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As volunteering goes virtual, more people are giving their time

SINGAPORE — In the past year, some charities here have seen an increase in people stepping forward to volunteer, due to the ease of virtual volunteering and micro-volunteering.

As volunteering goes virtual, more people are giving their time

A DBS micro-volunteering session with Pathlight students.

  • Several charities said that there had been a notable increase in interest in volunteering during the circuit breaker period
  • Micro-volunteering provides them with help in specific areas such as webinars, writing, creative work and tech support
  • There are drawbacks, however, mainly the lack of human touch and sustained interactions between volunteers and beneficiaries

 

SINGAPORE — In the past year, some charities here have seen an increase in people stepping forward to volunteer, due to the ease of virtual volunteering and micro-volunteering.

Micro-volunteering allows people to volunteer in bursts and give small amounts of their time, whenever it is convenient for them.

“Virtual volunteerism, and in turn the rise of micro-volunteerism, was borne out of necessity during the pandemic to enable social service agencies to continue their volunteering activities online and minimise disruption in engaging service users,” said Ms Charmaine Leung, the managing director of Community Chest, the fund-raising arm of the National Council of Social Service.

Charities TODAY spoke to said that micro-volunteering provides them with help in specific areas such as webinars, writing, creative work and tech support.

It also aids them in conducting quick virtual check-ins with the elderly or migrant workers through online platforms. It is, however, difficult for areas that require more hands-on work.

“The way we deliver services to vulnerable communities will likely continue to be reliant on technology in the future,” said Ms Leung.

“While virtual volunteerism might not fully replicate the experience of face-to-face interactions, it does encourage recruitment of new volunteers given its accessibility and ease of participation.”

INCREASED INTEREST

Several charities said that there had been a notable increase in interest in volunteering during the circuit breaker period, which lasted from April 7 to June 1 last year.

Yayasan Mendaki, which is the Council for the Development of Singapore Malay-Muslim Community, said that its number of volunteers almost doubled in 2020 compared to the year before, as its tuition classes and other programmes went digital. It declined to reveal its actual number of volunteers.

“One of the factors for the rise in interest and participation to volunteer could likely be due to more online-based opportunities offered by Mendaki since the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.

“While some of the volunteers and beneficiaries said that virtual tuition sessions deprived them of physical interaction, it also allowed them to conduct these sessions anywhere, without having to rush to a particular location.”

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home), which advocates for migrant workers' rights, said it saw a “considerable increase” in volunteers signing up, so some had to be put on a waiting list.

The organisation deploys its volunteers across various functions, from administrative roles to virtual workshops for maids, Home’s partnerships manager Ruchita Chheda said.

Mr Anthony Tay, the chairman of Lions Befrienders, a charity which provides friendship and care for seniors, said that more than 100 organisations and around 2,500 people have embarked on virtual volunteering with them, a mode of volunteering they had not explored prior to the pandemic.

“With the anticipated increase in the number of seniors to be served by Lions Befrienders, we plan to continue and expand the virtual activities for seniors and volunteers post-pandemic,” he said.

“While physical face-to-face interactions are essential, digital activities also allow volunteers and seniors to participate at their comfort, without being impeded by distance and time to travel.”

Silver Ribbon, a mental health advocacy organisation, also reported a jump in volunteer sign-ups in 2020.

“The reason for the increase could be because a lot of people were working from home last year, hence they have time to volunteer,” said senior operations executive Low Tze Theng.

LACKING HUMAN TOUCH

As Covid-19 restrictions gradually ease, however, some charities expect to return to a more traditional mode of volunteering, but most say they will move forward with a new hybrid form.

While virtual and micro-volunteering has opened up more avenues for people to give their time, there are drawbacks — mainly the lack of human touch and sustained interactions between volunteers and beneficiaries.

“Compared to traditional volunteering programmes, it can feel quite isolating as nothing can quite replace the face-to-face interactions in person,” said Ms Pearlyn Tan, social media and volunteer management executive at Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, an organisation that helps teenage mothers.

She added that adapting to the virtual environment and figuring out how to use new technology also took some getting used to.

“Event-wise, it is difficult to replicate on Zoom the buzz and vibe live events with a crowd can have,” she said.

NO TIME WASTED

Ms Tan Yilin, 39, vice president at DBS Institutional Banking Group, said that she became more active in the volunteering space over the past year or so as she does not have to spend time on commuting.

Her colleague, Ms Esther Chia, executive director at DBS Institutional Banking Group, shares the sentiment.

“The beauty of virtual volunteering is that we do not need to worry about physical logistics and the time saved from commuting allows us to spend more quality time communicating with our mentees,” the 48-year-old said.

DBS saw 1,300 sign-ups within a span of three months, from June to August last year, when micro- and virtual volunteering sessions were rolled out.

The bank offers volunteering opportunities in areas concerning the elderly, education and the environment.

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