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THE FUTURE OF VOLUNTEERISM

THE FUTURE OF VOLUNTEERISM

ANG HAK SENG

THE WHY, WHAT AND HOW OF COLLECTIVE CARE

The strengthening of a caring culture is central to making Singapore a place that we can proudly call home. To achieve this, there is a need for a whole-of-society effort, with everyone caring for each other and leaving no one behind.

For our society to collectively care for one another, there are three steps:

1) Inspire will: “Why” – We need to inspire people to care;
2) Build capabilities: “What” – People should have the skills to meaningfully contribute;
3) Facilitate actions: “How” – We need to provide opportunities to care.

To this end, volunteerism is a key mode for rallying and empowering society to care. When non-profit organisations (NPOs) provide volunteering opportunities, action is facilitated for people to care. Furthermore, as volunteers are engaged and trained, they build capabilities. This would inspire more people to step forward as seeing others contribute provides that social nudge.

In addition to building a caring society, volunteerism is also crucial in ensuring good delivery of social services. Based on the 2020 Census Report, the proportion of Singapore’s resident population aged 65 and over grew from 9% to 15.2% from 2010 to 2020. An aging population comes with a rise in more complex issues as seniors are more prone to illnesses. If volunteers are engaged, managed, trained and retained well, they will become a key manpower resource for the non-profit sector.

CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

The SG Cares Movement (SG Cares) is a national movement that seeks to put values into action through active volunteerism, ground-up efforts and everyday acts of care. As a whole, SG Cares looks at three areas to grow volunteerism:

1) Building structures for coordinated volunteerism;
2) Uplifting volunteer management capabilities;
3) Providing everyone with a convenient way to volunteer.

Building structures for coordinated volunteerism

With each town in Singapore facing different needs (for example, due to different demographics), and with the presence of many NPOs providing similar services, there was a need for coordination.  Hence, the SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs) were established to serve as a central node in each town to ensure that volunteering opportunities are well coordinated. SG Cares VCs are NPOs appointed by the SG Cares Office to grow and coordinate volunteer supply, build volunteer management capabilities, and broker partnerships between demand and supply at the town level. There will be an SG Care VC in each town by March 2022.

Uplifting volunteer management capabilities

As volunteers are a key resource to the non-profit sector, there is a need for strong volunteer management capabilities to engage, train, deploy and retain volunteers.

Owing to this importance, the SG Cares Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) to launch the Centre of Excellence for Social Good (CESG). CESG aims to provide a platform for different communities to advance social good, which includes providing education, multidisciplinary research and collaboration that enhance the non-profit sector’s capabilities and practices.

The National Council of Social Service also produces good resources for volunteer managers and NPOs to uplift their capabilities. Some of these include:

1) Volunteer Management Toolkit;
2) Volunteer Continuity Planning Guide;
3) Volunteer Management System Roadmap;
4) Learning Opportunities for Volunteer Managers.

Providing everyone with a convenient way to volunteer

The SG Cares mobile app is a convenient touch point for everyone to volunteer, donate or contribute to the community

At the individual level, there is a need to provide everyone with a convenient, assured and personalised way to give. To this end, the SG Cares App was developed in 2018 to publish volunteering opportunities for all to view and take action. The opportunities are also curated based on the volunteer’s preference and past activities.

To date, the SG Cares App has close to 90,000 downloads and has listed about 8,500 volunteering opportunities for everyone.

FUTURE OF VOLUNTEERISM

The future state of volunteerism holds much potential and opportunities. As Singapore forges ahead in building a more caring society, there is both a stronger demand for volunteers and an increasing supply of volunteers. Moving forward, we see four key shifts in volunteerism:

1) A shift from transactional to relational;
2) A shift from balance to integration;
3) A shift from offline to hybrid;
4) A shift from NPO-centric to system-centric.

A shift from transactional to relational

With issues becoming more complex, there is a greater need to forge synergies among services and proactively involve the service users to co-create solutions.

To achieve this, volunteers need to be a key resource in providing strong service delivery that not only addresses needs, but also empowers those in need. This denotes a shift from transactional to relational volunteerism, where volunteers are the glue that connects the caring ecosystem.

To do so, engagement efforts are crucial. There is a need for more intentional efforts to reach out to service users, understand their situation, and offer help that addresses the root of their issues. Volunteers can be the ears and eyes of the sector by engaging service users and conducting joint needs analysis with them.

A shift from balance to integration

Traditionally, people view volunteerism as a distinct part of their lives. Moving forward, volunteerism should not be viewed as a “balancing act” where one needs to dedicate time to volunteer. Instead, volunteerism should be viewed as an integral part of one’s lifestyle.

From a corporate standpoint, the impetus for this is clear – there are greater societal expectations for corporates to not only do well but to also do good. Hence, corporates would need to ingrain volunteerism as part of their business model. For example, accountants could use their skills in financial knowledge to improve the financial reporting capabilities of NPOs and impart financial literacy to service users.

In doing so, corporates will send a signal to customers that they are socially responsible. This increases trust among customers which could result in higher customer engagements. From an internal standpoint, engaging in volunteerism is also beneficial for employees. When employees volunteer, they are able to hone soft skills such as communication and empathy. These are important skills in the professional setting and could also lead to a better work culture.

In addition, volunteerism is not only about the giving of time but also the giving of skills. With a rise in the gig economy, volunteerism could be adapted into job-based volunteerism. For example, volunteers could take on certain tasks set by NPOs at a pro-bono or low-bono rate. This could include tasks like website redesign to marketing campaigns. Through this, volunteerism could be positioned as part of one’s life.

A shift from offline to hybrid

COVID-19 has brought to the fore a rise in technology adoption. In addition, the pandemic gave fresh impetus for people to innovate and change the way they work and interact. The volunteerism scene is no exception.

For example, there has been a rise in virtual volunteerism, with services such as befriending and mentoring going online. Virtual volunteerism allows for more accessible service delivery to service users. It also provides more convenience for volunteers as they do not need to travel to provide such services. This trend will likely continue as more opportunities start to take on a hybrid approach spanning both physical and virtual realms. 

A shift from NPO-centric to system-centric

Finally, as volunteerism involves more groups of people to tackle more complex issues, there is a need for more coherence in the way services are provided. To this end, there is a need to ensure that we view the non-profit sector as one system and not a collection of many different NPOs. This will promote synergies and coherence in the services provided to meet needs. One way to address this is to start measuring success from a sector-level perspective through sector impact outcome measurements. NPOs could be grouped together to form a value chain of services and be assessed based on their collective efforts in meeting needs.

THE WAY FORWARD

SG Cares, as the national movement, will continue to work with partners to provide the structures to deepen our culture of care. This can be done through capability building at the people level as well as the organisation level.

Building capabilities at the people level

There is a need to build the capabilities of volunteers and volunteer managers. From the perspective of NPOs, volunteer management and volunteering opportunity design are crucial skills to develop. Volunteers must be viewed as a key resource and there must be dedicated efforts to manage, train and retain volunteers. In doing so, volunteering opportunities must also be carefully designed to meet needs, tap on the skills of volunteers and provide a sense of purpose for the volunteers.

From the perspective of volunteers, there is a need to increase their capabilities in needs identification and service delivery. Volunteers can also be involved in assessing needs and designing solutions, in addition to delivering services. Volunteers need to have the capabilities to ensure that the care ecosystem is connected and strengthened. Therefore, having a dedicated platform to build the capabilities of both volunteers and volunteer managers is vital for the sector to adapt to the future of volunteerism.

The SG Cares Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore University of Social Sciences on 6 November 2020 to launch the Centre of Excellence for Social Good 

CESG in SUSS needs to be positioned as a key node in the non-profit sector that builds the capabilities of the non-profit public and private sectors to do good. CESG can also become a thought leader in advancing social good, sharing of best practices, conducting multidisciplinary research, and forging collaborations. Beyond the classroom, volunteers and volunteer managers will also need to have on-the-job training for people to apply their learnings and capabilities to solve real problems.

Building capabilities at the organisation level

At the organisation level, corporate functions such as human resources, finance and procurement might not be a key area of expertise for NPOs. Instead of using up bandwidth and resources to invest in these areas, shared services could be considered as a potential solution for the sector.

Using the tagline “Do what you do best, outsource the rest”, NPOs should focus on their key areas of expertise, and adopt and aggregate shared services for other functions. This could help increase capacity and also lead to higher compliance as these shared services could be centrally managed by a trusted partner.

Apart from corporate functions, there is also a need for NPOs to build their capabilities in productivity, system thinking, and impact outcome measurements. With growing needs and opportunities, NPOs must have the capabilities to innovate and redesign their services so that needs can be effectively met. This will lead to a more connected, needs-driven and outcome-driven non-profit sector. Due to the sophistication of the content, this is best done through structured shared services.

SG Cares could play a role in facilitating the development of such services and work with 3P partners (people, private, public sectors) to identify and bridge skills gaps.

CONCLUSION

To conclude, the building of a caring society requires a whole-of-society approach. Every one of us can be a volunteer and we can work together to build a Singapore that we can proudly call home.

As our society changes, social needs will evolve. We must see this as an opportunity to improve, adapt and be more effective in meeting needs.

Our time and skills are valuable resources; when put to good use, we can touch the lives of many. I urge everyone to step forward and be part of the SG Cares Movement – together, because SG Cares.


Dr Ang Hak Seng, FCA (Singapore), is Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (2017–2021), and champions the SG Cares movement.