A Chinese local government has lauded the efforts of the Singapore head of a non-profit body to nurture business ties between professionals here and in China.

Governor of the Singapore International Foundation, Professor Cham Tao Soon, 74, was presented with the Magnolia Award yesterday at a ceremony in Shanghai.

The annual award, given out by the city's municipal government, is named after Shanghai's city flower and honours foreigners who have made outstanding contributions to the city's social and economic development.

Prof Cham was recognised for his work in championing the foundation's Singapore-China Young Business Ambassadors Programme.

The exchange programme provides young Singaporean and Shanghainese business professionals the opportunity to work and live in each other's cities for between 10 and 12 weeks.

A total of 77 Chinese and Singaporean young business professionals have taken part since its launch in 2004.

Collaboration and understanding between two countries must begin at a personal level, said Prof Cham at the ceremony.

"Personal experiences and interactions form the basis for closer cooperation, and programmes such as the Young Business Ambassadors Programme create the springboard for bigger and better things to happen at a country-to-country level," he said.

For instance, past and present programme participants went on a volunteer expedition last week to rebuild homes for families affected by the Sichuan earthquake in April.

"(This) is a powerful demonstration of how the friendships nurtured through exchange programmes like the Young Business Ambassadors Programme can make a difference and meaningful contributions to society," added Prof Cham, who is also the chairman of SIM University and serves on the boards of various listed companies.

The Shanghai People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries' executive vice-president Wang Xiaoshu, who presented Prof Cham with the award, said: "We are grateful for the efforts and contributions by Professor Cham and the Singapore International Foundation over the years in promoting the development, training and exchange between talented Shanghainese and Singaporean professionals."

Past Singaporean recipients of the Magnolia Award include dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, and founder of Hyflux Group, Ms Olivia Lum.