SINGAPORE: Reuben Chew, 22, is a volunteer with non-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity Singapore. Several times a year, he and other members of the Singapore Management University chapter clean the houses of the elderly and disadvantaged. But though he prefers getting his hands dirty, more and more of his peers are choosing to volunteer in other ways.
Said Mr Chew: "I've a few friends that do legal pro-bono clinics because they are law students, and I think the idea of skillset volunteering is a good idea. It's encouraging the spread of voluntarism, and that spirit alone is good enough."
This practice is not unique to law students. Whether they are web designers, architects, or managers-to-be, young people are increasingly volunteering their professional skills, in ways they see meaningful to them.
Research by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) also shows that the potential for personal skills development has increasingly become a key motivation for many to continue volunteering. But the NVPC said not every organisation can tap those niche skills and manpower.
NVPC’s strategic partnership head Marcus Chee, warns the concept may turn into something called “volunteer-tourism”, “where young people go in there just because they want to do something”: "They go to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries have no choice but to 'entertain' the groups because they want to do good."
Habitat for Humanity Singapore’s National Director Yong Teck Meng, said: "You do need to match them with what your available needs are, and so I would say that sometimes there will be a mismatch because you may have too many graphic artists coming in, or too many people thinking they can do accounting for you. I think some specific tasks like accounting for example need very dedicated time, and that's why you engage auditors and accountants to do your books.
“So I think while the idea sounds very good, the reality is that other than piecemeal work like web design or maybe even marketing kit, I do not see this as a very regular and major part of volunteerism.”
BETTER MATCHING NEEDED
Skilled volunteering organisations such as Conjunct Consulting have played the role of intermediary in matching volunteer skills to organisations, but even they agree that better scoping and communication of needs has to be done.
"What we actually need to do is see how we can better scope and match the needs of individual non-profits and social enterprises, with the skills of volunteers and pro bono talent,” said co-founder Jeremy Au. “And the opportunity here is really the skills that are not only at the organisational level, but also at the national level."
While Mr Au said voluntary welfare organisations are getting better at specifying what they need, the NVPC is playing its part to help all stakeholders.
Its recently announced unified online portal Giving.SG, which aims to match volunteer supply and demand, will be ready by mid-November.