Business Times Oct 20 2018
Volunteer now to make a difference
There are many avenues for one to give back to society, from joining an organised movement to contributing on a smaller, more personal scale.
I REMEMBER vividly a friend passing a comment that I had probably made a bad decision in joining the Rotary Movement some 18 years ago. It was shortly after I had started my entrepreneurship journey. His comment was well intended. I might not have had the energy or time to be an active Rotarian. At that time, all Rotary clubs had to meet weekly, as mandated by Rotary International in the US.
Fast forward to today, and I am still a Rotarian, albeit one that is not as active as I should be. There are many other channels for me to give back to society, and thanks to my network of contacts amassed over the past years, as well as the availability of social media, I am able to do so much more now.
Volunteerism in Singapore is quite different today compared to two decades ago. Joining an organised movement such as Rotary was one of the preferred avenues. What also was appealing was that it was an international body with about a million volunteers, which meant it could do good anywhere in the world by collaborating with local Rotary clubs in other countries. At that time, there were already 18 Rotary clubs in Singapore.
Thanks to Rotary, and many generous financial supporters such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world is very close to eradicating the crippling polio disease - just one example of the impact the organisation is making.
Today, there are many ways for one to make a difference to others. All it takes is a small group of like-minded people to come together to get the ball rolling.
Just as an example, local paralympian Dr William Tan and I co-organised an SG50 event three years ago. With Dr Tan doing all the physical, hard work of hand-pedalling non-stop for 50 hours and my reaching out to my network of business contacts, family and friends, we raised some S$60,000 for three children-focused charities, including the ST School Pocket Money Fund. In hindsight - and lesson learnt - if we had made better use of social media, the amount raised could have been higher.
Aside from bigger, organised efforts, there are also ways for individuals to contribute on a much smaller, more personal scale. For instance, I've taken my family and friends to the Singapore Christian Home to celebrate Mother's Day with the residents there. There must be many others who have done the same.
With willpower, there are really no insurmountable obstacles to becoming an active volunteer here in Singapore.
The question is: Have volunteer-driven organisations been disrupted, are they still relevant? I believe they are.
They are vehicles for people to come together to give back to society. There is no dearth of such needs here in Singapore. We read about sick children whose families are unable to affordlong-term medical costs. We have come across families whose sole breadwinner is no longer able to earn a living. House pets that are dumped because their owners no longer want to take care of them. For an individual to provide sustainable support to the impacted will be challenging. An organisation with the ability to raise funds and rally volunteers will do a better job.
In cases of natural calamity that leaves families and homes in dire need, like the recent earthquake in Lombok, global organisations such as the Red Cross can play the role of co-ordinator to manage financial and logistical support. With a known name, individuals and groups are more likely to feel comfortable to cut that cheque, or start collecting essentials to donate.
Volunteer-driven organisations also provide a networking platform for like-minded people. The world revolves around people, and networking has proven to be an effective means of getting things done, getting people together, getting a job.
I sometimes get this response when I invite others to join me as a volunteer: "Eh, I will. It's just that I'm too busy now. Wait till I have retired." Here in Singapore, it would be great if we had a Bill & Melinda Gates equivalent. But in the meantime, we can do what we can individually. We don't have to save the entire world, just touching and making a difference to one life is good enough. Besides, what makes you so sure that you can do what you plan to do when you retire?
Come, join me now by visiting www.giving.sg to begin with.
• The writer volunteers & supports Rotary, Alzheimer's Disease Association, Care Corner Orphanage Chiangmai and is an occasional fund raiser, and initiator of community projects. He is an executive coach by profession.