In 2004, an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in Indian Ocean coastal communities. Immediately after that, a successful businessman and the group editor-in-chief of New Straits Times, Kalimullah Hassan, joined several friends to pledge MYR 850,000 (USD 202,700) for relief and launched the NST/Berita Harian Tsunami Disaster Fund to raise more money. Within two days, more than MYR 3 million was collected.
In fact, a study published by the Charities Aid Foundation that studied the charitable behaviors of 139 countries over a five-year period (2013 to 2018) ranks Malaysia as the 13th most charitable country.
Take the idea a little further: What if every Malaysian, all 32 million people in the country, were to donate MYR 10 for a cause? A total of MYR 320 million (USD 76.3 million) will be collected. That is exactly what Cheryl Low and Ellen Chua of SimplyGiving, an online fundraising platform for social causes in Asia, had in mind when they came up with the week-long MYGiving event.
“If not now, then when?”
Low and Chua share many similarities. Both worked in the finance industry before joining SimplyGiving.
Low was a certified accountant, auditor, and consultant. In particular, as the executive director of the China-Britain Business Council, she helped facilitate collaborations between British and Chinese businesses.
Chua was an analyst for various financial institutions. In her previous role, she was a senior equity research analyst for Public Mutual Berhad, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Bank in Malaysia, where she conducted research on China’s internet economy. It was a job that she enjoyed a lot.
Both Low and Chua decided to quit the corporate world to join SimplyGiving (Low in 2015 and Chua in 2019) for more meaningful careers. Chua, who was raised in a charitable household, says, “I wanted to do something more fulfilling. Instead of spending 9 to 5 doing a job that I like, why not do something that I love?” She came across SimplyGiving when she was searching for a job within the social impact industry. As regional manager, Chua oversees the Malaysian, Thai, and Indonesian markets, and is in charge of expanding the business, marketing matters, and improving user experiences. She revealed that her time at Public Mutual Berhad gave her some useful ideas about marketing strategies.
For Low, it was the poor air quality of Beijing that brought her home after being away for over 20 years. Since she had wanted to get involved in social investment, she seized upon the chance to join SimplyGiving. Low first joined SimplyGiving as the director of social lending before succeeding Nikki Kinloch as the CEO in 2018. Today, she is responsible for devising the company’s strategy and matters relating to finance and IT, as well as the Hong Kong and Singapore markets.
The power of P2P fundraising
Founded in 2011 by a British serial entrepreneur residing in Malaysia, James Greaves, SimplyGiving is a social enterprise that provides an online platform and digital tools to anybody who wants to raise funds for local causes. If a campaign reaches its target, the company takes a 5% commission from the proceeds.
The company also offers social lending, which was Low’s idea. SimplyGiving is not a peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform, but it does provide an avenue for people to lend money to struggling social businesses or poor individuals who need the cash urgently. SimplyGiving’s social lending works like a traditional P2P platform, except that there is no interest rate on the loan and the lender has the option of channeling the returns to other lending projects, resulting in a continuous stream of positive impact.
SimplyGiving firmly believes in the power of P2P fundraising. According to Low, P2P fundraising overcomes donor fatigue. This form of fundraising relies on word of mouth to reach a pool of users that is much deeper than that of a conventional charity organization. Gone are the days of traditional fundraising methods like direct mail donations or phonathons, which require cold-calling strangers. To date, SimplyGiving has raised more than MYR 30 million, a quarter of which was raised in the last 12 months. P2P fundraising is the key driver.
Backed by Gobi Partners and the Malaysian government’s venture capital arm MAVCAP, SimplyGiving has offices in Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and is active in five other countries.
SimplyGiving has worked with over 3,000 partners ranging from non-profit organizations like UNICEF and WWF to corporates like Manulife, as well as local charities and groups. More than 90,000 donors have used SimplyGiving’s platform to donate to the 6,000 active campaigns since 2011.
Currently, the company is preparing for the biggest and most ambitious week-long fundraising campaign to ever launch in Malaysia. It’s called MYGiving, and it is being overseen by Low and Chua.
Encouraging kindness through #MYGiving
MYGiving is inspired by the global giving movement called GivingTuesday. Set on the Tuesdays following the shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, GivingTuesday is an annual movement focused on charitable giving. In 2018, USD 400 million was raised within just a day.
Encouraged by the success of GivingTuesday, Chua and Low initiated a Malaysian version of the campaign called MYGiving—”MY” being shorthand for Malaysia. The campaign is designed to last for six days, starting on the same day as GivingTuesday on December 3 and ending on December 8.
MYGiving was designed to be a week of giving. While its official target is to raise MYR 320 million in six days, what SimplyGiving aims to do is promote the culture of altruism and prove that acts of kindness and goodwill transcend differences. During the event, anybody can get involved and give back in a way that is meaningful to them, which may mean offering monetary donations, giving time, goods, skills, resources or simply performing acts of kindness.
“The MYGiving campaign is about all of us taking pause from our busy schedules to think about the causes that matter to us most, and then taking whatever action we are able to give—money, time, or talent—and be purposefully kind,” says Low.
This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind South and Southeast Asia’s tech startups.