Funding the future

On its 15th anniversary, Singapore-based MICE Matters set up a foundation worth S$250,000, the bulk of which will go towards bursaries for students at local polytechnics taking up courses in travel and hospitality. Its director, Melvyn Nonis, believes that investments in MICE education are always worth it.

I learnt from the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) that this is the first donor-advised fund that has been established for a company in the travel and hospitality sector. Also, S$250,000 (US$180,157) is a rather large donation coming from a company with just 20 people. Did you know that?
I was actually quite shocked to find out, but you know what? We’re really happy to do it.

Why did you set up this foundation?
Actually, CSR has always been part of our DNA. During our yearly Christmas office party, when we invite our partners and suppliers, we encourage our guests to donate (to charity). We are a little notorious (laughs).

But the mood is generally light and cheerful, and for every dollar they put in the bag, we match it. The final amount will then be donated to a single charity organisation such as Make-A-Wish Singapore, and through the past 15 years, I’ve seen the final amount range from between S$3,000 to S$10,000.

This year (because of our company’s 15th anniversary), I think we got a little bit emotional and sentimental (laughs). We wanted to do something different to celebrate our 15 years in the industry. When Mitch (MICE Matters’ co-director, Michelle Seet) and I look back all these years, we realised we just lived year-by-year and basically rocked and rolled our way through it. We will never ever forget how we started.

So how are the funds dispersed?
We have placed S$250,000 with CFS, which partners more than 400 charity organisations in the country. The administrative work is done on their end, and they will in turn identify which charities are in dire need of funds and inform us accordingly. Then, we will decide whether to donate or not.

We have decided that a bulk of the money will go into the bursaries, but we have not allocated the percentages or the exact amount. That’s the beauty of this arrangement.

We will soon have a first-round discussion, with a group of people from both CFS and Singapore Polytechnic, to sit down and talk about the amount they need for their bursary programme.

Also, we wanted our team members to have a say in where the money goes; as everyone has their own favourite charity. For instance, someone would like to donate to Children’s Cancer Foundation, while another would want some of the money to go to an animal welfare project instead.

There’s no fixed timeline on when this money should be used, but we’re hoping to allocate it to the appropriate charities over the next two years.

Why the big focus on bursaries?
We are in the travel industry, and we want to give back to the industry. This is why we want a large portion of the money going to students taking courses in travel and hospitality. Education is very important to us, and it’s close to my heart.

There is a difference between scholarships and bursaries. With scholarships, the recipient must be really smart and may not have the money to study. But bursaries will provide the money to a student with financial difficulties, even though he may not be as bright. This will allow us to help more students.

We are also planning to stretch (our assistance) even further. For example, after they complete their education, we want to give them an internship with MICE Matters. We want to show our commitment to the industry while helping these students develop further.

Do you think the sector needs more young blood?
Absolutely. There is a lack of young blood in the industry right now, but it’s a good thing that MICE has been slowly introduced into the travel and hospitality syllabus in schools in recent years.

You know, the MICE sector is not the most glamorous, and not the most well-paid industry. You really need to have passion and interest in it. I’m actually an accountant by training, and stumbled into the industry. But I stayed on all these years because I found that I was passionate about it.

I think we are in dire need of good people in the industry and that’s why I think future professionals can benefit from the bursaries. I hope that they will be able to see a clear MICE career path upon graduation, and enjoy working in the industry.

Any closing thoughts about the MICE sector here in Singapore?
I think the MICE sector in Singapore is constantly developing. There is a need for education, and for more young professionals to join the industry. Even as technology is becoming more rampant, face-to-face is still very important in the business. The MICE industry is very people-centric at all levels.

I know this segment is going to stay, and will remain relevant for a long time to come. Maybe not at this time during the virus outbreak, but the segment is going to grow. And from a business perspective, the sector needs people who have the passion to be running in this particular industry. The learning curve is steep, and the industry can be complex, but the strategy is always to be event-centric, and give clients a reason to keep coming back to you.

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