[SINGAPORE] Singapore has long been seen as a favourite location for multinational companies looking to set up their regional home bases.

Over the years, the likes of banks, pharmaceutical giants and aviation companies have all opened offices here.

But also thriving in this little red dot are international non-profit organisations (NPOs), which have more than quadrupled over the last decade to around 150 now.

The number is in line with the Economic Development Board's (EDB) 2008 target to have at least 150 such outfits by next year.

Hitting the target, however, is only the beginning, EDB assistant managing director Kelvin Wong told The Business Times, noting there was a lot of work still to be done. "We recognise that it is not a numbers game that we are after," he said. "At the end of the day, it is about being able, for Singapore to be able to present itself as an effective place for many of these international NPOs to use as a base."

Forming corporate partnerships between companies and NPOs is one aspect that the EDB is looking at to drive further synergies between the sectors.

Mr Wong said there was promise and potential, with some projects already taking place, but more could be done. He added that one way the EDB could help was in identifying key areas for collaboration.

Possible projects could range from water sanitation, to health and education.

Last November, DSM Nutritional Products Asia partnered the local offices of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and World Vision to mobilise both government and private-sector involvement in food fortification programmes across seven Asean markets. In March this year, Earth Hour - which has its global headquarters here - partnered local crowdfunding startup Crowdonomic to launch Earth Hour Blue, the first crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform for the planet.

Mr Wong said: "I think people see the potential, but they are already busy with their current mode of business, so it's about being able to draw their attention on the potential and get something going to inspire the rest."

Another dimension of work that the EDB is looking at is how Singapore can leverage on its status as a financial hub to help NPOs tap on Asian wealth.

Mr Wong said that NPOs were looking for ways to tap on wealth in Asia, given that many were seeing their donor sources drying up from other parts of the world.

"There is this whole trend on impact investment and social financing that is an emerging trend globally, and I think Singapore, being a financial and wealth management hub, has a role to play," he said.

Singapore began looking at ways to engage NPOs, when it became apparent that having their presence was necessary to realise its goal of becoming a great city.

One reason for this is to service the needs of the corporates, who want to be more engaged in the non-profit sector to enhance their employer value proposition, Mr Wong said. "They want to stand for the right values by giving back to the right causes, and by having the important and key partners here, we are making it easy for them to get that going."

Besides corporate involvement, Mr Wong noted that the NPOs also bring value to the country and its people. "Through our collaboration with the likes of World Bank, with the likes of Interpol, by supporting them in establishing the Asia Pacific hub here, indirectly we are also enabling Singapore to play our role as a member of the global community more effectively," he said.

Mr Wong added that Singaporeans are also keen on spending time with such organisations, so bringing them here helps to create opportunities and increase exposure for them.

In May, Yale-NUS College launched its inaugural non-governmental organisation (NGO) bootcamp, where nearly a third of its students worked alongside practitioners from NGOs to learn how to make an impact on local and overseas communities.

Laurence Lien, CEO of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, said during the camp: "Everyone can contribute in some way, and I think a bootcamp like that is great to help them deepen that contribution as volunteers, supporters and donors in future."

Mr Wong said a measurement of success would be for NGOs to see Singapore as effective in serving their regional causes and helping them come up with new partnerships and models in social financing. He added that over time, he hopes to see more NGOs having their global project managers based out of Singapore.

"I think that will be a good measure of how important or how effective Singapore has become for them."