Living For Giving

She advises some of the world’s super-rich on philanthropy, but Jenny Santi tells LEE XIN HUI you don’t need to be in the money to find joy in giving.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

She advises some of the world’s super-rich on philanthropy, but Jenny Santi tells LEE XIN HUI you don’t need to be in the money to find joy in giving.

My Reading Room

When we help others, we often focus on the beneficiaries. What’s overlooked is how giving is good for the giver too. This is what Jenny Santi’s new book, The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Life-changing Power of Giving, explores. The Amazon No. 1 bestseller combines information about scientific evidence that shows how kindness benefits us (our body releases the hormone oxytocin, which provides a happiness boost) with inspiring first-hand anecdotes from the likes of supermodel Christy Turlington Burns (pictured above with Jenny), Chilean-American author Isabel Allende (right, with Jenny) and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

“In the wake of a painful end to an important relationship, I volunteered for a day at Noah’s Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. What the animals got were a few morsels of food and affection. What I got was a deep sense of hope, meaning and strength greater than I thought possible,” she shares. As founder and managing director of a Singapore- and New York- based philanthropy consulting firm, the 30something Filipina advises ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) clients with $50 million and above in investments, signatories of the Giving Pledge (who have committed assets to charity), and celebrities on how to be “serious champions for change, not just passive spokespersons”. For instance, she helped actress Goldie Hawn expand the visibility of The Hawn Foundation – which supports children’s socio-emotional learning –beyond the United States by brokering a collab with one of the world’s largest health-care providers.

My Reading Room

Growing up privileged in the Philippines, Jenny recalls being struck by the poverty around her and feeling she had to do something “but didn’t know how”. Upon graduation, she became a university lecturer, but wanted to do “something more handson and practical”. She worked at a boutique management consulting firm in the UK for two years, then pursued graduate business studies at Insead. During a networking session there, she wowed the head of UHNW in private bank UBS, and he offered the then 28-year-old a job – as UBS’ head of philanthropy services for South-east Asia. For five years, Jenny organised networking forums and helped improve her clients’ foundations before she decided to become a freelance philanthropy adviser. She hopes that her book will kick-start a movement where people “give till it feels good”. She says: “The way we give should make an impact, but more importantly, align with our passion and make us feel happy.”

1.Find your passion

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt? Who’s your role model? What injustices matter?

2.Celebrate your cause

On your birthday, encourage friends/family to donate to a cause instead of giving presents.

3.Make it count

People tend to be happier when they schedule regular giving into their lives, instead of just doing it impromptu.

4.Don’t give up

It can be discouraging when others are sceptical about your cause. “I speak to likeminded people who inspire me to carry on,” says Jenny.

More: jenny giving