Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC is trying to encourage youth volunteerism by offering cash grants in return for 25 hours of community work. It has set aside $2 million for the scheme, called GIC Sparks & Smiles, and hopes to attract 200 students over four years.
The programme is open to those studying in universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education here. They also must come from households with a per capita income of below $2,000.
They will be put through a one-day training course and will then be required to serve the community for 25 hours. In return, they get a cash grant of $3,000 to $5,000 that is up to them to spend.
"We believe a higher level of youth volunteerism will bring about a positive impact in improving education and the general well-being of the community," said Ms Deanna Ong, director of human resources and organisation development at GIC.
The scheme has so far welcomed 48 university students. They have gone through the training provided by Beyond Social Services, an organisation which works with disadvantaged youth, and started their community work.
One of them is 22-year-old undergraduate Ng Teng Yi. Each week, he heads to Beyond Social Services in Tiong Bahru to meet teens from low-income families whom he mentors. Once he finishes his 25 hours, he will receive a $5,000 cash grant from GIC, although he intends to continue volunteering after that.
Mr Ng, who comes from a single-parent household with his mother supporting three sons, said he plans to use the money for a university exchange programme.
"I think I'm a very good role model for these youth as I didn't come from a very good background, to show it is possible to break out of your circumstances," said the sociology undergraduate from Nanyang Technological University who scored very poorly for his O-level preliminary exams. That prompted him to start attending night study sessions in school. He did well enough for a place in a polytechnic.
"One very important thing they need to realise is that there is always hope," said Mr Ng.
Students get to mentor youth from low-income households, help Beyond Social Services organise community events for beneficiaries or help out in its pre-school for low-income children called Healthy Start Child Development Centre.
About five staff from Beyond Social Services guide the students in their community work.
Mr Gerard Ee, executive director of Beyond Social Services, said: "What's special about this programme is that it bridges these young people to both sides of society. It bridges them to contacts at GIC and people who will be useful for them in their careers going forward, but it also bridges them to parts of society that they will generally not have much contact with. It is a far-reaching initiative in terms of how it impacts society - in the process of training leaders, you are impacting the community as well."