Hear the words ‘volunteer work’, and these scenarios are likely to pop into your mind:
Community singing at the elderly home. Braving Orchard Road with a donation can in hand. Teaching English at an orphanage in rural Thailand.
While these are all great acts of kindness that make the world a better place, they also tend to be out of reach for working professionals in Singapore who can’t muster the time or energy to do good.
Or so, they think.
Skill-based volunteerism is an emerging trend in Singapore where people offer their professional skill sets to beneficiaries that lack these types of expertise. If fumbling with a musical instrument or long-term weekly commitments don’t appeal to you, Volunteering 2.0 lets you make a difference by doing what you’re good at.
The Pride speaks to two individuals who have embraced their skill-based volunteering journeys.
Under his guidance, nonprofits can make a splash online
With a decade in digital marketing under his belt, 31-year-old Jitendra Amesar knows that organisations can ill afford to fly under the radar in today’s noisy online space.
Speaking to The Pride, Amesar explained: “Everyone uses mobile phones nowadays, so if their website is not popular, they’re missing out on that opportunity (to engage)… For nonprofits, it lets more people find out about you and garners more support, donations and even volunteers.”
As nonprofit staff often wear multiple hats due to a lack of manpower, marketing is seldom a priority. This means resources like Google for Nonprofits, where the tech giant offers up to US$10,000 worth of free advertising on Google search to non-profit entities, go untapped.
“They typically don’t have someone dedicated to do their marketing. That’s why if this person that we train can do digital better, they can also get to their other tasks faster, which benefits the nonprofit.”
The Indian national’s first foray into skill-based volunteering last year was to create Google ads for Red Pencil, an art therapy group for children. Wanting to make better use of his free time, Amesar approached numerous nonprofit groups, offering his help with search advertising.
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More recently, he worked with local social enterprise Empact, which connects skilled volunteers with causes needing help. Alongside another social media expert, Amesar held a half-day digital marketing crash course for Babes, which helps pregnant teens in Singapore, as part of Empact’s Done in a Day initiative.
Whatever they lacked in knowledge, the staff more than made up for it with eagerness to learn. Amesar observed: “They can’t become digital marketers overnight, so we gave them some initial ideas and did some work for them on their search advertising. Now, at least, they have a head-start and they can manage it on their own. They were very willing to learn and worked very hard.”
For his efforts, he was invited to the Istana for a President’s Challenge volunteer’s appreciation dinner where he met President Tony Tan.
“When I sent the photo to my Dad, he got really excited and told everyone that I had met the president of Singapore,” Amesar recalled with a chuckle.
Based in Singapore for the past eight years, the avid cyclist hopes to eventually do nonprofit work full-time. For now, sharing his expertise with them will have to do, in addition to volunteering with Willing Hearts soup kitchen and supporting Ride for Rations, which raises funds to help rental-flat families in Chai Chee and Hougang.
Musing on the value of skill-based volunteering, he said: “It’s a bit like teaching. It’s not as grand as being a teacher but it’s using your skills for someone else so that they benefit. Instead of doing their work for them, you teach them to fish instead of giving them a fish.”
The flexibility to advise and coach during pockets of free time is also a huge plus for busy working professionals. Amesar observed: “If it’s a job that needs four hours, you can find a way to spread it across a month, if you need to.”
“Even if you’ve only taught one person how to do this better, it does make a difference. Every effort counts, small or big doesn’t matter.”
Boardroom experience to help social enterprises thrive
To help needy families living in Bukit Merah, the South Central Community Family Service Centre started a community kitchen where kind-hearted donors can give food donations.
While this went a long way to help the less privileged, the question of food safety soon arose as the initiative gained more supporters.
“Volunteers and housewives were bringing food down and sometimes leaving it out for hours on end,” said Andrew Khoo, chief operating officer of Swensen’s Singapore.
So as part of the Done in a Day initiative last year, a team of 12 experts from across Swensen’s ranks came together to advise the centre on food safety and hygiene. Khoo observed: “Many of those from the centre were volunteers and housewives who could now learn from people who do this for a living. Together, we put a system in place and things became much more structured on the ground level.”
While this was a new experience for his colleagues, skill-based volunteering is something Khoo has done for some time. An eye for business development honed from years in hospitality and F&B made him a fitting mentor for fledgling businesses and social enterprises here.
“Many social enterprises find it difficult to strike that right balance, between being commercial, corporate or profitable, while staying true to their causes and visions. So the idea was, how can we professionalise these social enterprises, and help them grow to the next level?”
Under a mentoring programme for social enterprises piloted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2014, he became a mentor to Adrenalin, an events company here that counts special needs persons among a third of its staff.
Over nine months, they worked together to bring the company to the next level of growth. Khoo said: “There was a certain level of understanding, communication and respect… Being part of this programme really helped them to crystallise 3-month, 12-month business plans and have a vision.”
On what a volunteer gains for sharing his or her expertise, Khoo mused: “It deepens your learning and understanding of how the world works when you see it from a different perspective. It’s always a two-way thing. You volunteer, you give your time but you’re also learning something from it. You’re not just giving and giving. You’re also receiving.”
For the avid sportsman, who pursues his favourite football, tennis as well as church work as passionately as he forges ahead in the boardroom, it’s all about balance. And this also applies to his volunteering philosophy.
“The more you’ve achieved in life and your career, the more doing things that allow you to impact society become more fulfilling. When you’re young and you’re starting up, it’s all about your career. There needs to be a balanced approach. As one grows and evolves, hopefully one can mature and move in that direction.”
Interested to volunteer your skills but not sure where to start? Empact can link you up with a relevant cause or organisation. Learn more here.