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Are Singaporeans Doing Enough To Give Back?

Singapore ranks 28th overall out of 140 nations in the World Giving Index 2016, but slips in the volunteering poll.

“Build a city of good,” Melissa Kwee urged. In an annual report by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), the CEO of the non-profit organisation in Singapore went on to say: “We envisage a city defined by more than just good education, good housing or good food. Because, after all, what good is all this good if you can’t share it with those who aren’t doing so good?”

While Singaporeans are known to be generous for dipping into their pockets to make a donation, fewer are giving their time and effort to volunteer for a charity or cause. Only about one in five in the Republic did so last year, less than the year before. Slipping 12 positions, Singapore is ranked 54th out of the 140 countries polled in the category of volunteerism in this year’s World Giving Index by British-based Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).

While Singaporeans are known to be generous for dipping into their pockets to make a donation, fewer are giving their time and effort to volunteer for a charity or cause.

The results were akin to NVPC’s Individual Giving Survey conducted in 2014, which found that barely 18 percent of Singaporeans volunteered. The main reason cited? Lack of time.

Given Singapore’s lack of inclination to engage in community work, Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, says: “While we are innately kind and generous, on our own initiative, we tend to mind our own business. Perhaps it is a cultural thing — an innate shyness.”

Shy or not, many Singaporeans are equipped with useful hard skills (medicine, education, planning and evaluation) that are essential to produce tangible effects. In the local NGO sector, the most active organisations, such as the Singapore Red Cross and Mercy Relief, have provided medical help, as well as implemented disaster relief and community development projects.

Grassroots organisations are also slowly building a network of skilled volunteers. A year since its inception, Team Ardor, founded by 18-year-old Daniel Lim, has drawn 120 members aged 15 to 20. The registered society has volunteering projects ranging from weekly tuition sessions for local disadvantaged kids to trips abroad, bringing food and clothes to countries such as Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam.

Another important value that could come out of such inspiring works is the promotion of a volunteerism culture. “It’s like a tipping point. If more people start to do it, eventually one influences the other, [and] when people see others doing it, it gives them courage to do [so too],” says Wan.

Plus, it is now much easier for individuals or companies to get grants from the government to meet social needs and promote volunteerism. Projects that build national identity through a shared Singaporean spirit can tap into the Our Singapore Fund (OCF) and receive up to 80 percent of the project cost, capped at S$50,000 per project. The next round of OSF application will be from 15 December 2016 to 15 February 2017.

So beyond a good schooling system or glorious food and shopping, Singapore should be marked by its social and emotional capacity of “good people, good companies and good communities that create beauty, meet needs, and intentionally live values of empathy and inclusion, especially toward the more vulnerable ones among us”, says Kwee.

Here are a few avenues to give back.

Local outreach efforts 
Operating within the confines of a particular country. Examples in Singapore include: Willing Hearts, which operates soup kitchens; Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter (OSCAS); and Touch Community Services, a member of the National Council of Social Service.

Worldwide outreach efforts 
Including cross-borders, regional and worldwide efforts. Examples include: Mercy Relief, a homegrown independent non-governmental humanitarian charity; Cross Cultural Solutions, which offers programmes to travel and do good; and Friends for Asia, which places foreign volunteers in projects in Bali, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

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