By deciding to give all civil servants one day of leave every year from next year, to volunteer in a registered charity of their choice, the Government has put the strength of 82,000 officers at the disposal of an indispensable sector. The sheer numbers could make a substantial difference to charities, which often need volunteers as much as they need financial support. The availability of willing and able hands can make a crucial difference to charities if that one day leads to sustained commitment among a good many.
This move, by Singapore's largest employer, signals the importance of corporate social responsibility in the life of the nation. It sets a moral benchmark that other employers could aspire to meet and which some already outdo. Although the smallest firms might find it difficult to spare scarce manpower this way, even a general culture of support for volunteerism would be welcome.
One might ask if a generous number of civil servants, plus those from the private sector, could cause logistical problems if not managed judiciously. After all, not all charities can absorb large numbers of casual volunteers appearing randomly. If the one-off work they can do is not meaningful for both parties, the scheme might wither. Large events that would benefit from an army of volunteers and their families might well be held on weekends for which no day off is needed for non-shift workers. Thus, coordination and planning are critical for this scheme to take off.
Of course, putting at least one day of charity work on everyone's calendar is not about offering perfunctory gestures of charity to ease one's conscience. It is about discovering wider interests and causes worth a lifetime's support.