Find time for volunteering to benefit yourself as well as others

Recently, we've read much about volunteerism in Singapore and what the Government is pro-actively doing to try to re-ignite what is often referred to as the "kampung spirit".

Organisations large and small, and most recently the government agencies, are all being reminded of their social responsibilities, and individuals of every age are being asked to "walk the talk" of a volunteering culture. Much is in response to the pending challenges of an ageing population and compounded by an uncertain economic future, but it's long overdue that volunteering gets the attention I strongly believe it deserves. In support of this, I'd like to share my own experience in the hope that it encourages more people to consider volunteering.

My volunteering journey began when a former school friend set up the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) here in Singapore. Following the death of his young son to leukaemia when no suitable bone marrow donor could be found to even offer that one last chance of survival, the family turned their loss into something positive. They set up the BMDP to save the lives of other patients who need a transplant in order to survive.

Already entrenched in my early career with a law firm, I was as guilty as anyone in focusing just on my work and career and, in all honesty, life was good and nobody was thinking much beyond the day-to-day. So when my friend called and asked for some legal help, it was a wake-up call and an opportunity to use my time and education to do something meaningful. So for 20 years, in one way or another, I have played a part volunteering for the BMDP.

Most obviously, I have been able to put my work skills to good use by providing pro-bono legal counsel when needed, but actually it has extended much further than that and I get back a lot more than I can ever give. Through volunteering, the biggest takeaway has been an added dimension to my daily activities, opening the door to other - and often new - relationships. For example, volunteering with the BMDP has extended my personal and professional networks and taken me into contact with individuals and groups who I would never have met otherwise. I've met a diverse group of people, from fellow professionals and those from companies participating in BMDP activities to students and young people who sign up with huge optimism to save a life.

Recently, I was privileged to work with a group of young volunteer musicians to organise a classical music concert at Zouk. We needed a light and sound engineer, producer, staging, costumes and audio-visual support. With the help of close friends and other people I hardly knew, we had a full repertoire of skills, passion and commitment to do something that, in the final delivery, was absolutely amazing.

Volunteering has given me a greater appreciation of the needs of others outside the realm of my professional dealings, and also the exciting realisation that we all have the power to play an active role in helping to save lives. Imagine how fulfilling it was to not only introduce the BMDP into my workplace, but then to find out that a colleague came up as a bone marrow match to a patient and went on to save a life.

It's easy to think that you're too busy to volunteer. But my own experience tells me that as a professional, you can make all the money you want but you need to balance your life with a "soul" and get involved in activities that not only benefit you directly but also help others around you.

So consider closing the door on work for the day and pick up on these other relationships and activities that bring fulfilment.

  • The writer is president and chairman of the Bone Marrow Donor Programme in Singapore and a partner at Rodyk & Davidson law firm.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Find time for volunteering to benefit yourself as well as others'. Print Edition | Subscribe