Monday, 4 January 2016

Youth volunteers get cash grants from GIC

Firm seeks to boost youth volunteerism via $2m scheme offering students $3k-$5k for 25 hours of community work
By Kok Xing Hui, The Sunday Times, 3 Jan 2016

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."

"What GIC offers is a leadership and mentoring programme to selected students who, despite their difficult financial...
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, January 4, 2016

GIC scheme not paid volunteering

The report on Sunday ("Youth who give their time to society get cash grant from GIC") gives the impression that the GIC Sparks & Smiles Award is "paid volunteering". It is not so.

What GIC offers is a leadership and mentoring programme to selected students who, despite their difficult financial circumstances, are happy to put in time to befriend those from disadvantaged homes.

Key to this programme is understanding the impact of empathy, positive role modelling, the need to instil confidence and encouragement to others.

The cash grant is essentially for the financial support needed.

GIC Sparks & Smiles came about because we wanted to financially help young people from low-income households who are pursuing post-secondary education.

This could have been simply a straight cash grant.

But we felt we could do better for the lives of these young people, rather than just address their financial needs.

We are extremely encouraged to have been able to find so many young people willing to see beyond themselves.

This way, we are able to multiply the value of our social impact programme: The students get financial support, and the young children and youth get friends who are prepared to offer their hearts and helping hands, and who can also be an inspiration as to where they themselves can get to in the future.

If GIC can help instil this spirit of looking out for the less privileged, we would be happy to have played a part.

As we do not have the capacity to train the young students for their roles as befrienders and mentors, we are thankful to have Beyond Social Services as our partner.

It designed the programme which inspires and enables our award recipients to play a positive role in the community.

GIC Sparks & Smiles started with the universities and will be extended to the Institute of Technical Education and all the polytechnics in the coming months.

It is worth noting that the idea for the pilot with the Singaporean undergraduates comes from studying Teach For America, where new university graduates volunteer to teach for a period and are assigned to schools in low-income communities.

For our programme, we took the tack of young people expressing their social concerns rather than teaching in schools.

Our corporate social responsibility programme echoes our singular mission to benefit present and future generations of Singaporeans by managing the foreign reserves of Singapore.

GIC Sparks & Smiles is funded from our own budget and not from the Government's.

Jennifer Lewis (Ms)
Head, Communications
ST Forum, 5 Jan 2016

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