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Easy Ways To Give Back To Society Even If You Have No Time To Do So

Melissa Kwee of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre thinks that giving can be a part of everyone’s life.

NVPC CEO Melissa Kwee with NVPC board member Lim Soon Hock, chairman of Halogen Foundation.


Here at Billionaire we are inspired by those who make social consciousness an integral part of their lives and Melissa Kwee, CEO of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), is certainly one of them. In this interview, she talks about her work with the NVPC.

Melissa Lwee-Ramsay: How did you come to be involved with the NVPC and what made you decide to take on the role of CEO?
Melissa Kwee:
The American theologian Frederick Buechner once said: “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” The idea is to find that intersection between what you feel most strongly about and what society needs. I have always felt incredibly blessed in that I have a solid family, I had a good education, my health has been good and I have always thought that there has to be a reason why that is so. I believe that everyone has a contribution to make and we are all here for a purpose and that purpose is bigger than ourselves.

NVPC, as an organisation that seeks to reach out to the community in a bid to inspire and facilitate giving, really resonates with me. I always felt that its message of how everyone — young or old, educated or not — can make a contribution is a very powerful one so I was very much at peace with the decision to take on this role.

What is it about the NVPC that makes it so unique?
NVPC exists in a very special place as it sits between the people, and the private and public sector. We deal with individuals and the non-profit community, who give their time, talents, energy and money, but who are also the receivers of these things. We also operate to engage businesses as a force for change in society. We also try to get support from the government in a bid to see how policy can work to make giving a culture in Singapore. So sitting in that sort of nexus puts us in a very unique position to inspire and be that catalyst to set Singapore on a path towards becoming a more compassionate and caring society.


How does NVPC help to address social issues and inspire giving?
For one, NVPC really champions the community spirit of giving and the idea that there is no gift too small. We also work on initiatives that celebrate the culture of giving such as the President’s Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards and a campaign in December called Giving Week.

Our dream for Giving Week is to see a week where every Singaporean has the opportunity to give and be given. For example, you wake up in the morning, you check your phone and you get a message from your service provider saying ‘Happy Giving Week, free calls today, call someone you love’; and then that person goes to a coffee shop and is in such a good mood that he/she buys an extra coffee for someone else; and then that someone else is inspired to do something nice for someone else. It is that snowball effect that we’re hoping for. We aim to work with partners to start the giving and also use influencers and media partners to really spread the word. We want to make giving the new normal.

How will NVPC work towards making that a reality?
It’s all about making giving easy. It’s why we launched on 1 December during Giving Week. If you have Facebook for your social life and LinkedIn for you professional life, is like a one-stop shop for everyone that is looking to give. It will provide information for those looking for causes to support, how to do so, and ways that they can do so, and it will provide a platform for organisations to raise funds and get donations.

We also want to reach out to the business community, as we believe that if businesses are more aware and conscious, society will transform as well. One of the things that we want to do for Spring next year is launch a Singapore corporate-giving roadmap that will be a 10-minute self-assessment form that helps organisations figure out their giving profiles. They will fill up the form, get a profile pinged back to them and be given a set of tools to get them started on a more compassionate journey. As an example, here at NVPC, we really walk the talk. I ask my directors to serve on boards and committees of non-profits, and all the staff here are also given six days of paid time off to volunteer. I really think that helps us to be smarter and more connected to the work that we’re doing but is also a simple policy that any other company can adopt.

Apart from your work at NVPC what are the causes that you support personally?
I’m still involved in Beautiful People, a programme I co-founded that matches teenage girls on probation with mentors. I am on the board of Seventy Times Seven 70x7, a prison ministry that promotes the restoration and reconciliation of relationships that have been affected by crime. I also sit on the board of a neighbourhood school called Crest that is dedicated to working with kids in the normal technical stream.

I believe really good-quality education will help them be more successful in life so I absolutely love the work that is done there.

I believe in championing those who have been marginalised — those who are left out of the mainstream, those who don’t have a voice and those who may not have had the best deck of cards dealt to them. Life isn’t fair but those of us who get more favour should share that favour.

Can you share some simple ways that people can incorporate giving in their lives even if they’re incredibly busy?
It can be as simple as adopting a charity for your birthday or offering 10 per cent of your red packet money during Chinese New Year to charity. Last Chinese New Year, I piloted a little activity with my family. My cousins and I and the kids bought a lot of oranges and went to visit the elderly who live in the one-room flats to wish them well. We even set up a little dessert stall in the void decks. And then friends heard about it and asked if we needed walking sticks. So we got some walking sticks and distributed them. You could obviously do it in a more systematic fashion but this is just an idea of how even a simple family activity can snowball into a much bigger initiative. All it takes is that spark.