Kampung spirit revival as more volunteer informally

Mr Wally Tham, founder of social movement Stand Up For Our Singapore, and Ms Saleemah Ismail, co-founder of New Life Stories, a charity that reaches out to the children of incarcerated women. According to experts, the rise in such informal movements
Mr Wally Tham, founder of social movement Stand Up For Our Singapore, and Ms Saleemah Ismail, co-founder of New Life Stories, a charity that reaches out to the children of incarcerated women. According to experts, the rise in such informal movements could be due to the awareness created by social media for certain social causes.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Instead of working with organisations, more are initiating their own efforts to serve causes

Fewer people are donating to charity, but those who are, are giving more generously. When it comes to volunteering, the reverse is true. More people are giving their time, although in shorter periods.

But these developments over the last two years, driven by what experts believe is a resurgence of the kampung spirit, still mean a win-win for charities, according to a biennial study commissioned by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Donations went up from $1.25 billion in 2014 to $2.18 billion last year - a rise of nearly 75 per cent. This was despite 76 per cent of last year's respondents saying they had donated money, compared to 83 per cent in 2014.

The time put in by volunteers went up more dramatically. In 2014, when the last survey was done, they clocked 66 million hours. Last year, the figure nearly doubled, to 121 million hours - despite the number of hours put in by each volunteer falling from 93 to 84 hours.

The ninth edition of the study, called the Individual Giving Survey and which polled 389 respondents living and working in Singapore, also showed a rise in informal volunteerism. Almost three in four volunteered or donated through such informal channels.

  • $2.18b
    Donations to organisations last year, up from $1.25 billion in 2014. However, fewer people were giving - just 76 per cent. It was 83 per cent in 2014.

    121m
    Number of hours clocked by volunteers last year, up from 66 million in 2014. Yet, the number of hours put in by each volunteer has fallen from 93 hours to 84 hours.

  • LESSER-KNOWN CHARITIES

  • While volunteer numbers have been rising steadily, there are charities and segments of society that are still underserved - especially those dealing with palliative care. Here are some that need help.

  • Daughters of Tomorrow

    A charity that provides livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women and helps them build financially independent and resilient families. For more information, visit https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/smoms_running_for_a_better_tomorrow

  • Assisi Hospice

    A Roman Catholic charity that provides hospice and palliative care, supporting patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families. For more information, visit https://www.giving.sg/assisi-hospice

  • Tai Pei Social Service

    A Buddhist charity that cares mostly for destitute people with mental health issues who need long-term care and support.

    For more information, visit https://www.giving.sg/tai-pei-social-service-tpss-

These are ground-up efforts in which, instead of working with or donating to an organisation, people serve on their own to help others.

This includes neighbours banding together to form community networks to look out for seniors. Or, instead of donating to animal welfare groups, people rescuing injured stray dogs and cats on their own.

About half of the volunteers gave their time to such efforts last year, compared to a quarter in 2014.

"This reflects a positive trend for civic participation in Singapore as more people are starting ground-up efforts or volunteering directly," NVPC said. "It shows that the kampung spirit is coming back," said NVPC director for knowledge and advocacy Jeffrey Tan.

Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University, said the rise in informal volunteerism could be due to the awareness created by social media for certain social causes.

For instance, during the intense haze episode in 2015, a social movement called Stand Up For Our Singapore went online and raised about $6,000 to buy air purifiers and filters for the elderly and needy in the North Bridge Road area.

Its founder Wally Tham, 39, said he and some other volunteers visited the seniors and found that even though many of them had N95 masks at home, they were not using them as many of them had difficulty breathing through it. In all, the volunteers distributed 40 air filters and 10 purifiers to residents.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said such informal opportunities are increasing in popularity as they allow people to see an impact. "And they may be inspired to contribute more - whether through time or money."

Volunteers may also be hesitant about making long-term commitments, which may clash with work or home responsibilities, she added.

Mr Tham said informal volunteerism provides a more flexible option, but added it could also be a gateway for longer-term volunteer work. "If they realise they enjoy our projects, they can connect with established charities for longer commitments."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Kampung spirit revival as more volunteer informally'. Print Edition | Subscribe