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How Neo Kah Kiat, founder, chairman and CEO of Neo Group, inspires staff to contribute to charity

A small gesture is all it takes to seed a culture of giving.

Neo Kah Kiat, 46, grew up in a three-room flat with his parents and two brothers. “My family was very poor, but I saw a lot of people who were poorer than me,” says the catering company founder. As a 10-year-old, he would follow his mother to the temple, and ask her for a few coins to give to the beggars there.

This act of giving, no matter how small, is a practice he hopes to pass on to his staff, first by having them donate at least 10 cents of their salary to the firm’s monthly fund-raising programme. The Seed fund has grown from a few hundred dollars a month eight years ago to $8,000 a month today. Over 50 charities, such as the African Child Care Association, have benefited from the proceeds.

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The group’s commitment to giving sees it involved in the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre’s Company of Good initiative, which supports corporate giving. “I want to encourage businessmen to inspire their staff to give,” says the entrepreneur, who believes in the virtuous cycle. “Ever since we started donating to charity, good things have happened to us, be it securing a prime location or having people extend help in times of need.”

He also contributes to Cheng Hong’s Afterlife Memorial Service, which sponsors funeral arrangements for seniors without kith or kin. “These people have only one worry – that no one will take care of their funeral rites,” he says. This year, Neo raised $500,000 for the cause, one he finds particularly meaningful as it helps the elderly to “go with peace of mind”.

PHOTOGRAPHY VEE CHIN ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM