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Jetsetting with ... NVPC’s CEO Melissa Kwee

SINGAPORE — This may seem like the season to be spending, but it is also a time to give thanks and spare a thought for those with less.

Melissa Kwee says giving to a good cause is "not about the amount" but "the spirit behind it that makes the difference". Photo: Melissa Kwee

Melissa Kwee says giving to a good cause is "not about the amount" but "the spirit behind it that makes the difference". Photo: Melissa Kwee

SINGAPORE — This may seem like the season to be spending, but it is also a time to give thanks and spare a thought for those with less.

With that in mind, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) has organised Giving Week 2016 again. Running until Monday, NVPC’s chief executive officer, Melissa Kwee, hopes to rally Singaporeans to contribute to a good cause during the festive season.

“It’s not about the amount or the visibility, but the spirit behind it that makes a difference,” said Kwee. “We wanted to also thank the thousands of volunteers in Singapore who quietly go about making our society a better place with their time, love, skills and help they extend to causes bigger than themselves.”

The social activist and daughter of property developer Kwee Liong Tek (of Pontiac Land) has long been championing for a more compassionate society. She volunteered in Nepal as a student and kick-started her first project, Project Access, in 1996 after returning to Singapore, which promotes leadership education for girls.

She still believes in “travelling with a purpose”, adding that she tries to make it a point to visit non-profit organisations to learn about local issues during family holidays.

“In India, we visited a women’s economic empowerment centre; and in South Africa, we went to a school in the townships,” she shared. “I try to go to places more ‘off the grid’, and I’ve started checking out silent retreats, too. That has been good for my soul.”

Q: How can ordinary Singaporeans contribute to Giving Week?

A: You contribute to Giving Week in many ways—adopt a charity to fund raise for on, designate a percentage of sales/proceeds for a day/item/service during Giving Week, or find a volunteer opportunity on and make it happen. We have also commissioned specially designed “Thank You” cards that Singaporeans can send by writing a personal note of thanks and encouragement to their everyday giving heroes, such as, a friend or a colleague. We have partnered with SingPost, who have generously given free postage for these 400,000 postcards during the entire month of December. The postcards can be found in all Comfort taxis, UNIQLO stores, community centres, and various participating F&B outlets, malls, and hospitals.

Q: As someone who has volunteered overseas, what is the best way to make a meaningful difference, while avoiding the pitfalls of voluntourism?

A: Volunteering overseas is best when you have a real interest in the area and are willing to really learn something about the country, its needs and the organisation you’re serving with. The kind of volunteering that attracts controversy is usually borne out of cultural insensitivity, a lack of preparation or readiness to address the unexpected. This can include understanding cultural norms and abiding by them, especially in more conservative societies or simply being prepared for areas which have less accessible medical or consular resources. Always plan for, or at least be ready for, a Plan B. We need to be sure we can make some contribution and not just be a liability.

Q: Could you tell us about a life-changing travel moment?

A: One was in the lobby of one of the fancy hotels in San Francisco. I was preparing for a talk I was supposed to give (and) feeling nervous and alone. A homeless man came in and ordered a Coke and asked me if I wanted one too. I declined but we struck up a conversation. After I told him about my worries he reached into his oversized bag and pulled out a pair of gold-coloured earrings. He gave them to me for good luck. I call him my Nob Hill Angel because I realise how much people who may seem to have nothing can be such incredible blessings to those who seem to have so much.

Q: December is also the time when people start reflecting and making resolutions. What are some ways for Singaporeans to make a positive and do more charity work in the new year?

A: Ways to stick with your giving resolutions include thinking about what really moves and inspires you, learning more about the cause (you’ll grow in understanding and appreciation of the challenges and possibilities), setting yourself a goal such as donating your red packets or running for a cause, joining your company corporate social responsibility programme or creating a spare change bottle. Doing it with a friend or family members as it means more when you have peer support and pressure. Lastly, have some fun—you definitely do something more if you can find the joy in the giving.

Q: So, where is your next holiday destination?

A: I wish I had one … it’s still in the works!

For more information on Giving Week and how to volunteer and participate, log on to

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