Pragmatism gives youth volunteering a boost

I disagree with the view that youngsters having pragmatic attitudes towards volunteering is a negative thing (Concern over 'what's in it for me' attitude; Sept 16).

On the contrary, it is by being ruthlessly pragmatic about the challenges and obstacles that youngsters better understand the innovation that is required to make social entrepreneurship sustainable in our "kiasu" society.

In the past, the idea of youth volunteerism was based on a notion of free choice.

One could volunteer as and when one wished to, and because one wanted to, rather than because one wants to collect brownie points or Community Involvement Programme (CIP) hours.

Today, to many, volunteering is part of the "expected" package when applying for competitive courses like medicine locally and top universities abroad.

While this has succeeded in spurring volunteering activity among students to an all-time high, youth volunteering has gradually evolved into a race for resume building.

With stressful timetables and limited time, students tend to shun activities and new organisations which are not yet certified to provide the required CIP hours, and flock to events that provide double CIP hours.

This pragmatism is merely a natural response to our highly competitive education system.

However, despite this pragmatism, I believe youngsters learn valuable lessons from volunteering. Some of them have even started championing new projects themselves.

By mixing passion with pragmatism, they are able to develop attractive and exciting volunteering opportunities, reinventing volunteering into networking opportunities.

This wave of innovation has not only increased the number of youth volunteers, but has also encouraged more working adults to volunteer.

The Government understands this and has granted increasing autonomy and generous financial support for these ideas to come into fruition.

Hence, pragmatism and altruism should not be seen as polarising forces when promoting youth volunteerism.

Rather, by striking the right balance between both, we can achieve the best possible outcomes for both the givers and beneficiaries, and move towards our goal of a compassionate society.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Pragmatism gives youth volunteering a boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe