Volunteerism: Making Lives by Giving

This International Volunteer Day, SPD Board Advisor Ms Chia Yong Yong, PBM, BBM, shares here her thoughts on volunteerism.

International Volunteer Day (IVD) is celebrated on 5 December every year. It is a day to recognise and celebrate this group of selfless individuals who volunteer their time and effort to make a difference in and improve the lives of others. SPD Board Advisor Ms Chia Yong Yong, PBM, BBM, shares here her thoughts on volunteerism.

Volunteers make lives by what they give.

Volunteers serve significantly in two ways – in client-facing roles where they are also frequently the first community touch points alerting the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) social service offices (SSOs) and social service agencies (SSAs) to the vulnerabilities of individuals or families.

There are also volunteers who do not work directly with beneficiaries, or clients as we would refer them as, choosing to serve in backend roles. These individuals work with SSAs in various functions to equip the organisations to serve their clients more impactfully.

In all instances, as a pro bono source of manpower, volunteers are critical in rendering social services accessible to the community without the corresponding manpower cost to SSAs. Without volunteers, our social support ecosystem would have glaring gaps, resulting in more clients falling through the cracks.

An elderly volunteer helping a day activity centre client with some art and craft

Volunteers being an essential partner in a sustainable and vibrant social service landscape, it is disconcerting that the latest numbers show the rate of volunteerism among individuals falling from a high of 35 per cent in 2016 to 22 per cent in 2021.

Amongst the many reasons for the falling rate of volunteerism, the misconceptions about volunteering could be a major contributing factor. To many, volunteering equates to befriending, mentoring and counselling, and the delivery of necessities to the poor. Related to that are perceptions that some people are more suited to volunteering than others. It is also conceived that volunteering requires long-term and substantial time commitment. Such misconceptions limit the truth.

Whilst volunteering does require commitment and conviction, the landscape of social needs is so broad that persons with differing talent, time and resources will find a place to serve.

In recognition of the same, SPD’s 3-T Volunteer Management Framework seeks to match the 3Ts of volunteers to opportunities. The 3Ts being:

  • Time: volunteers offer their time on an ad hoc basis in specific projects or on a regular basis.
  • Talent: with their talents, expertise and skillsets, volunteers contribute to the empowerment and equipping of clients or the SSA.
  • Treasure: volunteers donate their resources such as funding or network.

Financial support can be provided through various agencies such as MSF, HDB and Agency for Integrated Care, whilst community step-down care, intervention and rehabilitation programmes can be provided by SSAs such as SPD, and volunteers complete the virtuous cycle of holistic support. Under the 3-T framework, volunteers are able, in collaboration with SPD, to curate their involvement in community services.

Take the example of a family in which the sole breadwinner has sustained severe injuries from a serious road accident. In addition to supporting his wife and three children in kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, he was supporting his elderly parents, one of whom has dementia. It takes little imagination to anticipate that the sole breadwinner and his family will face financial strains, emotional tensions, psychological stress and social embarrassment.

Besides the financial assistance from Government agencies and SSAs, the individual and his family would require befriending and psychological support, buddying and tuition for the children, medical escort and supplementary caregiving services for him, his elderly parents and children. There will also be grooming for family members, handyman repairs, household equipment replacement, household necessities, work opportunities to supplement income, amongst others.

It is immediately apparent that each of these support services call for different commitment in time, talent and treasure. With the 3-T framework as a guide, many of us would be able to carve for ourselves a volunteering role in providing some support for the family.

Volunteer Ms Deepti Dongre with 4 day activity centre clients taking a walk around the tiong bahru neighbourhood
SPD Day Activity Centre care aide Ms Deepti Dongre (second from right) was previously a volunteer with SPD’s DAC Without Walls (DWW) programme, helping the clients to gain various life skills and interaction in the community.

Understandably, there will be some among us who prefer to work behind the scenes. If so, we can consider volunteering to serve within the different professional and corporate functions of the SSAs. As persons outside the sector, volunteers are often well placed to bring unique perspectives and out-of-the-box ideas to SSAs. Perspectives from external volunteers as to management of public education campaigns, security and the use of information technology, governance processes, for example, can equip the SSA to be more productive, effective and accountable in serving their clients and in partnering their stakeholders.

There are many avenues for service. Volunteer with SPD, the SSO or another SSA whose cause you identify with. If you are still unsure, check out volunteering opportunities on MSFCare Network as well as other volunteering websites.

True, volunteering is not easy, and may not always be rewarding. Expect to be pushed out of our comfort zones, expect to make personal sacrifices.

On the other hand, we are presented with the vulnerabilities and needs of people around us. Is there not something that each of us could do for our fellow Singaporean?

Unless we tried, we would never know how lives are made just by our giving.


Ms Chia Yong Yong, BBM, PBM, is a disability advocate and a lawyer.  She joined SPD’s Board of Management in 2004 and served as its President between 2008 and 2020. Currently a member of SPD’s Board Advisory Panel, she continues to guide and support the work of SPD. A Social Service Fellow, her contributions to the sector span nearly three decades. Ms Chia also served two terms as Nominated Member of Parliament between 2014 and 2016 and was the first wheelchair-user to have a seat in Parliament.