Old boy Patrick Lee Kwok Kie is the
In the past few years, he has been involved in more than 20 government-linked, civic and grassroots organisations in which he is either a trustee, patron, director, committee member or some other honorary title holder.
He now sits on the boards of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), Business China Singapore, Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) and Tan Kah Kee Foundation, among others.
He was elected vice-president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) in 2007, and will be the new chairman of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital and Nursing Home when the new management committee is sworn in on March 6.
On the role of SFCCA, which celebrated its 25th anniversary at a gala dinner last week, he says: 'It was the importance of clan associations in the community and what they could do to preserve the good old values for the younger generation that convinced me to take up the challenge.'
Far from being irrelevant and outdated, Chinese clan associations have a role to play in society, he says.
He recalls how the early clan associations were set up by immigrants to help fellow clansmen related to one another by the same surname, dialect group or the province, county, area and even village in China where they came from.
'When Singapore was still ruled by the British, the Chinese community had to take care of its own members, and clan associations played the important role of providing basic social services such as education and health care,' he says.
Although the Government has taken over most of these roles since Singapore achieved self-government in 1959, he feels that the charitable and selfless spirit of the forefathers who set up the clan associations and provided for the poor and needy should be preserved and promoted.
'This is social capital which can contribute to building a nation of people who care, not a younger generation of selfish individuals who care only about themselves and go after material things,' he says.
As he sees it, another urgent task for the clan associations lies in integrating new Chinese immigrants who have arrived in large numbers from China recently.
Unlike the earlier generation of Chinese immigrants who came here to build a new life and future, he observes that many newcomers are here in search of better opportunities but have no sense of belonging.
'We need to help them integrate into our society and see Singapore as more than a place to work and buy a house to live in.
'As Singapore's birth rate is still far from the replacement level, we must continue to welcome new immigrants and foreign talents to help our economy grow,' says Mr Lee.
To prevent the emergence of a divided Chinese community in future, he wants to forge closer ties between Singapore- born Chinese and new Chinese immigrants.
One way is to bring the newly formed new immigrant groups into the Chinese clan federation's fold. There are now six such groups: Tianjin Club, Shanxi Association, Hua Yuan Association, Tian Fu Club, Kowloon Club, and the Singapore Chinese Scholars and Students Association.
'If left to themselves, the new Chinese immigrant groups may develop in another direction and the two groups can end up suspicious of each other. It will be a problem,' he cautions.
Noting that the new immigrant groups have expressed interest in joining the federation, Mr Lee says: 'Many told me they find living in Singapore interesting as they can meet Chinese from all over China here.'
On the immediate plans of the federation, he says the strength of his secretariat will be increased from the present 10 to 17 or 18 members.
'We need more event organisers and a bigger communications team because connecting and reaching out to members and informing them about our programmes will be our priorities,' he adds.
The number of its governing council members will be expanded to allow more clan associations to participate in the decision-making process.
There are now 15 members on its present council, with seven seats reserved for representatives from its seven founding member clans: Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, Singapore Kwang Tung Association, Nanyang Khek Community Guild, Singapore Hainan Hwee Kuan, Sam Kiang Huay Kuan and Singapore Foochow Association.
'So with only eight seats in the council open to contest at each election, few will have the chance to be on the governing council,' he points out.
By increasing the number of members on the council, the process of leadership renewal can be speeded up, he says.
Chinese language and culture is another area which the federation wants to promote this year. An annual cultural award will be instituted soon to recognise clans which excel in the promotion of Chinese culture and the arts.
Noting that the Chinese operas of all the major dialect groups are practised and performed by local groups, he says: 'They should be promoted and the federation will help the clans do so.'
The federation is also offering five annual scholarships to students for undergraduate studies in top Chinese universities.
The federation's headquarters in Lorong 2, Toa Payoh, which occupies the premises of a former primary school, will be undergoing a major makeover soon.
Last month, the federation closed the kindergarten in its headquarters after 20 years because of dwindling enrolment. It will make room for 'a historical corridor or passage' where the history of Chinese clan associations in Singapore can be told in words and pictures.
'We want our visitors to feel the spirit of selflessness and charity of our forefathers and understand our past when they step into our premises,' he says.
In his view, the future of Chinese clan associations lies in the younger generation. Each clan association has to address the problem of not attracting enough young members.
'They have to recruit more young talent and organise activities appealing to the young and to have them interested in their past,' he says.
He had already persuaded his daughter Anne to be the youth group leader at Kong Chow Wui Koon last year and hopes his son will join them at the clan association when he can find the time.
'I have even started taking my four-year-old grandson to the clan association's activities,' he quips.