Monday, 8 June 2015

Portal to curb wasting of aid resources

NUS student teams up with others to create website to prevent duplication of volunteer efforts
By Kok Xing Hui, The Sunday Times, 7 Jun 2015

When National University of Singapore economics student Chua Pei Fen organised a youth volunteering trip to Laos in 2011, she noticed the books her group of 16 had lugged along were going to a fully stocked library which nobody was using.

"If I had known they already had books, perhaps I would have thought of something else - like teaching the students how to read the books instead," the 24-year-old undergraduate told The Sunday Times.

Vexed by the duplication of volunteer efforts, Ms Chua teamed up with graduate student Lim Yan Chun, 24, and full-time national serviceman Edric Lian, 21, to create a website they hope can prevent charitable resources from being wasted.

It will explain what has already been done in a particular area and what is needed. A volunteer who goes on their website to look for an orphanage in Cambodia, for example, will be able to find out which groups had volunteered at that orphanage and what they had done, as well as what else the orphanage needs. He or she can also contact the other volunteers to exchange information.

The co-founders registered their social enterprise, Care Positioning System, in March last year and will launch their portal next month. Currently, 20 young people work part-time at Care Positioning System, taking on roles from marketing to strategy to finance.

They have pooled together $5,000 to pay Web designers, and taken inspiration from foreign-based websites such as Transition Abroad and Online Volunteering that connect keen volunteers with organisations that list jobs that need volunteers.

But Ms Chua and her team have added an extra element to their portal - two-way feedback. Organisations will be able to list what they need and volunteers will be able to post what they have done, as well as share information such as teaching material.

"We're also hoping to get backpackers to contribute," said Ms Chua.

As many overseas volunteering efforts are carried out as school projects, Care Positioning System has been trying to get tertiary institutes on board.

Ms Chua said all 12 schools that the team has approached have been receptive to the idea.

The website will start with listing eight projects, including recycling efforts for a village in Vietnam and helping with the healthcare needs of another in Laos.

Dunman High alumna Lee Pin Qi, 25, the co-founder of social enterprise, Service and Learning Training Solution, will be listing the school's volunteer projects in Cambodia, Vietnam and China on the site. She said: "It is a useful platform to record and share information between generations of student volunteers and other teams who go to the same location. This would allow the good practices to continue."

Ms Chua added: "We hope to match groups who've gone to certain places with future groups, so the future teams can have better planning.".

More volunteering skills, but not every organisation can tap on it: NVPC
Recent surveys by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre show volunteering is on the rise, particularly among the youth in Singapore, but are their skills and time being tapped effectively?.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Jun 2015

Reuben Chew, 22, is a volunteer with non-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity Singapore. Several times a year, he and other members of the Singapore Management University chapter clean the houses of the elderly and disadvantaged. But though he prefers getting his hands dirty, more and more of his peers are choosing to volunteer in other ways.

Said Mr Chew: "I've a few friends that do legal pro-bono clinics because they are law students, and I think the idea of skillset volunteering is a good idea. It's encouraging the spread of voluntarism, and that spirit alone is good enough."

This practice is not unique to law students. Whether they are web designers, architects, or managers-to-be, young people are increasingly volunteering their professional skills, in ways they see meaningful to them.

Research by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) also shows that the potential for personal skills development has increasingly become a key motivation for many to continue volunteering. But the NVPC said not every organisation can tap those niche skills and manpower.


NVPC’s strategic partnership head Marcus Chee, warns the concept may turn into something called “volunteer-tourism”, “where young people go in there just because they want to do something”: "They go to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries have no choice but to 'entertain' the groups because they want to do good."

Habitat for Humanity Singapore’s National Director Yong Teck Meng, said: "You do need to match them with what your available needs are, and so I would say that sometimes there will be a mismatch because you may have too many graphic artists coming in, or too many people thinking they can do accounting for you. I think some specific tasks like accounting for example need very dedicated time, and that's why you engage auditors and accountants to do your books.

“So I think while the idea sounds very good, the reality is that other than piecemeal work like web design or maybe even marketing kit, I do not see this as a very regular and major part of volunteerism.”


Skilled volunteering organisations such as Conjunct Consulting have played the role of intermediary in matching volunteer skills to organisations, but even they agree that better scoping and communication of needs has to be done.

"What we actually need to do is see how we can better scope and match the needs of individual non-profits and social enterprises, with the skills of volunteers and pro bono talent,” said co-founder Jeremy Au. “And the opportunity here is really the skills that are not only at the organisational level, but also at the national level."

While Mr Au said voluntary welfare organisations are getting better at specifying what they need, the NVPC is playing its part to help all stakeholders.

Its recently announced unified online portal Giving.SG, which aims to match volunteer supply and demand, will be ready by mid-November.

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