Setting Up Offices in Singapore


Q. Can you share what the benefits are for an overseas non-profit to set up offices here in Singapore and what are some things they should keep in mind when doing so?

A. There is an increasing trend of International Non-Profit Organisations (INPOs) setting up offices in Singapore to manage their work globally or in Asia-Pacific. Currently, there are 135 INPOs in Singapore, which include intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, philanthropic foundations and industry associations. Some of the INPOs in Singapore include the World Bank, Save the Children International, WWF International, World Vision International, SymAsia Foundation and the International Air Transport Association.

Some of the factors that draw INPOs to Singapore include:

1. Geographical proximity:Singapore is well-positioned geographically for INPOs to address the pressing concerns across Asia. These concerns include environmental, humanitarian, health, developmental, etc. 

2. Neutrality, transparency, stability, accessibility and ease of setting up:The systems in place that have made Singapore a good place for doing business are proving beneficial for the work of INPOs as well. For them, Singapore offers the rare combination of neutrality, transparency, stability and accessibility required to effectively coordinate, manage and implement projects in the region. INPOs in general have also commented that one of the things that they appreciate most about Singapore is the regulatory framework here. For example, the efficient system that the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore (ACRA) has put in place for companies has made legal registration a simple and straightforward process for INPOs as well. With increasing financial challenges and professionalisation, many INPOs are therefore prioritising efficiency and effectiveness and applying business approaches to their strategy and operations. 

3. Social capital:INPOs can tap into the many forms of social capital available in Singapore to better enable their work. This includes: Financial capital in the form of rising Asian philanthropy, corporate responsibility and increasingly impact investments, human capital in the form of a diverse international talent pool and strong volunteer base, and knowledge capital in the form of research and private sector partnerships.

4. Affordable office space:Singapore also provides INPOs with the option of locating their offices at the Tanglin International Centre (TIC), a physical cluster of INPOs. The idea behind this was to allow proximity to give rise to opportunities for collaboration. Instead of travelling from one part of the country (or the world) to another to explore collaboration opportunities with one another, INPOs in Singapore can choose to be located just footsteps away from each other.

Some of the things that INPOs could keep in mind when setting up in Singapore include:

1. Ecosystem in Singapore: Despite being a relatively small country, the increasingly strong cluster of both local and international non-profit organisations in Singapore addresses many key issues related to health, development, environment, humanitarian, industry and etc. INPOs could survey the landscape in Singapore to explore potential collaborative opportunities with existing players and bring key differentiating activities to value add to the non-profit landscape in Singapore and the region.

2. Importance of having a team that understands Asia: With rising Asian wealth and increasingly challenging issues to be addressed in Asia, an increasing number of INPOs are using Singapore as a base to fundraise in Asia for their projects in Asia. Understanding the modus operandi of fundraising and operating in Asia is key to having successful operations in Singapore and Asia as a whole. INPOs should consider having a strong team that understands Asia (in the Board of Directors and the management and staff levels) in Singapore, thus maximising the potential to do good for the region. Although many INPOs start operations here by relocating key staff from the HQs to the office in Singapore, they tend to ‘localise’ over time. Examples of INPOs that have successfully done so include the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).


Kelvin Wong is the executive director of the International Organisations Programme Office at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).