served as CEO. The company was listed on SGX in 2000, mainly engaged in investment in NOVENA furniture and BEAUTE SPRING brands.
- Since 2008, he has been serving as executive chairman of the board of directors of Sian Chay Medical Institution with no salary.
- He sold out all his company shares in 2009, and established Novena Foundation as executive chairman. Dedicated to charity cause for more than 20 years, he has been given The Long Service Award of 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and 25 years by Singapore People’s Association
- Awarded the President of Singapore for the Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2004
- Awarded the President of Singapore for the Public Service Star (PBM) in 2009
- In 2013, selected as one of the 50 Chinese philanthropists in the “Management World” magazine of the State Council Development Research Centre of China
- Awarded the “Cultural Heritage Partner Award” by the National Heritage Board of Singapore in 2012
- Awarded the President Volunteerism & Philanthropy Award (PVPA) in 2015. This is the highest recognition of its achievements and contributions to Singapore’s philanthropy
- Awarded Philanthropist of the Year by China Pride • Model Figures Annual Festival in 2015
- Awarded the 25th Annual Community Service Award by the Singapore People’s Association in 2016
- Awarded the Ten Year Long-Term Volunteer Service Award from the Singapore National Welfare Council in 2016
- Ranked in the List of the Year of the 2nd Chinese Dreams of Overseas Returnees and Chinese Brand Entrepreneurship Innovation in 2016
- Awarded Charity figures of West China Construction, Outstanding Contribution Awards by the 6th Investing West Excellent Entrepreneur Commendation in 2016
- Appointed the Peace Ambassador by the 7th Peace Flag in 2016
- Awarded the Education Service Award by the Ministry of Education of Singapore in 2017
- Awarded the 15 years Volunteer Long Service Award by National Council of Social Services in 2017
- Awarded China Philanthropist by the Organizing Committee of China International Philanthropy Forum in 2017
- Appointed Justice of the Peace by the President of Singapore in 2018
- Awarded the “Art Partner Award” by the Singapore National Arts Council in 2018
- Awarded the ‘ Philip Kotler Marketing Excellence for Philanthropic Leadership’ at the World Marketing Summit in 2018.
Born in “Bukit Panjang”
In 1960, I was born in the “10 miles” area, which was called “Coconut Mountain Tail”, which is now the new town of Bukit Panjang.
Among the 12 brothers and sisters in the family, I ranked seventh. My father was a taxi driver, earning a few hundred dollars a month which was not easy to feed more than ten people. My mother was a housewife, selling groceries and eggs to subsidize the households. We lived a frugal life and the whole family relied on a few pieces of fermented bean curd and a can of Merlin choy sum every day.
I saw that my mother often took only half piece of fermented bean curd with porridge. Despite the hardships of life, everyone still happily shared two fried eggs mother made occasionally. This was a kind of sharing with joy and warmth. When we have a little more money, we could have fried rice noodles with pork knuckles.
Even today, I often have Merlin’s luncheon meat, meat sauce and canned choy sum. Breakfast is sometimes served with only Copi U and Khong Guan crackers, which recall the memory of childhood.
When I was young, I didn’t understand why my parents kept getting up so early regardless the weather or sickness. When I grew up and experienced more, I started to understand that it was not the alarm clock or work waking them up. It was life, responsibility, affection, dedication, giving, inheritance and greatness.
Collecting Eggs and Giving Pigs a Shower
During the secondary school holiday, I was 13 years old and I collected eggs, drove ducks into the cages at midnight at my uncle’s farm and sold the eggs at Pasar. At that time, there was no salary for the work, but uncle would give me red envelopes. My favourite little animals on the farm were ducklings. I did not want the ducklings to grow up because they would be sent to slaughter when they grew up and I would be very sad and even weep for it.
When collecting eggs on the farm, I tasted the fresh eggs that the hens had just laid, warm and soft, with fresh fragrance.
When the pigs were hungry and dirty, they would grunt. After I gave them a shower, they would shake their tails to express their gratitude and then slept with a snore. I am still fond of pigs nowadays, because they are simple and cute.
I saved up the money earned on the farm and bought a bicycle for 80 dollars so that I could ride it to see my grandmother. By the way, I would give her a 10-dollar red envelope and she would be very happy. I always chatted with grandmother for hours.
Secondary School Dropout, Risking Climbing High for $2
It was not easy to get into Hwa Chong Institution from Zheng Hua Primary School. My dad could only pay my tuition and textbook fees when he received his salary. I was not able to concentrate on studying because of the financial constraints of family.
In 1975 when I was in Secondary 3, I dropped out of school in order to ease the burden on my parents.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a permanent job below the legal working age. As a result, I swept the floor at the theatre or worked as a handyman to earn dozens of dollars every month.
At the age of 16, I worked as a porter of construction material. The working hours were from 8:30am to 5:30pm but I often worked overtime until 9:00pm for making 100 more dollars every month by overtime pay.
The foreman said that whoever dared to climb high, the daily salary can be adjusted from 8 dollars to 10 dollars. In order to earn the extra 2 dollars, I took the duty.
When I climbed to the outer wall of the 4th floor with the wood, my feet shook with fear because I didn’t have the courage to climb so high. Nowadays, I have realized that money is hard to come by, and money is traded with lives. From a young age, I knew that life is precious, and life is never come easily.
I have not regretted the decision to drop out of school, because such kind of experience and tempering built my endurance and commitment today.
Founding Novena Furniture
In 1984, Singapore embarked on the track of rapid economic development. Many residents moved from Kampung Village to government HDB and it drove the demand in the furniture market.
I seized the opportunity and founded “Rong Chun Fa”, which was the predecessor of Novena Furniture, and it became famous in HDB communities in a brief time.
In 1986, “Rong Chun Fa” opened two branches in Bukit Batok and Yishun. Following our business strategy, we proceeded to the bustling downtown area and established our flagship store named “Novena” on Thompson Road right opposite to Novena Church.
With the increase in experience and product upgrades, Novena Furniture quickly entered the medium market, and “Novena Furniture Company” was born. Later, we created the new brands “Castilla Premium” high-end furniture, “Modern Living”, “The White Collection” and “Natural Living” for different consuming markets. Novena maintained its leading position in the local furniture industry and became a high-quality outstanding Singapore retail brand.
With the growing reputation in Singapore, we began to enter the international market and launched branches in China, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Bonding with Sian Chay of a Century History
Choose Sian Chay, because of compassion; choose to accept, because of letting go; choose to bear, because of karma; choose to contribute, because of gratitude; choose to love, because of life.
Before I joined the board of directors of Sian Chay Medical Institution, the medical charity with a history of more than 100 years was on the verge of closure. My good friend Teo Kim Chuan invited me to join again and again, but I declined three times.
The last time he said seriously, “If you don’t take over Sian Chay, it will be closed.” It touched my heart. Thanks to the gift of life, compassion, universal love, empathy, I thought twice and finally decided to join Sian Chay so that the medical institution of a hundred years could continue to survive.
Sian Chay is a TCM charity platform that can help many people relieve their pains, care their health, extend their longevity, bring harmony to the society, and convey happiness to the family.
When I was young, I had to be independent at an early age and make a living in the society to ease the burden on my parents and financial constraints of the family. Since then, I have realized how much the people need help and assistance from others, when they are in a desperate plight. I know about the taste of poverty because I had the experience as a kid.
God will be kind to those who are capable, sincere, and willing to work hard. They have the opportunity to overcome various difficulties gradually and get out of poverty.
However, there are still many impoverished people in the society who are suffering from unexpected accidents, illness or invalidity. They need prompt relief, assistance, and rescue. They cannot wait.
Charity can’t wait, and it must be carried out now. Solving the urgent need of others is the first step. After that, we have to follow up. There are still many follow-up work to do. We can’t let the case close here. We must help them get out of trouble and live a healthy life. Therefore, I regard charity as my responsibility and career.
I organized a team of like-minded people to make a great wish with universal love and compassion and achieve a bright kindness step by step.
When the earthquake struck Wen Chuan, Sichuan, China in 2008, I and several friends in Singapore launched the “Let the Stream of Love Flowing Forever” Television fund-raising event for disaster relief, and raised 10 million dollars to support the disaster area. This donation helped the disaster-stricken areas to build seven “China-Singapore Friendship Primary Schools” and a bridge. Each year, tens of thousands of freshmen will have the opportunity to study in the schools, as well as learn the charity and dedication, gratitude and giving back, and strengthen the long-term friendship between China and Singapore.
Charity Is a Responsibility
Charity is a kind of responsibility. Those who have the ability should help those who are incapable. Those who have money should help the poor. The fate of each person has different changes and processes. It is very rough.
I think that people must live with wisdom. We should not play tricks with wisdom, everything and the value and meaning of life. It means nothing if you are very rich but unwilling to spend. What you do every day is the same, equal to “life as usual, life to the end.”
It is difficult to live the past and present. The present is unpredictable. We should cherish existence and bonding at the present.
I am now in my fifties. What I will do next year and the year after next are the same. Even if I am still alive, life has no meaning. It is just to live, without the meaning and existence of life.
We can’t decide the length of life, then we decide its width and make it more meaningful and exciting. In the process of life, we should change and improve ourselves at every moment, every occurrence, every experience, every bottleneck, so as to make life different and benefit the society.
I think that we should always elevate and change ourselves, utilize all the relationship, the experience and wisdom you have to help those in need so that they could live a better life and have an Improved environment.
Charity is a kind of positive brightness as well as a professional behavior. It is not just a simple donation. Charity requires compassion, wisdom, talent, management, efficiency, and perseverance.
While helping others, I also helped myself and enhanced my life philosophy and gratitude. This is what we usually don’t feel. Only when we really participate in it, help people in need and see a bright and happy smile on their faces, we will naturally feel the joy, brightness and compassion! It is the truth that giving is more blessed than taking.
Donation is usually individual behaviour. Charity is a team and social behaviour that engages the public. The goal of charity is to rebuild culture and society, and to build a civilized and harmonious society. Good deeds are from the heart, regardless big or small. Charity contains moral elements, emphasizing on the manifestation of morality and the effectiveness of acting. It has the influence of positive energy on others, the environment, the society, and the future.
Charity is a duty and responsibility to give back to the society. The spirit of charity is sharing, gratitude, commitment, mutual benefit, benefiting society, and cooperation, unity, creating a harmonious society and a happy family, regardless of race or religion.
To gain social respect and recognition, enterprises should not only rely on profits, but also taking social responsibilities, maintaining business, protecting the nature, preserving the normal ecological environment, and propelling social progress and mission. Take from the society and give back to the society with love and compassion. Business pursues the expansion of the benefits within the scope of the allowable, while charity is to distribute wealth to achieve social justice and basic living security.
Sian Chay seeks to be kind with people and bring hope and light to the public.
“Sian Chay Medical Institution is a social enterprise with social operation, serving the society.” Over the years, Sian Chay actively participated in community charity events, promoted health awareness, and encouraged health care activities. Sian Chay also arranged professional hairdressers to each branch to offer regularly haircut for the elderly, distributed multi-functional umbrellas, daily necessities, food packages, living handbags and etc. Sian Chay is also striving to promote racial harmony and social stability through the platform of Sian Chay. Everyone should cherish the social civilization, social progress and social stability. Everyone should care for each other, live in amity, and make the world of prosperity, universal love and empathy. Charity must be a sustainable operation so that more people will know about Sian Chay. As a result, The seeds of charity and light will be sowed in the hearts of young people and more needy people can get the help and feel the care of the society.
“Forgiveness, Universal Love, Compassion, Gratitude and Blessings” transmits Sian Chay’s most beautiful persistence to “goodwill”. Sian Chay cooperates with building of the nation and creation of harmonious society. It actively promotes the belief that “Nation Progresses, Family Prospers; Family Harmony, Successful Endeavours”, and that “Forward with the Nation, Bonding with the People.”
I fell three times in my life.
The first fall: I invested 30,000 dollars in my first start-up project and lost all the money in three months.
The second fall: I invested in real estate and suffered the financial storm and lost a big sum of money.
The third fall: I was influenced by a partner and made a wrong decision and blew up my business.
Initially I intended to sell the company, and then do some things else to change yourself and improve yourself. But when I calmed down, I thought the three falls were not permanent failure, but they are an experience and process to promote the values or beliefs of life.
Everyone will bear various responsibilities at different ages. As our “capabilities, mentality, accomplishments, thoughts, experiences, opinions, processes and realms” continue to improve and change, the responsibilities can be also varying. Responsibility is a kind of human innate mission, which is always accompanied throughout the life. We must be responsible for our own lives, no matter good or bad, just bear all the results and consequences.
I am sometimes grateful for these setbacks and bottlenecks. They have cast a profound impact on my life today. These setbacks and bottlenecks have changed me, created me today, made me humble, rational, precipitated, and able to understand the truth of life. They make me understand: face life with a normal heart; face complaint with a tolerant heart; face life with compassion; face life with gratitude, face the world with universal love; face the future with empathy.
View on Affection, Friendship and Marriage
Sharing happiness is more joyful than keeping it to one shelf. The universal happiness is even more joyful than just sharing.
Brotherhood is never forgettable in life. Friendship is eternal between heaven and earth.
I often shared that “Supposing there are twenty people climbing a mountain together, it is already a big success if 10% of them follow the route. You do not have to blame those who give up halfway. They may want to leave now but they may come in back later. It is possible that there is some discrepancy in capability, theory or ideology but I believe people will come to support me as long as I am doing a right thing. Real friends, no matter where they are, will always care for each other.
There is no sailing always favoured by the wind. There is no life always satisfactory. It is inevitable and natural that the life is with setbacks and difficulties, which can be considered a journey of learning and self-promotion. I also felt inpatient and difficult to accept these setbacks for a certain period time, but finally I accepted them and let them go. I would rather take it as karma. All the negative feeling has been gradually diluted with time and it is alright to let it go.
Everyone will receive help from others throughout his or her life, regardless of success or failure, raised by great parents, taught by teachers, supported and loved by mild wives, understood and accompanied by family, assisted by brothers and friends, united with the team, guided by experts, recognized by the public, blessed by the nature and awarded by the times, including the “kind knowledge” that gave me the “opportunity” to self-improve and grow. These experiences drive me to improve myself with light, connotation and self-cultivation, and enable me to grow stronger and walk toward a brighter and broader path.
In every step of growth, we have the guide from experts; every day we live, we have the help from others. In this way, we have overcome one and another difficult times, step by step to success, and created and enjoyed a bright life. Be grateful to everyone who appears in life; deal with right and wrong with wisdom; respect and accept others; cultivate body and mind with morality; behave with compassion.
Talking About Gratitude to Life
I’ve been walking on the road of charity, full of gratitude to everyone around me: my parents who raised me up; my wife who supported me quietly, my friends and my team, etc. Even for those who cheated on me or betrayed me, I am also grateful to them, as they helped me to promote myself in connotation and self-cultivation. Thank you for everyone in my life journey.
Life is infinite. Anatman is permanent. Thus, just take the burden, no excitement, no worries.
Life is not easy. Be grateful to life. Cherish life.
Life is the mixture of joys and sorrows, unions and loneliness. Life is universal love and compassion. Life is to devote light and warmth.
To learn to be grateful, not only to be grateful in heart, but also to be a grateful person in action. When you are grateful, you will feel happy. Be grateful to the courtesy of life; be grateful to the days with family; be grateful to meeting with friends.
I think sharing is a kind of philanthropism, the depth of thought, and the belief in life. Because only when you know how to share, you can find the meaning and value of life and understand the connotation of life. Every kind of happiness in life needs to be shared with others to make it a valuable light.
With gratitude, responsibility and joy, I am sharing my experiences and feelings with you. I hope that when you face the choice, you can get inspiration from it, and draw courage from it to face, hold on and overcome the difficult setbacks and trials. When you are depressed, you can get warmth and comfort from it.
Recognition by President, Prime Minister and Minsters
On January 25, 2015, Minister Chan Chun Sing praised Sian Chay on “Caring and Sharing Day”, “Thanks to Sian Chay Medical Institution for the contribution”.
On December 18, 2015, Minister Koh Poh Koon shared in the book “The Story of Sian Chay”:, “The Story of Sian Chay” reviews its own history of development for a hundred years, and also records the emergence of countless benevolent people who showed their love and ask for no return In the long history of 114 years. Sian Chay is not only a Chinese medicine clinic, but also a place to cultivate love, unite love, spread love and enhance love. As a clinic, it can only solve limited problems; but as a source of love, it can ignite and condense infinite love. In an increasingly modernized country like Singapore, the light released in this small clinic has ignited the hope of many helpless elderly patients.”
The development of charity cause reflects the accumulation of material wealth, spiritual wealth growth and institutional wealth optimization since the 50th anniversary of the founding of Singapore. I hope more people will join the team of charity and let our society be filled with the breath of love.
On December 17, 2016, at the event of “Sian Chay Charity Gala Dinner”, Minister Ng Chee Meng shared in his speech, “Sian Chay Medical Institution has provided free Chinese medicine diagnosis for the public regardless of race, religion and nationality for more than 100 years. It has benefited a huge number of people estimated a million. It is so great! All these achievements are under the leadership of Dr. Toh Soon Huat. Since 2008, Sian Chay has been actively providing flat-price Chinese medicine services to residents expanding from 12 branches to 15 branches, including one in Punggol North. I have heard that Sian Chay currently serves an average of more than 1,000 patient visits per day. It really helps a lot of people and brings about major changes. I am very touched to see this.”
The Guest of Honour, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and Grassroots Advisor, officiated at the launching ceremony on 14 May 2017. The Special guests included Dr. Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade & Industry and Ministry of National Development, Dr. Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Health, Ang Mo Kio GRC MPs, Dr Intan Azura Binte Mokhtar, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr. David Gerald, Mr. Mr Ang Hin Kee, and Hougang Grassroots Advisor Mr. Lee Hong Chuang BBM and community leaders. Other guests included Mr. Neo Kah Kiat, Chairman of Neo Group, Mr. Tan Aik Hock, President of Lam Ann Association, Chairman Toh Soon Huat and the fellow directors.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also posted on his Facebook to greet all the mothers, “Joined fellow Ang Mo Kio Town Council MPs and volunteers to distribute 10,000 pink carnations to Sengkang South mothers and residents this morning! Glad to see many mums and their families out and about enjoying their Sunday. Thanks to the Sian Chay Medical Institution for presenting the flowers. Sian Chay is a VWO that has been providing free traditional Chinese medicine consultation and treatment for all, regardless of race or religion, for more than a century. My thanks also to the Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC CCCs for supporting this initiative. You certainly put a smile on many faces today! – LHL”
Patron of the Sian Chay Medical Institution, Incumbent President of Singapore, Dr. Halima praised Sian Chay for serving the community and providing TCM services for the public for 116 years, regardless of class, ethnicity or religion. in the speech on “Sian Chay Love Night” on July 8, 2017.
In the “Let Go” TV Interview, President Halima praised Toh Soon Huat as an “outstanding and excellent person”, “He is full of passion and vitality, with extraordinary energy and compassion.”
President Halima said: “We had just talked about setting up a branch in the Masiling area. He then launch the branch of Marsiling in a year. He is a very enthusiastic, very engaged and dedicated person. It is very difficult to find someone with this quality nowadays.”
She said, “I hope he can continue to contribute to Sian Chay and do the best job for this community. He is not just raising funds, he will come to the branch to ensure the smooth progress of the renovation project. Toh Soon Huat is definitely a responsible, compassionate and dedicated leader.”
On July 28, 2017, Mr. Lim Swee Say, Minister of Manpower said at the Singapore BSFIT Love and Care Charity Dinner, “For any organisation, the increase the number of beneficiaries from a few thousand a year to a few thousand hundred a year. It’s a mission impossible. However here in Singapore, one organisation managed to turn the mission impossible into mission possible, and that organisation is Sian Chay. The reason why Sian Chay is able to achieve what other organisation are unable to do so. I believe it is because of its spirits and values: promoting healthy living and happy life. We should enhance the development of Chinese medicine and participate in the mission of charity relief work in Singapore, share the core values of Forgiveness, Universal Love, Compassion, Gratitude and Blessings. Forward with the Nation, Bonding with the People. Promote charity to serve the society. That is why Sian Chay has done well what others cannot do. ”
On March 31, 2018, Minister Ong Ye Kung specially sent a letter of thanks to me for taking care of the community residents and contributing to the society. Many thanks to the recognition and encouragement of Minister Ong for our work.
Looking to the Future
Doing charity requires professional knowledge such as theoretical foundation, systematic management, and development strategy. It is a long-standing social undertaking. In particular, charity leaders need a high degree of wisdom and far-sighted insights.
I hope that in the future, we will set up a charity exchange centre, open a charity public course, and share the experience of charity and public welfare undertakings. we will also consider establishing a management and legal system for charitable research, talent cultivation and public charity. At the same time, sharing meetings will be held to meet different levels of kind people. With a stable economic foundation and a charitable mentality, the friends from all walks of life can have the chance to share kind knowledge, philanthropy and social services.
“Honour old people as we do our own aged parents ” We should not forget other old people when we support our elder relatives. Elderly people in the society have also worked hard for their families and society. We should not give up them because they are old. We should take responsibility and let them feel the respect, care and recognition of society.
“Care for children as we do our own young kids.” We should not forget other children when raising our own kids. Through the charity platform, enable them to learn humanity, respect, filial, sharing, undertaking, etc., so that more young people can participate in this great, bright charity cause.
Always be kind and benevolent with compassion and empathy. I hope that more people will bathe in the warmth of the sun and feel the nourishment of the spirit.