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Technology can be a resource for manpower-strapped VWOs: Tan Chuan-Jin

SINGAPORE — With Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) here grappling with a manpower crunch, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin has called for a greater use of technology in the sector to better match demand and supply for services, for example.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (third from right) graced the 10th anniversary celebration of the National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Computing’s Computing for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (CVWO) initiative. Photo: NUS

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (third from right) graced the 10th anniversary celebration of the National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Computing’s Computing for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (CVWO) initiative. Photo: NUS

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SINGAPORE — With Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) here grappling with a manpower crunch, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin has called for a greater use of technology in the sector to better match demand and supply for services, for example.

An idea raised by Mr Tan at a dialogue session with undergraduates from the National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Computing on Thursday (Nov 9) was a mobile application that borrowed on similar concepts used by Airbnb and ride-hailing firm Grab. Through a geographical-based platform, the app would allow VWOs to “drop icons” on the virtual map to identify the needs and demands of elderly people, children with disadvantaged backgrounds, or caregivers in the different residential estates. In this instance, volunteers from the community, schools, and companies can also be roped in to help children from lower income families with their homework or tuition.

“(Through this), we can see how to match demand and supply, and technology can play a big part,” said Mr Tan, who was sharing insights with the students on how they can use their computing talents to serve the social and welfare services sector and the community.

The dialogue session at NUS on Thursday was held in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Computing for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (CVWO) initiative by the School of Computing.

Founded in 2007, students from this initiative have since worked with VWOs such as the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society to build IT systems to help improve their work processes and enhance operational efficiency.

One of the projects students worked on this year was for the Lions Befrienders Service Association (Singapore), where a new mobile app allowed volunteers to fill out different moods and mental states of the elderly during home visits. Six different emoticons are used to represent how purposeful, sad, disoriented or sick they feel, for instance.

The students also helped the VWO digitise its data system. While they had previously used a spreadsheet to capture the data of seniors and volunteers in order to match clients and track the attendance level of activities, the students developed a web-based system which allowed them to input and monitor the data more efficiently.

This data can help volunteers to watch out for long-term problems like depression, and allow them to tailor their visits accordingly, said computer science student and project leader Yuan Yuchuan.

“It’s not just about writing code, but we’re helping VWOs’ workflow so they focus less on admin work but on helping others,” said the 23-year-old.

As manpower-strapped VWOs try to keep up with Singapore’s greying population, it is increasingly important to rely on volunteers to chip in and change the mindset that these are “specialised” roles only for professionals, said Mr Tan.

He urged the youths to volunteer their time, talent and skills, particularly in the area of technology, to help value-add and make VWOs more effective and efficient.

He added: “To have a truly compassionate society, it is about doing, the process of reaching out to others… When there’s an element of sacrifice, when you commit part of your life to others, it can (create) a change.”

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