Speech by Professor Tan Tai Yong, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences at the Singapore Volunteer Management Conference, 11 April 2023 at SUSS, Performing Arts Theatre
Speaker of Parliament Mr Tan Chuan Jin
President of National Council of Social Service (NCSS), Ms Anita Fam
Ms Tan Li San, CEO, NCSS
Partners and friends from the Social Service Community
Welcome to our SUSS Campus for the inaugural Singapore Volunteer Management Conference. We are honoured to be involved with our friends from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), to be part of this landmark event.
Judging from today’s gathering of leaders and representatives from the Social Service Agencies (SSAs), volunteers and partners from other sectors, it is indeed evident that volunteerism is alive and thriving in Singapore.
Trends shaping volunteerism
As we emerge from the pandemic and navigate the political, economic, social and environmental changes before us, several key trends shaping the needs of volunteer management today are clear.
First, the rise of skills-based volunteering: today, more companies and individuals are using their professional and specific skills to assist non-profit organizations. Skills-based volunteering offers precious opportunities for volunteers to further hone their skills to better serve their beneficiaries.
Second, purposeful volunteering: where a community of volunteers bond through a shared vision, and when they are well managed and activated, will unlock great benefits for volunteer retention.
Third, the birth of virtual volunteering: Virtual volunteering gained prominence during the pandemic when people and organisations started to connect virtually for volunteering opportunities and activation. It has opened massive opportunities – international volunteerism is now possible, without extensive travelling.
Fourth, the growth of corporate volunteerism: through workplace-based initiatives, we observe a strong drive from socially conscious employers who are providing support or encouragement for their employees to volunteer for the local community or good causes.
These trends bode well for us, and the communities we serve.
Volunteers are the backbone of organisations
Many non-profit organisations rely heavily on volunteers to accomplish their goals. In fact, it is perhaps accurate to say that volunteers are often the backbone of these organisations. However, managing and engaging a group of volunteers can be a challenging endeavour, requiring careful planning, a nuanced understanding of the volunteer experience, and enabling the appropriate skills.
As we continue to promote volunteerism, it is just as important for us to consider an equally pertinent topic – the building of volunteer management capabilities to lead to stronger volunteerism in Singapore. This includes how to attract, engage, upskill and retain volunteers.
Equipping, upskilling and SUSS’ role and contributions
SUSS’ ongoing commitment and vision to be the leading university for social good centres on our strong links with community stakeholders.
Our university is well placed to participate actively in delivering the much-needed inter-disciplinary educational offerings, applied research efforts, and partnerships that benefit society. Our ability to influence change continues to strengthen as we develop deeper connections to communities through our partners and those we seek to impact.
Whether it is through our whole-of-university effort or our student and alumni community, we believe that education must serve a higher purpose. Beyond degrees and professional competence, we are committed to building human and social capital, in service to society and country.
Let me share a few key highlights from SUSS, where we strive to build solidarity, and cultivate resilience within the wider volunteering community and their stakeholders.
SUSS UniLearn: SUSS is one of the pioneers in online learning, guided by our focus to make high quality learning opportunities accessible to our learners anywhere, anytime. The SUSS UniLearn e-learning platform has given us great opportunity to harness technology for learning and to serve a wider community.
Through UniLearn, we collaborate with like-minded non-profit organisations and social advocates to offer online learning to employees, volunteers, and individuals who want to lead change and engage in social action for the common good.
To date, UniLearn and our 28 partners have co-curated 85 courses, with over 34,000 enrolments. These wide-ranging courses include the unique “The Marital First Responder online course” that enables participants to gain a deeper appreciation of their role as Marital First Responders (MFR) and equip them with core skills to perform their roles effectively”. Then we also have the “Essential Caregiving” modular courses that focused on the importance of caregiving and how learners can manage issues on Medication Management, Diet and Nutrition, and Caregiver empowerment essentials.
During the pandemic when air travel grounded to a halt, our national carrier Singapore Airlines worked with SUSS and gave their cabin crew free access to modules on “Understanding Autism” as part of their skills upgrading efforts.
The collaborative efforts in co-curating these online courses with our non-profit partners also brought about greater operational efficiency through the scaling of their training resources, strengthening their in-house capabilities and building their capacity for disruption, growth and our changing social compact.
SUSS Centre of Excellence for Social Good (CESG): Within a short span of two years since its formation, the CESG has helped advance our university’s social mission and has been serving as a strategic node that connects an active community of industry, public sector and non-profit organisations.
The Centre nurtures the network of organizations to collaborate and contribute their respective capabilities so as to create social value and build resilience for the Singapore society. The work and future opportunities that lie before us are exciting and meaningful, and we hope to achieve many more positive outcomes through the Centre’s core strengths in:
- Training and Education
- Multi-disciplinary applied research and
- Strategic collaboration
The recent Care Economy report has highlighted a significant gap in strategic skills that need to be addressed for the People sector. In response to this, CESG conducted research in this area, and has formulated a theory of change called Social Entrepreneurship. The findings of the research is also well received and published for knowledge sharing.
Working closely with the SG Cares Office and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), SUSS has renewed our strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SG Cares for another 3 years, allowing the Centre to continue its good work on upskilling SG Cares VCs and their SSAs.
In the past year, the Centre conducted over 12 different Community of Practices (CoPs) which engaged and trained over 1000 participants. Through the learning gained from the training, the Centre will also be leading the design of a new “Social Entrepreneurship Learning and Development framework”. The framework will guide various implementation plans, including the launch of new micro learning or stackable learning programmes focused on Social Entrepreneurship in the coming months.
We have also embarked on several strategic collaborations centred on the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) community. Our recent MOU with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) will unlock new learning opportunities for SMEs in Singapore on Social Entrepreneurship.
To date, close to 250 individuals representing senior leadership including board directors from non-profit and the public sector have participated in our suite of non-profit management courses, including the COC-SUSS Certificate in High Performing Charities. These are unique programmes that help prepare organisations for existing and emerging problems.
As we continue to pilot new ideas and initiatives, I am confident that we will reap many positive outcomes. And my colleagues and I welcome any additional feedback and ideas that you might have for us to work together.
One of our core values at SUSS is a passion for community. We make a conscious effort to stay connected and engaged with the broader Singapore community, as we deliver our mission of equipping learners to serve society.
We are indeed very honoured to be part of today’s conference, and look forward to more opportunities to join hands with NCSS and like-minded partners to make an impact for Volunteerism in Singapore.